Daily Media Links 10/31: How Citizens United Protects a Mezcal Company’s Right to Critcize Donald Trump, Hillary’s big money machine steams toward Election Day, and more…

Citizens United

Reason: How Citizens United Protects a Mezcal Company’s Right to Critcize Donald Trump

By Jacob Grier

Way back in July 2015-yes, the election really has been going on that long-thousands of posters bearing the likeness of Donald Trump and the words “Donald eres un pendejo” began appearing around New York City. (That’s “Donald, you are an asshole” for those who don’t speak Spanish or have never worked in a restaurant kitchen.)

The posters were the work of Ilegal Mezcal, a brand of agave spirit imported from Mexico…

Had the government’s theories prevailed in Citizens United, there would be no constitutional barriers preventing Congress from banning speech exactly like Ilegal’s poster campaign. “Let’s be really clear: It is publicity and I did use company money for this,” Rexer told Vice last year. The government would argue that such speech was protected only by the discretion of Congress and the FEC to focus on radio and TV. But if they wanted to go further? Under the federal government’s theory in Citizens United, the First Amendment wouldn’t stand in their way. 


Sunlight Foundation: Foreign money could be flowing into U.S. elections – will the FEC act?

By Melissa Yeager

The Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a complaint this week with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) over a report by The Telegraph (U.K.) showing members of a pro-Donald Trump super PAC, Great America PAC, instructing a Chinese businessman on how he could move money into the U.S. election in clear violation of federal law…

While many parts of U.S. election law are up for interpretation, this area is decidedly clear. Congress has passed legislation explicitly stating it, and the Supreme Court has upheld this law.

But it will be interesting to watch this complaint move through the FEC as the Citizens United decision has made the foreign nationals provision of the law murkier to enforce. The landmark ruling said corporations had the same right to “speech” in an election as an individual. That ruling left a looming question: In our global society, when is a company considered a foreign national and when is it a U.S. citizen?


Boston Globe: Law firm ‘bonuses’ tied to political donations

By Andrea Estes and Viveca Novak

From 2010 through 2014, Strouss and Bradley, along with founding partner Michael Thornton and his wife, donated nearly $1.6 million to Democratic Party fund-raising committees and a parade of politicians – from Senate minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada to Hawaii gubernatorial candidate David Ige to Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Over the same span, the lawyers received $1.4 million listed as “bonuses” in Thornton Law Firm records; more than 280 of the contributions precisely matched bonuses that were paid within 10 days…

Campaign finance experts said that without reviewing the firm’s records, they cannot say the payback system breaks the law, but that it raises numerous red flags.
That’s because reimbursing people for their political donations is generally illegal, several experts said. When political donors are repaid for their donations, it can conceal the real source of contributions, and enable the unnamed source of the funds to exceed state and federal contribution limits.  

Candidates and Campaigns

CPI: Hillary’s big money machine steams toward Election Day

By Dave Levinthal, Michael Beckel, and Carrie Levine

Before Democrat Hillary Clinton “overturns Citizens United,” curtails “secret, unaccountable money in politics” and ends “the stranglehold that the wealthy and special interests have on so much of our government,” she has some business left to do.

Namely, obliterating Republican Donald Trump with her historically massive, big-dollar, lobbyist-loaded campaign cash machine – one she says she’ll gladly disassemble once she wins the White House, but not before.

And new campaign finance reports show Clinton is sticking to that plan as Election 2016 enters its final days.

In the last campaign finance filing before the election Clinton and her super PAC allies have reported raising $702 million through Oct. 19, compared to Trump and his supportive groups, who have raised $312 million.

Wall Street Journal: Donald Trump Adds $10 Million of His Own Money for Advertising

By Monica Langley and Rebecca Ballhaus

Donald Trump, seeking to boost momentum in the last days of the presidential election, wired $10 million of his own money into his presidential campaign Friday morning, two advisers said.

The cash infusion will be used to buy $25 million in new TV advertising in key battleground states, the advisers said. With some polls tightening in recent days, the Republican nominee is determined to pull out a win 11 days from now, one aide said…

Mr. Trump’s latest donation to his cause still falls $34 million short of the $100 million he has repeatedly said he will give to his campaign-a pledge he reiterated as recently as Wednesday.

Washington Post: Trump leans on small donors as wealthy givers pull back

By Matea Gold and Anu Narayanswamy

A steep drop in support from wealthy donors has left Donald Trump dependent on small-dollar contributors in the final stretch of the 2016 race, creating an acute cash gap that could hurt down-ticket Republicans fighting for their political lives.

Supporters sent the GOP presidential nominee contributions of $200 or less at a faster clip this month than they did in September. But the businessman was still vastly outraised by Democratic rival Hillary Clinton because of tepid backing from those who write big checks, new campaign finance reports show.

