Daily Media Links 8/30: Judge dismisses Citizens United challenge to New York donor rules, A Campaign Finance Ruling and its Unintended Consequences, and more…

In the News

Observer: Supreme Court Leaves Intact New Delaware Law That Expands Disclosure

Jeff Brindle

On June 28, 2016, the High Court refused to hear an appeal in Delaware Strong Families v. Matthew Denn, Attorney General of Delaware.

In denying certiorari, the tribunal let stand a ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Delaware’s disclosure of “third party advertisements.”

Delaware’s Election Disclosure Act requires any non-candidate or political party organization to file a “third party advertisement” report if more than $500 is spent on electioneering communications…

One highly unusual aspect of the case is that it applied the disclosure requirements to a 501(c)3 group, which is considered a charity under IRS law. In the past, such groups have avoided disclosure rules.

The appeals judges stated: “…we conclude that it is the conduct of the organization, rather than an organization’s status with the Internal Revenue Service, that determines whether it makes communications subject to the (Delaware) Act.”

Although US Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito would have granted certiorari, the majority of justices agreed with the Appeals Court’s ruling in favor of disclosure, even in the case of a voter guide.

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Limiting Access to Lawmakers Would Stifle Representative Democracy

Joe Albanese

It is nearly impossible to prevent “improper influence” without enacting sweeping constraints on free speech and freedom of association. Any laws delineating what type of influence constitutes a conflict of interest can be subjective and vague. Consider for a moment the ideal role of government officials in a representative democracy. In such a system, voters elect individuals to represent their interests and opinions, but also to make decisions on their behalf. In a robust society with many differing and contradictory viewpoints, voters would expect their representatives to listen to a broad swath of opinions in order to make the most informed decisions for their constituents.

In short, our system demands that government officials have lots of meetings and conversations. The fact of the matter is, regardless of campaign finance laws, certain groups of people will always have a bigger platform that will allow them greater influence and access. Experts in various fields, authors, celebrities, business owners, leaders of unions and advocacy groups, editorial boards, and other prominent voices are always going to have more access than the average voter…

The problem with trying to craft concrete regulations around this theory of undue influence is that there is no limiting principle – once you ban some meetings, how can you not justify banning others?

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Independent Groups

Politico: Meet the man siphoning money from Donald Trump

Shane Goldmacher

The first belongs to Trump’s campaign. The second is a scheme run by Ian Hawes, a 25-year-old Maryland man who has no affiliation with Trump or his campaign and who has preyed on more than 20,000 unsuspecting donors, collecting more than $1 million in the process.

In just its first three weeks of operation, Hawes’ PAC spent more than $108,000 on Facebook ads, offering an opportunity to win “Dinner with Donald Trump” — and netted itself nearly $350,000 in donations, according to federal records.

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The Courts

Reuters: Judge dismisses Citizens United challenge to New York donor rules

Jonathan Stempel

A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit in which Citizens United sought to block New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman from enforcing rules requiring the conservative group to disclose more information about its donors.

U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein in Manhattan said the attorney general did not violate Citizens United’s First Amendment rights by requiring registered charitable organizations to disclose names, addresses and contributions of big donors before soliciting funds in the state…

The nonprofit group, which advocates for limited government, free enterprise and strong families, had argued that its donors would “reasonably fear public backlash, financial harm, and worse” should their support be disclosed.

But the judge found no evidence that this would occur, and that the policy advanced New York’s “unquestionably important” interest that charitable groups not engage in crime or fraud.

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Colorado Peak Politics: A Campaign Finance Ruling and its Unintended Consequences


Campaign finance bullies have plagued Colorado politics for years. The scheme goes like this: sue an opposing candidate, c4, 527 or issue committee, alleging various violations of Colorado’s campaign finance laws.  Then watch as their time and money are sucked into oblivion while they deal with seemingly endless administrative law hearings and legal fees.

In order to comply with this complicated and messy system, many groups rely on free or reduced-cost legal services. But thanks to a recent Colorado Court of Appeals ruling pro bono or reduced-cost legal services are “contributions” under Colorado’s campaign finance laws. This means it could become much harder for people to defend themselves against these campaign finance bullies and predatory lawsuits.

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Free Speech

Intercept: Sheriff’s Raid to Find Blogger Who Criticized Him Was Unconstitutional, Court Rules

Naomi LaChance

The raid was sparked by the sheriff’s investigation into who was behind the anonymous blog that accused local officials, including him, of corruption and fraud. Through a blog and a Facebook page called “John Turner,” ExposeDAT used public records to show conflicts of interest.

The sheriff sought warrants when Tony Alford, a local business owner, filed a criminal complaint about the blog. On August 2, Larpenter and his deputies raided the Andersons’ house after they traced the IP address of the John Turner Facebook page through a warrant to AT&T…

The court found that the raid on the Andersons’ house was unjustified. “Anthony Alford, the supposed victim, is president of the Terrebonne Parish Levee and Conservation Board of Louisiana, and a public official,”

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RealClearPolitics: Social Justice Warriors Against Free Speech

Charles Lipson

What about the argument that “safe spaces aren’t about banning dissenting viewpoints but about banning hateful, bigoted speech that is truly harmful”? The obvious problem is this: Who decides? You think your march is to support women’s reproductive rights. Your roommate thinks it is about killing unborn babies. Which position is hateful or bigoted? Again, who decides? Which of these is so hateful that it has no place in an academic community?

