Daily Media Links 2/27: Trump set to remake FEC, name all commissioners, Judge Won’t Order FEC to Pursue Conservative Nonprofit, and more…


Wall Street Journal: Ann Ravel’s Loud Departure

By Editorial Board

As a progressive from California, Ms. Ravel tried to implement the Democratic left’s agenda of regulating political speech. We hope the Republicans don’t duplicate her attempt to ideologize the FEC…

By tradition, Senate Democrats would pick Ms. Ravel’s replacement, but some Republicans are encouraging the unconventional Mr. Trump to throw that over and appoint his own nominee. That would be a dangerous precedent. Even if a principled conservative supermajority might be trusted to refrain from abusing its powers against left-wing speech, Democrats will never display such self-control when they regain the White House and hold the appointment authority.

Republicans have strong complaints about campaign-finance laws. The more durable solution is to use their new bully pulpit and control of government to make the case for changing the McCain-Feingold law and other restrictions on political speech. Using an FEC supermajority to unilaterally rewrite those laws is not a real fix and mimics the Obama pattern by executive fiat. Mr. Trump can push Democrats to name an appointee who respects the First Amendment. That alone would be an upgrade.

More Soft Money Hard Law: Commissioner Weintraub and her Critics

By Bob Bauer

The FEC got back into the news when Commissioner Weintraub issued a statement, posted to the FEC website and distributed via Twitter, that President Trump should produce some evidence to support his claim of voter fraud. An organization that calls itself Cause of Action filed a complaint with the FEC Inspector General, demanding an inquiry into whether the Commissioner’s expression of her views involved an impermissible diversion of government resources to a private political pursuit. Commissioner Weintraub replied that she would “not be silenced.”

One can only hope that in this demoralized agency, the IG finds better things to do…

Are Weintraub’s comments directly and squarely within the jurisdiction of the Commission, such that she can take some action in response to the President’s failure to produce the requested evidence? No, but then again she rightly says that as a 13 year Commissioner, she should be free to take notice of any claims that bear on the integrity of elections. And she has tried, probably unnecessarily, to bolster her case by pointing out that anyone paying for busloads to come into New Hampshire to vote illegally may have committed a campaign finance violation.

Washington Examiner: Trump set to remake FEC, name all commissioners

By Paul Bedard

President Trump is poised to replace all six members of the Federal Election Commission…

All but Ravel, who made headlines for pushing regulation of Internet speech and conservative political sites like the Drudge Report, are serving on expired six-year terms and can be replaced at any time by Trump.

Typically, commissioner names are suggested by the sitting president and Senate leader on the other political side. By law, the commission is split, three Democrats and three Republicans.

But experts said Trump could shake up the process, especially since his top White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, was a commissioner. He pushed several issues that irked Democrats, including deregulating campaign finance.
Trump can’t pick a Republican for the Democratic seats, but he can go with an independent or moderate…

Trump is expected to focus on potential commissioners with views more in tune with McGahn, and less likely to tangle with issues outside the FEC’s authority or push the pet projects of Ravel and Weintraub.

Daily Caller: At The FEC, Some Speakers Are More Equal Than Others

By Ronald Hicks

In the name of democracy and equal speech, campaign finance “reformers” demand broad power for the FEC to regulate the political speech of average citizens, organizations, and corporations, requiring disclosure, repeated filings, and compliance with complicated regulations (that not even the FEC understands), while asserting freedom and anonymity rights for their own political speech. This hypocrisy has been demonstrated numerous times in recent months…

Strong partisanship on the part of FEC Democrats shakes the public’s confidence that the FEC will apply the law equally without regard to partisan or policy goals. And when the “reform” community within and without the FEC applies different standards for speech and anonymity to themselves and others, it not only further de-legitimizes the agency but also reveals the “reform” movement’s goal: to silence speakers that disagree with them through actual or threatened government regulation.

Supreme Court                      

The Hill: Corporations aren’t people. Americans get it. Gorsuch doesn’t.

By Tiffany Muller

Neil Gorsuch’s record is troubling, to say the least. In the Hobby Lobby case, he supported a ruling which held that corporations are “persons.” In Riddle v. Hickenlooper, his opinion suggested a desire to give unprecedented constitutional protections to political contributions – which would throw out our last remaining limits on mega-donors who are trying to buy our elections.

This record indicates that Judge Gorsuch would join the extreme wing on the Court to form a majority that ensures the system stays rigged to favor corporations and billionaires with special interests.

We’d have more money and less transparency in our elections. Big Money would be able to expand its undue and outsized influence on our democracy, and American families would have an even harder time making their voices heard in our politics.

Gorsuch’s nomination is part of a troubling and dangerous pattern. He’s the latest in a long line of President Trump’s appointments who are hostile to safeguards in our campaign finance laws that are designed to protect our democracy from the corrosive influence of money in politics.

The Courts                      

Bloomberg BNA: Judge Won’t Order FEC to Pursue Conservative Nonprofit

By Kenneth P. Doyle

The FEC investigated the now-defunct nonprofit Commission on Hope Growth and Opportunity (CHGO) for more than five years, but the case was dismissed after the six FEC commissioners ultimately deadlocked in a party-line vote on possible enforcement action. Judge Rudolph Contreras of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said in a Feb. 22 ruling that he would not reverse the FEC’s dismissal of the CHGO matter.

Although the FEC “strong grounds to prosecute” CHGO for campaign finance violations, the judge said, the agency had discretion to drop the case because it dragged on for so long that a statute of limitations had lapsed and the nonprofit group had ceased operating…

The liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which brought the court challenge to the FEC’s dismissal of the CHGO matter, expressed disappointment in Contreras’s ruling and suggested it was considering an appeal. 

