Daily Media Links 11/28: Why I Need Anonymity, Last Chance to Take on Dark Money, and more…

In the News

The Hill: Mary Jo White deserves credit for independence

By Joe Albanese

Overall, White has lived up to the standard that the SEC should “never” make decisions “in response to political pressure.”
Probably the most forceful pressure applied on her was to have the SEC write a disclosure rule on giving by businesses to trade groups. Federal law bans companies from donating to federal candidates, and almost all election spending is already disclosed. The clear aim of those pushing for the rule was to force trade groups out of the public debate. Stockholders have repeatedly voted down such proposals. No one seriously thought they would help investors…

Chair White deserves great credit for maintaining the SEC’s independence despite relentless attacks. She served the public well by declining to appease ideological crusaders. That type of restraint and good judgment is all too rare in government and deserves praise.

LifeZette: Trump Donors Targeted on Twitter

By Jim Stinson

Every hour, a computer program, or “bot,” tweets out the name, job, and address of a donor to President-Elect Donald Trump’s campaign.

The apparent goal is sunshine – a more sinister objective may be intimidation. In either case, the account is taking advantage of disclosure laws, and using them to name and shame people…

According to Brad Smith, a former Federal Election Commission member and a Capital University law professor, 49 states and the federal government require some disclosure of campaign contributions and spending…

Smith said disclosure laws “neither provide the public with good information, nor solve the alleged problems of ‘secret money.'”

“Further, they will come at a price in political freedom and safety from government and private retaliation,” Smith wrote. “Precedents protecting civil liberties, established over a half century of painstaking litigation, could be brushed aside in the sudden hysteria for ‘full disclosure.'”

Free Speech

American Thinker: Why I Need Anonymity

By Elizabeth Nahas

My name is Elizabeth Nahas. Actually, the truth be told, my real name is… Well, I cannot tell you. Many of you reading this will understand, but for those who do not, let me explain. I live and work in a very deep blue state in the Northeast and am self employed as a Social Worker. The profession has always tilted left but is now left of left. Their political identity parallels the trajectory the country has taken for several decades, accelerating the last eight years… Subsequently, I must remain closeted in order to avoid being shunned or figuratively tarred and feathered which is an action the left often takes to squelch opposition and dissent…

As Kimberly Strassel writes in her fabulous book, The Intimidation Game, the First Amendment not only protects free speech but assembly and anonymity. I did not realize how expansive a reach the First Amendment was prior to becoming engrossed in this book. Along with many other things about our remarkable country, I am most thankful for the first and most important amendment. Like many of you, I will remain informed but for now, do so anonymously.

Washington Post: Reddit’s CEO regrets trolling Trump supporters by secretly editing their posts

By Abby Ohlheiser and Hayley Tsukayama

Steve Huffman, the chief executive of Reddit, knows he has some explaining to do.
Huffman, also a Reddit co-founder, landed in hot water Wednesday after admitting that he used his administrative powers to secretly edit user comments that were critical of him on r/The_Donald – a popular, pro-Trump forum (or “subreddit”). He swapped all mentions of his own username with the names of the pro-Trump group’s leaders, meaning that expletive-laden posts aimed at him looked instead as if they were insulting the group’s leaders.

It was not a good idea, he told The Washington Post Friday by phone. “I abused my power to give the bullies a hard time,” he said. Huffman thought of his name-swapping as a joke: a way to poke back at the people who’ve been harassing him and some of the site’s volunteer moderators for months…

He said he intended to swap the names for just a few hours – even though doing so violates Reddit employee policies – just to give the subreddit’s moderators a taste of what he goes through on a daily basis. 

Political Parties

The Week: How leftists can leave the Democratic Party without destroying it

By Ryan Cooper

I previously argued that the Democratic Party must recognize that the labor union is one of the few tried-and-tested institution that might bring the party back from its utter devastation at the state and local levels, and one that fits well with the political weaknesses that lost the primary for Hillary Clinton.