But let’s take the clear-cut example of racial epithets, which are hate speech and add nothing to academic debate or learning. They do cause emotional harm, or at least they can. The difficulty here is “Where do we draw the line?” and, again, “Who draws it?” Is it hate speech to say, “He hates to spend money. What a Jew”? Most Jews would say yes, that’s hateful. What if I said, “He hates to spend money. What a Scotsman”? Most Scots would say that recognizes their financial prudence. It is precisely because drawing these distinctions is so hard that our First Amendment, as interpreted by the courts, gives very wide latitude to speech…

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Campaign Donors

Politico: George Soros’ quiet overhaul of the U.S. justice system

Scott Bland

The billionaire financier has channeled more than $3 million into seven local district attorney campaigns in six states over the past year — a sum that exceeds the total spent on the 2016 presidential campaign by all but a handful of rival super-donors.

His money has supported African-American and Hispanic candidates for these powerful local roles, all of whom ran on platforms sharing major goals of Soros’, like reducing racial disparities in sentencing and directing some drug offenders to diversion programs instead of to trial. It is by far the most tangible action in a progressive push to find, prepare and finance criminal justice reform-oriented candidates for jobs that have been held by long-time incumbents and serve as pipelines to the federal courts — and it has inspired fury among opponents angry about the outside influence in local elections.

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New York Times: When Is a Scandal Really a Scandal?

Emma Roller

The crown prince of Bahrain gives millions of dollars to a charitable organization that is run by the family foundation of the secretary of state. Later, he asks for a meeting with the secretary of state, through both formal and informal channels. He gets it.

Is this proof of illegal influence peddling, or just how the intermingling worlds of politics and philanthropy work? And at what point does the difference between an apparent conflict of interest and an actual conflict cease to matter?

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Candidates and Campaigns

Washington Times: The push proceeds toward oligarchy

Robert W. Merry

There is much hand-wringing these days about the evils of campaign finance, with many Americans — and all liberals — concluding the answer is to impose limits on spending (tantamount to limits on speech) and to bring elections more and more under the control of federal bureaucrats. This of course would simply move the country closer to oligarchy, with those in power controlling who will be allowed to challenge their power.

No, the evil in the system is the system, a marathon of frenzied debates, polls, breathless television commentators, vast advertising budgets, and endless travel — all requiring huge pools of cash in amounts that preclude most people, even highly qualified people, from competing…

A century ago the German sociologist Robert Michels wrote a book called “Political Parties,” positing what he called the “iron law of oligarchy” — elites always emerge and zealously protect their power, while the masses ultimately depend psychologically upon autocratic leadership. Is that happening today in America? The Trump candidacy and the Clinton Foundation suggest the answer may be yes.

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Sunlight Foundation: McCutcheon decision has allowed at least $39 million more in presidential election so far

Josh Stewart

Hillary Clinton’s joint fundraising committee, Hillary Victory Fund, which is a partnership between her campaign, the DNC and 33 state parties has raised $142 million total. A least $28 million of that money would not have been available before the McCutcheon decision.

Donald Trump’s joint fundraising committee, Trump Victory, raised a total of $25.6 million according to the latest filings. At least $11.5 million of that is more than he would have been able to raise if the aggregate rules were still in place. Some of the money Trump has raised, though, goes toward special accounts that can only be used for legal, headquarters and convention purposes.

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Wall Street Journal: Donald Trump’s Unorthodoxy Extends to Spending

Rebecca Ballhaus and Beth Reinhard

Republican Donald Trump has said he isn’t interested in running a traditional presidential campaign. Campaign-finance records show he’s not: Half of the campaign’s 10 highest-paid consultants over the course of the election had never previously worked for a presidential campaign.

Just one of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s top 10 consultants had no presidential campaign experience, according to a Wall Street Journal review of Federal Election Commission records through July that focused on firms paid for consulting services, including on field, digital and strategic efforts…

He said Mr. Trump’s reliance on relatively inexperienced consultants may also have come out of necessity, not choice. “There are a lot of political operatives who don’t want to work for Donald Trump,” Mr. Madden said.

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The States

Orange County Register: State Senate bill would empower citizen-funded elections

Paul S. Ryan.

Critics of the measure claim that the California Assembly, in voting for SB1107, would go against “the will of the people,” who voted to ban public financing by ballot initiative. But the provision was never truly reflective of California voters’ stance on public financing. The public financing ban was included as an amendment to the Act through Proposition 73, placed on the 1988 ballot by incumbent legislators with an interest in protecting their political power. The measure was placed on the ballot during a crowded, low-turnout June primary…

Critics also claim that the California Assembly is overstepping, and is outside its legal right to vote on this measure. But The Political Reform Act explicitly provides that the legislature may directly amend its provisions, without voter approval, in order “to further [the Act’s] purposes.” The PRA’s professed purposes include (1) creating more responsive state and local government, (2) diminishing the disproportionate influence of special interests over government actions, and (3) reducing the advantages of incumbency.

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The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.