Daily Media Links 3/16: Sarbanes calls on Gorsuch to explain his position on campaign finance, Pro-Trump group launches ad buy boosting Gorsuch in 5 states, and more…

In the News                                       

Washington Examiner: The truth about Gorsuch’s record on ‘money in politics’

By David Keating & Luke Wachob

Democrats and progressives are losing their minds over President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. One left-wing advocacy group released a video titled “3 Reasons to Fear Judge Gorsuch.” Number one? According to them, if Gorsuch is on the Supreme Court, “our elections could be completely handed over to the powerful and the wealthy.”

That ludicrous statement refers to Gorsuch’s concurring opinion in Riddle v. Hickenlooper, a campaign finance case. Riddle challenged Colorado’s contribution limit law as discriminatory.

Was it ever! It allowed major party candidates to raise twice as much money as minor party candidates and independents. Progressives love to say “money isn’t speech,” but Riddle wasn’t about that. It was about equality…

Should progressives worry that Gorsuch may rule against them on campaign finance cases? Probably, given the type of restrictions they support on your free speech.

The silly Colorado law struck down by the court – they wrote it! Common Cause and like-minded groups seeking speech limits put it on the ballot. The goal? Getting money out of politics, of course.

Bloomberg BNA: Democrats to Probe Gorsuch Views on Campaign Finance

By Kenneth P. Doyle

Democrats supporting campaign finance regulation have stopped short, so far, of outright opposition to Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, but key lawmakers said the burden of proof is on Gorsuch to show he won’t help extend the line of recent court decisions that rolled back limits on money in politics…

Republicans and groups critical of campaign regulation generally have supported the Gorsuch nomination. The Center for Competitive Politics, which says it is America’s “largest nonprofit defending First Amendment political speech rights,” applauded Trump’s selection of Gorsuch as a nominee for the Supreme Court.

The judge’s “opinions show an understanding that the role of a judge is not to enact his own preferences, but neither is it to rubber stamp the legislature,” said Bradley A. Smith, a former Republican commissioner on the FEC, who is chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics. “At a time when free speech often seems on the defensive, we are pleased that President Trump has nominated someone who will defend a robust First Amendment.”

Supreme Court                                      

Baltimore Sun: Sarbanes calls on Gorsuch to explain his position on campaign finance

By John Fritze

Rep. John Sarbanes, a leading Democratic voice on campaign finance, is hoping that issue plays front and center when Judge Neil Gorsuch appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing next week.

Sarbanes crafted a letter, signed by 109 of his fellow Democrats, requesting that senators pin Gorsuch down on the issue of money in politics during the Monday hearing.

Proponents of overhauling the campaign finance system have little insight into Gorsuch’s thoughts on the issue. Advocates are mostly focused on a concurring opinion in 2014 in which Gorsuch wrote that “no one before us disputes that the act of contributing to political campaigns implicates a ‘basic constitutional freedom.'”

That has rattled reform groups who say it points to Gorsuch supporting the notion that campaign donations are free speech, an idea ensconced in the 1976 case Buckley v. Valeo…

Gorsuch appears to have wide GOP support in the Senate heading into his hearing, and it is unclear how hard Democrats will fight his confirmation.

Politico: Democrats step up anti-Gorsuch efforts amid liberal pressure

By Seung Min Kim and Elana Schor

Senate Democrats revved up their Supreme Court message machine on Wednesday, orchestrating back-to-back hits on President Donald Trump’s nominee – even as their leader declined to predict a successful filibuster of conservative Judge Neil Gorsuch.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren headlined separate anti-Gorsuch events on Wednesday…
Warren and fellow Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey rallied with liberal activists in below-freezing temperatures outside the Supreme Court to hammer home their party’s central critique of Gorsuch: that his record shows a consistent preference for corporate interests.

After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, “giant corporations and their right-wing buddies spent millions of dollars to keep that Supreme Court seat open so that Donald Trump could name a replacement,” Warren said to cheers.

Trump “promised to help these giant corporations and their big donors out” while campaigning, Warren added, and the president “paid off on that promise” by nominating Gorsuch to the high court.