But realistically speaking, that’s probably a stretch. Pro-labor thinking is unfamiliar to most Democrats (with a few exceptions like Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders), and as former labor organizer Rich Yeselson points out, politicians almost always respond to powerful actors rather than attempting to create those actors themselves.

But suppose we created a new, explicitly worker’s party?…

One easy place to start would be bulking out a slate of candidates for every one of the literally hundreds of legislative seats the Democrats do not even bother to contest, many of which would be totally winnable under decent circumstances, and campaigns for which would cost a relative pittance at the state level. (Few have noticed that the Citizens United case made it much easier to set up and fundraise for a new quasi-party like this.) 

Congress

Southeast Texas Record: Open Letter to the U.S. Senate: Oppose All Campaign Finance Riders to Funding Bills

By Brennan Center for Justice

The two campaign finance riders currently in the law serve to keep the American people in the dark about hundreds of millions of dollars in secret contributions that have been poured into federal elections…

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has a vital role to play in ensuring corporate transparency for shareholders. More than 1.2 million investors and members of the public petitioned the SEC to create a rule requiring uniform corporate political disclosure, the most signers to a petition in agency history. The congressional rider, however, would prevent the SEC from issuing such a regulation. We urge that this rider be dropped.   Congress also has blocked the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service from issuing new regulations regarding the political activities of 501(c) groups. This prevents revised regulations from being issued that would provide nonprofit groups with a clear definition of political activities and would provide increased disclosure of secret money contributions being spent in our elections.        

The Media

Wall Street Journal: Trump vs. the White House Press Corps

By Ari Fleischer

In every era, the nation needs a fair and vigilant press to check the power of the president. Presidents might not like it, but it serves the country well. The daily briefing by the press secretary has long been a TV show, not a serious briefing, but it is still worth the effort. The mainstream media have a role to play, and so do a lot of other outlets. But when the press is too liberal or unfair, the media themselves put what they do at risk.

I don’t know what changes President-elect Trump will make, but he has extraordinary latitude. If he decides to go around the press entirely, abolish the daily briefing, give seats to different reporters, appoint a combative press secretary, or not take a press pool with him to dinner, the reason he’ll be able to get away with it is because the mainstream media lost the trust of the American people.   

Obama Administration

U.S. News & World Report: Last Chance to Take on Dark Money

By Dan I. Weiner

During his time in office, President Barack Obama has repeatedly criticized the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision, and spoken out with particular force on the need to curb the tidal wave of secret money that has washed over our elections as a result. But despite the fact that so many Americans of all ideological stripes are fed up with our political system, in part because of the role money plays, the president has never followed up on his words with real, concrete action.

Even now, there is still time for him to do so, by issuing an executive order requiring large government contractors to disclose their campaign spending. This is almost certainly his last chance to leave any concrete legacy on one of the most important challenges facing our democracy… 

An executive order requiring basic transparency would at least provide a measure of accountability and represent an important first step toward dealing with the larger problem of secret money in American politics.    

Trump Administration

Bloomberg: Trump Names White House Counsel as Potential Conflicts Loom

By Jennifer Jacobs and Toluse Olorunnipa

Donald Trump named Donald F. McGahn as White House counsel, selecting a seasoned political lawyer who could help navigate the growing scrutiny on potential conflicts of interest between the president-elect’s businesses and his incoming administration.

McGahn, a partner at the Jones Day law firm in Washington and a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, had served as an adviser to Trump’s campaign. His specialties include government ethics, the president-elect’s transition team said in a statement Friday announcing his selection…

McGahn oversaw a major rewrite of the FEC’s procedures, which he has said brought unprecedented transparency and due process to the agency. Critics say that instead he placed too much power in the hands of the often deadlocked commissioners — there are six, three from each party, who often split on partisan lines — while hamstringing its career staff, limiting its effectiveness. 

