Daily Media Links 3/20: The important money-in-politics questions to ask Judge Gorsuch, Democratic lawmakers in Colorado introduce bills to reform campaign finance laws, and more…

In the News                                      

The Hill: Trump’s America should force the left to embrace corporate speech

By Alex Baiocco

With confirmation hearings for President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch fast approaching, the specter of corporate influence is sure to emerge once again in the headlines. Predictably, several Democratic Senators have already begun their diatribe against “big money corporate interests” and a nominee who “does not recognize that corporations are not people.”…

Democratic politicians and organizations that support an anti-speech agenda continue to push the narrative that corporate speech rights give corporations the right to “buy elections and run our government.” This is preposterous.

Everyone recognizes that protecting freedom of speech is good and desirable. The fact that a group of citizens is operating a business should not disqualify them from First Amendment protections. No, corporations are not people. And no, money is not speech.

But corporations are comprised of people with rights. And if those people choose to exercise their First Amendment right to make a political statement, they will need to spend money to do so effectively. To say that the First Amendment does not apply to U.S. businesses is to say that the First Amendment does not apply to the people who form and operate them.


Neil Gorsuch, and the Supreme Court’s Role on Money in Politics

By Brad Smith

Democrats in Congress have signaled their intention to make campaign finance a major theme of the Gorsuch hearings this week. No doubt with that in mind, the anti-speech group Demos has rushed out a document criticizing past U.S. Supreme Court decisions that, they claim, “have benefited a small class of wealthy, white conservative men.”

The Demos report is curious in a wide variety of ways, but mostly, it shows the extremism of Demos and the anti-speech zealots behind the move to regulate political speech.
What Demos claims to do is demonstrate the amount of money in American politics that is the “result” of four U.S. Supreme Court decisions…

Demos’s methodology is crude and unsophisticated. Most importantly, there is no effort to examine what Samuel Issacharoff & Pamela Karlan famously dubbed the “hydraulic effect”-the fact that blocking one form of political communication simply diverts political activity and spending to another form of communication… 

This report was rushed out, it appears, to provide fodder for attacks on Judge Gorsuch this week, but it really shows the radical position of Gorsuch’s critics.

We should be thankful that the Constitution protects our rights to free speech, and should judge harshly those who would restrict those rights.

Supreme Court                                      

The Hill: The important money-in-politics questions to ask Judge Gorsuch

By Trevor Potter

With the Supreme Court’s recent flawed interpretations of campaign finance law threatening to make the American political system even more out of touch with average citizens, Senators must push for Judge Gorsuch’s view of whether the constitution allows us to check the corrosive influence of money in our political system…

In Riddle v. Hickenlooper, Judge Gorsuch was receptive to raising the standard of scrutiny to be applied to contribution limits. This approach could deal a fatal blow to remaining contribution limits by opening up equal protection challenges to contribution limits from super PACs, corporations, government contractors and other entities… 

The question is whether Judge Gorsuch’s views of our democratic system, and the constitution, provide a privileged role for voters and citizens or for special interests such as business corporations and large economic entities. Will he offer greater protection to the secrecy of political money or use a flawed First Amendment argument to justify striking down contribution limits completely, allowing a free-for-all for big donors?

U.S. News & World Report: Correcting a Supreme Mistake

By Ian Vandewalker

In the Senate hearing on his nomination to the Supreme Court this week, Neil Gorsuch will most likely pledge to keep an open mind about cases that might come before him as a justice on the high court. That’s good, because open minds on the court are exactly what our democracy needs.

Having an open mind includes recognizing mistakes rather than blindly following precedent. And one area where the court has made many mistakes is money in politics: Perhaps their biggest was the 2010 Citizens United ruling. In that case, a bare majority of five justices argued that, while it’s clear that money given directly to a politician can corrupt, there’s no risk of corruption when money is given to outside groups that supposedly operate independently from candidates’ campaigns. The theory is that corruption is impossible because the candidate does not control the money and might even disagree with how it’s spent.

But since 2010, there have been numerous examples of large donations to nominally independent groups that have apparently corrupted politicians, making a mockery of the court’s reasoning.


Washington Examiner: Ethics Committee finally opens for business Wednesday

By Nicole Duran

The House Ethics Committee will meet for the first time in the 115th Congress next week and could make determinations on several complaints pending against lawmakers.

The panel was set to meet twice in the last two weeks but had to postpone its organizational meeting because of scheduling conflicts caused first by marathon markups of the GOP plan to repeal Obamacare, and then because of winter storm Stella.

But the committee is also behind for several other reasons. One is that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., didn’t appoint the newest Democratic member, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., until Valentine’s Day. The committee also has a new chairwoman, Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., and a new ranking member, Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla…

The independent Office of Congressional Ethics considers allegations that lawmakers broke House rules. If its staff finds enough evidence, its outside board votes on whether to refer the matter to the Ethics Committee for adjudication.

Trump Administration                                       

USA Today: Trump’s unprecedented war on ethics: Eisen and Painter

By Norm L. Eisen and Richard W. Painter

The problem starts with tone deafness at the top. Trump’s hotels, golf courses and other enterprises continue to do business with foreign and domestic entities that have interests before the government he heads. This raises serious conflicts and legal concerns, including under the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits U.S. government officials from receiving foreign government payments or benefits “of any kind whatever.”…

Trump could still head off this ethics train wreck. He could make a clean breast of the facts by releasing his tax returns and by answering questions about other issues instead of stonewalling, as the the White House has done on our Liddell inquiries. The president should also recommit to a strong ethics program by adding a respected, independent ethics counsel strictly to enforce the rules, including taking a fresh look at the emoluments issues. And he should pledge full cooperation with the congressional investigation of his campaign’s Russia ties.