Independent Groups                                      

Roll Call: Ethics Watchdogs Make a Career of It

By Kate Ackley

Eisen and Painter, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, are affiliated with the liberal-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which Eisen co-founded in 2003. Through CREW, Eisen and Painter – and other legal scholars such as Laurence H. Tribe and Zephyr Teachout – sued Trump over the previously obscure Emoluments Clause in the Constitution…

Some of their fellow ethics experts, though, say the aggressive tack by Eisen and Painter against potential conflicts of interest in the Trump administration may be more of a public relations and fundraising stunt. And that could ultimately cause the public’s attention to fade, even amid legitimate concerns.

Their interpretation of the Emoluments Clause is “unprecedented,” and is one a court “will be very unlikely to uphold,” said Rob Kelner, a GOP ethics lawyer at Covington & Burling.

“CREW chose to adopt a policy in which they would throw everything, including the kitchen sink, against Donald Trump virtually from Day One,” said Kelner, who criticized Trump during the 2016 campaign. “The danger is, it makes the whole effort look political and, I think, makes it tougher for them to attract independent-minded people to their side.”

Washington Examiner: Pro-Trump group launches ad buy boosting Gorsuch in 5 states

By Ryan Lovelace

The pro-Trump Great America Alliance is launching a multimillion-dollar ad buy Wednesday boosting Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination in five states.

Great America Alliance, the offspring of the Great America PAC that boosted President Trump during the 2016 campaign, will spend $3.5 million on television and digital ads in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Great America Alliance’s Patrick Dorinson told the Washington Examiner the group may expand the ad buy in coming days.

“We’re gearing up for the Gorsuch fight, followed up by the tax and regulatory reform fights we think is going to be coming,” said Eric Beach, co-chairman of the Great America Alliance. “We built a very unique data file, about 30 million records of Trump supporters throughout the election, so we test them constantly on the issues that matter the most and they’re very pleased with the Gorsuch nomination.”…

Great America Alliance’s effort on the federal appeals judge accompanies its advertising push in support of the president’s agenda that the group started last week with national ads.

Tax Financed Campaigns                                      

CNBC: Donald Trump checked the box on his tax returns to support public campaign finance

By Mark Fahey and Nick Wells

This week, two pages from a single Trump tax return from 2005 was leaked by mail to a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, possibly by the president himself. For over a year, the media have been asking Trump for his tax returns, which candidates typically turn over prior to an election.

The document held few surprises. Trump made more than $150 million in 2005 and paid about 25 percent in taxes largely due to the alternative minimum tax. But one minor detail is interesting: On this return, Trump supported public financing of elections by checking the often-overlooked box on his 1040 form…

Checking the box on a tax return doesn’t cost the filer a thing – it just directs the IRS to move $3 into the fund. Still, fewer and fewer Americans check the box each year – only about 6 percent elected to support the fund last year…

Trump didn’t take public money, despite being in the unique position of needing it in the middle of his campaign.

“I don’t like the idea of taking taxpayer money to run a campaign,” Trump told the AP in May. “I think it’s inappropriate.”


The Hill: Justice Department, Congress need to bring back subpoenas’ teeth

By David N. Bossie

Congress is a co-equal branch of the federal government and is charged with oversight responsibilities in our nation’s system of checks and balances. Congressman Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, has issued subpoenas to State Attorneys General Eric Schneiderman (N.Y.) and Maura Healey (Mass.) for records relating to their “Green 20” climate change campaign…

Chairman Smith and his committee are concerned that the Green 20 are abusing their prosecutorial powers for political purposes… 

Schneiderman and Healey have publicly announced that their offices will not comply with the committee’s subpoenas.

This matter is an ideal test case, pitting Congress and the Justice Department against two attorneys general trying to win points with their political base. Schneiderman and Healy are both grandstanding ideologues who appear to be misusing the powers of their offices to target political opponents and silence the speech of climate change critics. Where civil rights and the First Amendment are at issue Congress has every right to investigate.

