Daily Media Links 9/30: ‘Dark Money’ Is Free Speech, FEC Stalemate on Banning Foreign Money in U.S. Elections Could Be Ending, and more…


“Fat Cats” in Philadelphia

By Scott Blackburn

Consider a recent headline at OpenSecrets – the media’s go-to source for data on political spending: “And the good times rolled: 17 donors gave three-quarters of Dems’ convention money”…

Terrible bar arguments aside, the reality is not nearly as salacious as the headline suggests. The rest of the article outlines who those 17 donors actually are, and while neither I nor anyone at CCP can speak to whether or not “the good times rolled” at the Democratic Convention – whatever that means – I can say pretty confidently that Democrats were not disproportionately influenced by wealthy fat cats.

The top five donors (in order) were: The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (via a state grant), the city of Philadelphia, an in-kind contribution from Comcast (the event was held at the Comcast sports complex), PIDC-LOCAL Development Corporation (a nonprofit founded by the city of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce), and the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau – Philly’s tourism board. These top five “donors” accounted for about half of the total funds raised for the convention. 

Free Speech

Michigan Morning Sun: Column: ‘Dark Money’ Is Free Speech

By Bruce Edward Walker

Like it or not, money in the service of free speech is a good thing regardless your political beliefs and social passions. To pretend it isn’t is merely a disingenuous attack on freedom in general and free speech specifically.

As for all the liberal lunkheads out there who argue incessantly about the penumbra of privacy that exists in the U.S. Constitution when it comes to social issues they agree with but rend their garments over dark – that is to say “privately donated” – money in politics and donated to nonprofit organizations … balderdash. What would these same lunkheads think if donors to Planned Parenthood were targeted for armed assaults by violent criminals opposed to abortion and those who provide or assist funding such services?


The Intercept: FEC Stalemate on Banning Foreign Money in U.S. Elections Could Be Ending

By Jon Schwarz

The six members of the Federal Election Commission found unusual common ground Thursday in a discussion of foreign money in U.S. politics, informally agreeing to move forward after Republican commissioners have had more time to consider the subject.

This is noteworthy because the FEC’s three Republican commissioners have long voted against almost all initiatives to curb the political power of money, causing repeated 3-3 deadlocks.

“I was pretty pleased to see that [the GOP commissioners] received my specifics pretty warmly,” said Ellen Weintraub, one of the FEC’s Democratic members. “Even if you don’t believe the entire system needs reform, it’s hard to argue that, for example, it would be OK for U.S. corporations totally owned by foreign governments to make unlimited expenditures in U.S. elections.”

Wisconsin John Doe

The Guardian: Wisconsin lawmakers urge investigation of Scott Walker after ‘John Doe’ papers

By Ed Pilkington

Nineteen Wisconsin legislators have called for an official investigation into alleged criminal misconduct by the Republican governor Scott Walker, based on their review of court documents leaked to the Guardian.

The legislators, who represent more than half of the Democratic group within the state assembly, have written to the prosecutor for Dane County, which covers the state capital Madison as well as Walker’s home residence.

They urge the district attorney, Ismael Ozanne, to initiate an immediate investigation into what they describe as “serious allegations … of possible crimes”, in order to “protect the public interest in a government that is free of corruption”. 


CPI: Big business continues trend toward political transparency

By Dave Levinthal

Across 24 categories, the Center for Political Accountability/Zicklin index awards points to companies that, for example, voluntarily disclose contributions to certain nonprofit groups, publish policies that govern political expenditures from its corporate treasury and reveal money spent to influence state-level ballot initiatives.

From 2015 to 2016, the average corporate disclosure score rose slightly, according to the study. Similarly, the number of S&P 500 companies publicly disclosing their political spending and public policy priorities increased from 2015 to 2016.

Dangers of Disclosure

NBC Arizona: Arizona Republic receives death threats after endorsing Hillary Clinton

By Bryan West

The Arizona Republic says it has received death threats and countless subscription cancellations over its endorsement of Hillary Clinton — the first time in the paper’s 126 year history it has ever supported a Democrat for president.