Mother Jones: Trump Might Be a Dream Come True for Megarich Campaign Donors

By Andy Kroll

Clinton lost despite spending more than Trump, but he wouldn’t have won without raising truckloads of money just like any other candidate taking advantage of the “rigged” system…

And there is little evidence to suggest President Trump has any interest in fixing the system. In his first days as the president-elect, he chose a top donor to lead his inauguration committee, stocked his transition team with corporate lobbyists, and floated several multimillionaire donors for Cabinet positions.

But perhaps none of Trump’s actions will mean more for the future of money in politics than his Supreme Court appointments. As president, he could have as many as three seats to fill on a court that is expected to hear major cases on questions like whether corporations should be able to pour cash into campaigns directly and whether the ban on so-called soft money should stand. Will he stick to his pledge to “drain the swamp”? For one signal of Trump’s intentions, consider that his inner circle includes none other than David Bossie, the man who launched the case that supercharged the dark-money era: Citizens United.

Wall Street Journal: Companies Retool Lobbying as Donald Trump’s Administration Nears

By Rebecca Ballhaus

Corporations are scrambling to retool their lobbying efforts as Republicans, preparing for control of the House, Senate and White House come January, hope to break the partisan logjam that has blocked the passage of legislation for six years…

“Businesses are moving from defense to offense,” said Hunter Bates,a partner at law and lobbying firm Akin Gump and onetime chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.). “What we’re about to see is a host of issues going from gridlock to the goal line.”

That could mean a record high next year of lobbying spending, which totaled $2.3 billion in the first three quarters of 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics…

Even in Mr. Trump’s Washington, lobbyists will still find themselves with a hefty role to play-though not on the president-elect’s transition team. At least a half-dozen major lobbyists had been hired to oversee departments on the team before it released its code of ethics under the leadership of Vice President-elect Mike Pence. After the code’s release, some of the lobbyists simply terminated their registrations and kept their posts. 

The States

KDLT South Dakota News: Republican Lawmakers File Lawsuit Against Initiated Measure 22

By Associated Press

A group of Republican lawmakers and others are going to court to block a government ethics overhaul just approved by voters this month. 

Their lawsuit filed in state court Wednesday challenges the constitutionality of the ballot measure that took effect last week.

Foes of the measure argue that provisions including an ethics commission, public campaign funding and limitations on lobbyist gifts run afoul of the state or federal constitutions – or both.

Voters narrowly approved the measure after supporters billed it as an anti-corruption package that would improve transparency.

Detroit Free Press: Bill offers Michigan Citizens United on steroids

By Craig Mauger

Senate Bill 638 is a bill in the Legislature that would give more power to our state’s biggest political donors. It would render our campaign contribution limits, which are efforts to prevent corruption, even less effective.

The bill would allow candidates to solicit unlimited contributions to Super PACs that support them but are supposed to be independent of them. Currently, Michigan law is silent on that, but a candidate for the Michigan House can raise only $1,000 for his or her own campaign fund.

A candidate for governor in 2018 could ask for a $6,800 contribution from an individual for his or her campaign. Under Senate Bill 638, that same candidate could ask for a $680,000 contribution – or more – from a corporation or labor group to a Super PAC that supports the candidate. That’s an open invitation to major political leverage for the donor.

Washington Post: D.C. Council to debate emergency legislation on campaign finance reform

By Jasper Scherer

D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie said he will introduce emergency legislation to bar contributions to political action committees during non-election years in an effort to close what some view as a major campaign finance loophole before the start of 2017…

McDuffie chairs the council’s judiciary committee, which is considering five related campaign finance reform bills, some of which include a closure of the loophole. Those bills are unlikely to pass before the legislative period closes at the end of the year, according to legislative aides and activists, but McDuffie’s emergency bill would bypass many of the steps ordinarily required…

The most comprehensive of the pending legislation is Attorney General Karl A. Racine’s bill, introduced by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) on his behalf, that would prohibit businesses and individuals from receiving contracts worth $100,000 or more from the District within two years of donating to a candidate or elected official.

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