Candidates and Campaigns                                     

CRP: Self-funded candidates lose big (except when they don’t)

By Niv Sultan

Let’s say you flip a coin, and it lands heads up. You flip it again, and it’s heads a second time. You toss it once more – you’re feeling exceptionally lucky – and it’s heads for the third time in a row. The chances of that happening are 12.5 percent.

In the 2016 cycle, that was precisely the likelihood of winning a federal race with a self-funded campaign. (We’re including candidates who put at least $500,000 – be it through loans or contributions – into their runs.) That was down from 24 percent in 2012, the previous presidential cycle.

If it’s any consolation, this past election’s self-funders did better than their counterparts in 2004, when just one of 30 emerged with a seat in Congress.

Self-funders clearly face unfavorable odds – but why is that?

“The main reason is they tend to be extremely inexperienced in politics,” said Jennifer Steen, associate research professor of political science at Arizona State University. “Often, they don’t have compelling resumes, they don’t have compelling credentials.” 

The States

Denver Post: Colorado Democrats propose reforms to shed more light on political “dark money”

By Brian Eason

Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran on Wednesday rolled out a series of bills to require that more “dark money” be disclosed under the state’s campaign finance laws, calling it a necessary step to ensure that out-of-state interests can’t “drown out the voice of our people.”

The four bills, all sponsored by Democrats, won’t stop – and probably won’t even slow – the flow of out-of-state money…

“There’s not a single piece of campaign finance reform that has done anything other than drive contributions further into the dark and make it more difficult,” said state Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs…

And while billionaires such as Soros can navigate Colorado’s campaign finance laws – hiring attorneys or digging for loopholes – regular people who want to run for public office often can’t, Gardner argued. He says that additional restrictions, including requiring more disclosures on advertising, will lead to opponents “playing gotcha” when a citizen-led group forgets to disclose by mistake.

That, he said, could stifle free speech.

“Average citizens are having to comply with things that presidential candidates don’t have to, practically,” Gardner said.

Seattle Weekly: Jon Grant Says He’s Signing Seattle’s Homeless Up for Democracy Vouchers

By Daniel Person

Could Seattle’s new Democracy Voucher program help homeless people direct city policy?

That’s the argument being made by the Jon Grant campaign, which on Tuesday announced it has collected $76,000 worth in vouchers, a total that’s been aided by the campaign’s effort to enroll the homeless in the program…

Asked whether the campaign was concerned this could be seen as exploiting the homeless for their vouchers, Wyble says Grant has been “pretty embedded” at the encampments-i.e., he hasn’t just swooped down for the vouchers- and that anyway the process of getting people signed up for the vouchers and then collecting them would not be an efficient one.

“That would be a hard way to collect vouchers. Even if you were cynical, saying, ‘I need to get the most vouchers I can,’ homeless vouchers would not be my first choice,” he says.

Grant was one of the first candidates to qualify for the voucher program. It seems to be paying off; he says he’s raised more in two months than he did during his entire campaign last year, in which he was defeated by Tim Burgess. His campaign says 82 percent of his contributions are through Democracy Vouchers.

Gotham Gazette: One-House Budgets Show Little Indication Ethics, Voting & Campaign Finance Reforms Will Advance in Albany

By Rachel Silberstein

Government ethics, voting, and campaign finance reform do not appear to be particularly high on the list of priorities for Cuomo, the Assembly majority, the Senate majority, or the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference…

However, a major difference between the two chambers is the status of the infamous “LLC loophole,” which permits politicians to benefit from virtually unlimited corporate campaign contributions — its closure, good government groups say, is essential to stemming pay-to-play politics and corruption.

An Assembly bill to close the loophole, sponsored by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, has passed multiple times with bipartisan support, and Cuomo has indicated he would sign the legislation if passed by both houses. Yet, the Senate has not brought such legislation to the floor for a vote, despite a companion bill existing for years…

While both Cuomo and Assembly Democrats favor creating a system of public campaign financing, perhaps similar to New York City’s, the Assembly did not specifically include that in its one-house and Senate Republicans in their one-house budget resolution again expressed opposition to taxpayer-funded campaigns.

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