“Well it’s been crazy around here,” said Phil Boas, director of the Arizona Republic’s editorial page. “We’re getting a lot of reaction both locally and national. I don’t believe true readers of the editorial page are surprised by this at all, because over the past year we have been writing scathing, scalding articles about Donald Trump.”

Reason: Alaska Reporter Who Quit On Air in Support of Marijuana Legalization Facing 24 Years in Prison

By Ed Krayewski

Charlo Greene went viral two years ago when she quit her reporting job on-air after advocating the legalization of marijuana. “Fuck it, I quit” she said, signing off for the last time…

After her resignation, the Alaska Cannabis Club, which she revealed to be the founder of in her last on-air segment, appeared to become a primary target for law enforcement authorities in Alaska, who conducted six undercover purchases and two raids of the club, which gave members marijuana in exchange for donations, and two raids in a five month period after her resignation. Marijuana legalization went into effect in February 2015. Greene, who spoke with The Guardian, faces eight drug-related charges that could cost her up to 24 years in prison, and described her experience as a “modern day lynching.”

The Media

Washington Post: CNN’s Corey Lewandowski gets his Trump severance ‘paid out’

By Erik Wemple

CNN this morning made an announcement about some of its internal affairs. In introducing a discussion of the 2016 presidential race, host Alisyn Camerota turned to CNN political commentator Corey Lewandowski and said, “Now, in previous appearances, we have told you that Corey was still receiving severance from the Trump campaign, but that is no longer the case, we are told.”

She then asked Lewandowski whether he was “done” with those payments. “Amazing, right? Everything comes to an end, everything comes to an end,” said Lewandowski. “Forty days to go in the election and now this is the breaking news of the day.”

Camerota issued a mildly editorial remark: “I didn’t think those would ever run out.”

Candidates and Campaigns

Los Angeles Times: They gave to Trump’s GOP rivals. Now 95% are sitting out the general election

By Seema Mehta, Anthony Pesce, and Maloy Moore

Most of Donald Trump’s Republican presidential primary rivals have come around to his candidacy, but their donors are staying away.

Nearly 95% of those who first gave to his GOP primary opponents are sitting out the general election, and of those who are still giving money, many are lining up behind Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton instead, according to a Times analysis of donations over $200.

Trump has out-raised Clinton $7.4 million to $2 million among donors who supported his 16 GOP rivals. But that much support for Clinton is notable in a race where her Republican rival is struggling in the money contest.

Politico: Trump launches ‘follow the money’ attack

By Ben Schreckinger and Kenneth P. Vogel

In an effort to go steady his campaign after this week’s shaky debate, Donald Trump on Wednesday launched a coordinated attack casting Hillary Clinton as a corrupt pawn of major donors and special interests.

The attack – rolled out in a campaign speech here, followed by a barrage of press releases and a video, all of which made heavy use of the catchphrase “follow the money” – foreshadows a “renewed focus on populist themes in battleground states,” said a person close to the campaign.

It is similar to an argument that Republicans have been pushing him to embrace for months, and echoes perhaps his best exchange at the first debate, when he pressed Clinton on her support of trade deals and their effect on states like Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The States

Los Angeles Times: More California communities could see public financing of campaigns under a law signed by Gov. Brown

By John Myers

More cities and counties will be able to offer public funds for political campaigns under a law signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown’s signature on Senate Bill 1107 makes public financing an option, though it does not require any local government to participate.

The bill was a major goal of watchdog groups critical of the influence of money in politics. They have suggested that the communities that allow limited public funds can then match those dollars with requirements for candidates to seek out small donations, ones that come from diverse parts of a community instead of a handful of big donors.

Maine Public: Clean Elections Advocates Say Private Campaign Donations Have Dipped

By Steve Mistler

Advocates for Maine’s public campaign finance program are touting what they say is a significant decrease in private donations to candidates vying for seats in the state Legislature.

Andrew Bossie with Maine Citizens for Clean Elections says the 22 percent dip in private donations correlates with increased participation in the state’s clean election program.

“Participation in Maine’s clean election program is up 62 percent. That’s 10 points higher than it was in the 2014 elections. And, Mainers can take heart that there’s less private money in our elections as a result of a strengthened Clean Elections law,” he says. “More disclosure and less money from wealthy special interests, that’s a good thing for voters.”

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