Independent Groups                      

CRP: Outside groups spent more than candidates in 27 races, often by huge amounts

By Niv Sultan

In the 2016 cycle, there were 27 congressional races in which outside spending topped the outlays of the candidates. In those contests, candidates spent a combined total of just under $367 million – and outside groups spent more than $683 million.

Seven of these 27 contests were for Senate seats, meaning that outside groups outspent candidates in about one-fifth of the cycle’s 34 Senate races. Because Senate seats, being fewer, are more coveted and influential than House seats, and because candidates have to run statewide, Senate races are usually pricier; the most expensive House race wouldn’t have even cracked the Senate’s 10 most expensive.

Now, 27 races where super PACs and other outside groups surpassed candidate spending isn’t a record: In 2012, there were 32 such contests; 2014 saw 28.

What’s skyrocketed, though, is the difference separating the outlays of candidates and groups in those races. From a total of less than $100 million in 2012, the gap soared to more than $316 million in 2016, even though the number of contests in this category shrank.

Political Parties                       

USA Today: Democrats elect Tom Perez, former Labor secretary, as new party leader

By Heidi M Przybyla

Democrats chose President Obama’s former Labor secretary, Tom Perez, as the person to lead them out of a political wilderness of heavy losses at every level of government over the past eight years and amid tensions between moderates and progressives about how to rebuild the party after Hillary Clinton’s unexpected presidential loss to Donald Trump…

A group of Ellison supporters reacted angrily at the tally and stormed out chanting “no big money. Party for the people.”…

More immediately, the major challenge for Perez is fundraising. The Republican National Committee raised a record $19.8 million in January. While the Democratic Party’s traditional grassroots machine, labor unions, fight for survival, Republicans have built a powerhouse of outside groups like the Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity that is bolstering local GOP officials from county commissioner to governor…

Democrats expect the new chair to reinvigorate local parties who complain national outside groups, like Obama’s Organizing for Action, drain talent and resources resulting in a disproportionate share of resources going to presidential candidates.


Providence Journal: R.I. Sen. Whitehouse takes aim at Trump in announcing reelection bid

By Katherine Gregg

Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse – a former federal prosecutor, devout speech-giver on the hazards of climate change and leader of one of the imminent Congressional inquiries into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election – is running for reelection to the U.S. Senate.

Making it official on Sunday at the Biltmore Hotel, in front of an estimated 300 cheering supporters, Whitehouse, 61, lamented the current state of the nation with a “president who traffics in alternative facts… takes the side of fake news,” and distorts the beliefs that sent Whitehouse’s own father to war in the 1940s and later to a career in the CIA and the state department…

“How is it,” he asked, “that the most economically favored Americans on Wall Street fight in Washington to win tax rates for themselves that are lower than the people who work for them… How is it that America’s elections – the working symbol of our democracy – are now polluted with dark money and unlimited special interest influence [and] even Russian interference?”

Wisconsin John Doe                     

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Ethics Commission records taken in John Doe leak probe

By Patrick Marley

The state Department of Justice seized material from the Ethics Commission this month as part of its investigation into the leak of material damaging to Gov. Scott Walker, records show.

The development is the latest sign GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel is seeking to uncover who leaked records from the investigation to the Guardian U.S.

Last week, state agents reviewed documents in the clerk’s office of the state Supreme Court, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported.

Weeks earlier, on Feb. 1, Department of Justice agents collected documents from the Ethics Commission, according to emails released this week under the state’s open records law…

Jefferson County Circuit Judge David Wambach is in charge of any remaining issues connected to the probe of Walker’s campaign. The same judge is involved with the leak investigation, according to Schimel and records that have become public.

Wambach issued an order on Jan. 30 related to the leak investigation, but the order has not been made public. In Department of Justice emails, it is referred to as an “order granting access.”

The States

Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Getting personal on finance reform

By Stu Whitney

One of the most striking aspects of the 2017 state legislative session was the fury and efficiency with which the Republican super majority laid Initiated Measure 22 to waste…

In the weeks since, we’ve seen a flurry of bills aimed at reassuring the public that campaign finance reform, lobbying restrictions and ethics oversight can still be achieved, but in a way that doesn’t make Republican state leaders uncomfortable.

Senate Bill 151, instituting a complaint procedure for misconduct, and House Bill 1076, which creates a state accountability board, have gained momentum and appear on their way to being adopted without significant amendments.

Enduring a rockier road is Senate Bill 54, the product of a bipartisan task force assembled by Secretary of State Shantel Krebs last fall to review and improve South Dakota’s campaign finance laws…

Under SB 54, legislative candidate committees can accept contributions of up to $1,000 from individuals, $10,000 from political action committees (PACs) and unlimited donations from a political party or other candidate committees – standards much more lenient than in the measure passed by voters.

Los Angeles Times: Political Road Map: If you think it’s time to rein in money in politics, look to Sacramento or to California’s voters

By John Myers

“We’re going to have to look to the states,” said Ravel, who last weekend resigned her seat on the Federal Election Commission and is on her way back home to California…
State legislators, who have wrestled with disclosure bills several times in recent years, will again consider this spring an effort to force additional disclosure in funding of campaign advertisements.

There’s also an opportunity for voters to impose more transparency through California’s ballot initiative process. That’s how the state’s landmark 1974 political reform law was enacted, one that’s in the process of being updated by campaign finance officials.

What’s less likely to stand in the courts are new attempts to rein in the outsize role of contributions to independent political action committees. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the 2010 Citizens United case remains intact…

The only other option may be more public financing, where some models have survived court challenges. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law last year allowing additional cities and counties in the state to use taxpayer dollars for political campaigns.

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