The number of six-figure contributions flowing to a joint fundraising committee that benefits the Republican Party fell sharply in the first 19 days of October, with just 34 donors giving $100,000 or more, down from 167 in September.

Moyers & Company: How Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Are Flouting Campaign Finance Rules

By Brendan Fischer

While much has already been made of the loopholes that the court’s supposed ban on coordination between political campaigns and outside groups allowed to give unlimited sums to advance their election, Clinton’s and Trump’s coordination schemes are without precedent in a presidential campaign. These schemes threaten to crumble one of the few bulwarks that remain against a completely lawless campaign finance landscape in a post-Citizens United world…

In the six years since Citizens United, many candidates have pushed the envelope on coordination rules to inch closer to supposedly “independent” super PACs.

But the super PACs supporting both Trump and Clinton are making aggressive and unprecedented efforts to blow new holes in the federal laws and regulations governing coordination.

Wall Street Journal: Grifters-in-Chief

By Kimberley A. Strassel

In an election season that has been full of surprises, let’s hope the electorate understands that there is at least one thing of which it can be certain: A Hillary Clinton presidency will be built, from the ground up, on self-dealing, crony favors, and an utter disregard for the law.

This isn’t a guess. It is spelled out, in black and white, in the latest bombshell revelation from WikiLeaks. It comes in the form of a memo written in 2011 by longtime Clinton errand boy Doug Band, who for years worked simultaneously at the Clinton Foundation and at the head of his lucrative consulting business, Teneo.

It is astonishingly detailed proof that the Clintons do not draw any lines between their “charitable” work, their political activity, their government jobs or (and most important) their personal enrichment. Every other American is expected to keep these pursuits separate, as required by tax law, anticorruption law and campaign-finance law. For the Clintons, it is all one and the same-the rules be damned.

ABC News: How the Presidential Nominees’ Pre-Election Cash Stacks up to Previous Races

By Meghan Keneally

Donald Trump has the least cash-on-hand going into the final 12 days of the presidential race of any candidate in the past five elections, campaign finance records show.

Even Sen. John McCain, who participated in a Saturday Night Live sketch where he pretended to raise money by selling campaign memorabilia on shopping network QVC three days before the election, had millions more than the real estate mogul.

According to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings collected by the non-partisan Campaign Finance Institute, both of this year’s presidential candidates are reaching new lows in their cash-on-hand amounts, but Trump is far lower than Clinton.

Wall Street Journal: Donald Trump’s Entities, Family Rank High as Vendors to Campaign

By Rebecca Ballhaus

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s list of highest-paid campaign vendors is brimming with his own name.

An airline he owns has drawn the fifth-largest paycheck of any company the campaign paid through Oct. 19. Mr. Trump has also paid at least eight of his golf clubs, seven of his hotels and five of his restaurants.

In all, the New York businessman has spent close to $10 million over the course of the election cycle reimbursing his children for travel expenses and family-owned companies for campaign services, the most recent Federal Election Commission reports show…
That cash returned to the Trump family and their companies amounts to nearly one-sixth of the total amount of personal money he has donated the campaign through Oct. 19-$56 million.

The States

Washington Post: Citizens vs. Citizens United

By Editorial Board

Politicians from both political parties complain about the ever-increasing amount of time they have to spend raising money. Constituents wonder whose interests – theirs or those of major donors – are served by elected officials. But for all the talk about money in politics, there is no movement on the national level toward solutions. By contrast, across the country this fall voters will have a chance to express their opinion and, in some cases, approve substantive state and local reforms.

Voters in four states – California, Missouri, South Dakota and Washington – will vote on statewide ballot measures dealing with abuses in the campaign finance system…

These initiatives, if successful, would show a growing demand to free elections from big money and special interests. That in turn might spur some response in Washington. 

Washington Free Beacon: Ron Johnson Launches Statewide Ad Hitting Feingold Over ‘Slush Fund’ PAC

By Joe Schoffstall

Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R., Wis.) reelection campaign launched a new television advertisement this week hitting his Democratic opponent Russ Feingold over a political action committee he founded…

Feingold, who put himself on the forefront of campaign finance reform during his time in Congress, launched the Progressives United PAC with the goal of helping progressive candidates running for office.

Most of the PAC’s expenditures, however, did not go to candidates. Instead, the money padded the pockets of longtime aides to the former senator and even paid Feingold himself. In all, the PAC gave just five percent of all of its expenditures to candidates while his staff pulled in hundreds of thousands of dollars…

Paul Jossey, a campaign finance expert critical of both Democratic and Republican PACs, called Progressives United a “legalized slush fund. 

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