Unless he takes these steps, or others like them, he and his administration are facing civil, criminal and congressional exposure of a magnitude our nation has not seen since Watergate.

The States

Durango Herald: Democratic lawmakers in Colorado introduce bills to reform campaign finance laws

By Luke Perkins

Democratic lawmakers are trying to increase the transparency and equity of the system for financing political campaigns with four bills that were introduced Wednesday at the state Legislature.

The bills would change the system by doing such things as limit contributions from individuals to county-level candidates, require all campaign advertisements to list who paid for the distribution, increase voter access to information about who is spending money to influence election results, and close a loophole that allows candidates to circumvent contribution limits for state elections…

The bills are not only a response to what has occurred on a state level, but also in national elections.

“It is no secret that there is a lot of cynicism about political institutions today, and the dark money that is spent on political campaigns,” Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, told the media…

Representatives from two public interests groups also spoke in support of the bills.

Elizabeth Steele, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, said the bills were a step towards modernizing Colorado’s campaign financing laws, which should be a priority for all lawmakers.

Colorado Springs Gazette: Bill would curb abuse of campaign-finance law

By Editorial Board

As reported last month in the right-leaning Reason magazine, anti-conservative activist Matt Arnold has used the state’s Amendment 27 to file dozens of complaints against grass-roots conservative Republicans. Most involve trivial clerical errors, with no significant ramifications, which could and would be cleared up in moments with the mere courtesy of notice…

House Bill 1155, approved in a House committee last week, would adjust Amendment 27 to substantially reduce abuse. It would establish a 15-day grace period to fix errors after candidates, committees and campaigns are notified. No penalties would be assessed on those who show an administrative law judge that a good-faith effort was made to comply with requirements in the first place and substantial compliance had occurred…

The public deserves transparency and full compliance with reporting rules. That is what House Bill 1155 would achieve, while eliminating unintended consequences of a law so poorly written it has been used to intimidate and silence Coloradans with conservative views.

Providence Journal: R.I. Gov. Raimondo goes after ‘bad actors’ with slate of reforms

By Patrick Anderson

Governor Gina Raimondo is putting past lawmaker misdeeds and the power of the legislature in the spotlight again with government-reform proposals to be introduced this week.

The governor proposes routine audits of campaign-finance accounts, disqualification of candidates who owe campaign fines, and arming the governor with line-item veto power over spending bills.

“The reason to do this is Rhode Islanders deserve confidence in their government,” Raimondo told the Journal in an interview Friday. “I think the vast majority of public servants are honest and ethical…. So I say strengthen the rules and strengthen enforcement so that we can find these bad actors sooner and also deter bad behavior.”

Florida Times-Union: No momentum for proposals to limit negative political ads

By Tia Mitchell

Rep. Joe Gruters has a stack of mailers from his 2016 campaign containing negative messages about him. He can’t figure out who or what entity financed these mail pieces.

Now a member of the Florida House representing Sarasota, Gruters has filed a bill intended to eliminate some of the so-called “dark money” in Florida politics…
Sen. Debbie Mayfield, who also saw the influence of “dark money” in her primary last year for a Central Florida seat, filed an identical proposal in the Senate…

Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, said he understands the concerns of legislators who have been the target of these “dark money” attacks. But he also doesn’t want to limit the rights of citizens to form political committees and weigh in on local issues while shielding their identities.

“Anonymity as a feature is a powerful tool for the average citizen,” Caldwell said. “That’s the nugget I’m still chewing on, and I haven’t figured out a way to quiet my soul on how we would balance those two priorities.”

U.S. News & World Report: Lawmakers Propose Reeling Back Reporting Requirements

By Marina Villeneuve

Political candidates, party committees and political action committees would no longer have to report certain contributions and expenditures within 24 hours under a bill sponsored by a top Republican.

Senate Republican Leader Garrett Mason’s bill would apply to contributions of at least $5,000 and expenditures of $1,000 made in the 14 days before election.

It would mean the public would have to wait more than a month after the election to see such campaign finance reports.

Mason claimed the 24-hour reporting requirement is a “relic” from the state’s first publicly funded elections program. At the time, Mason said that 24-hour reports were put into place so the state ethics commission could provide matching funds that have since been eliminated.

“Especially in Maine, where most of these campaigns are just run out of the back of our cars, it’s another government reporting requirement that’s not necessary anymore,” Mason said. 

Walla Walla Union-Bulletin: Curbing campaign donations for governor only is shortsighted

By Editorial Board

Campaign donations to politicians seeking office can, by their nature, lead to conflicts of interests. After all, those donating to candidates are often motivated beyond political ideology.

And this is why it’s important to have ethics rules in place to make political donations public and, depending on the circumstances, limited in scope.

But an effort in the state Senate to prohibit state employee unions and other groups that collectively bargain employment contracts with the state from making donations to gubernatorial candidates seems to be more motivated by politics than ethics.

It’s a shot by Republicans – and one conservative Democrat – at Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat. The proposal was approved by the Senaterecently by 25-24 margin.

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