Daily Media Links 3/29: Court Allows Challenge to FEC Rule Shielding Nonprofit Donors, Trump serves as rocket fuel for Democratic fundraising, and more…

In the News                                       

More Soft Money Hard Law: Investigating the “Structure” of Contribution Limits: “Elementary, Holmes”

By Bob Bauer

The FEC will be defending the “structure” of the contribution limits this week in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The case, Holmes v. Federal Election Commission, tests the constitutionality of the “per election” limits as applied to a donor’s choice to participate only in the one-the general-election. If a donor skips a primary, and wishes only to contribute in the general, she now cannot give the full amount allowed for the election cycle cycle, $5400, but only half of that: $2700, the “per election” limit for the general. The Holmes plaintiffs’ point is that this bifurcation of the limits serves no legitimate anti-corruption purpose… 

The problem presented by the bifurcation of the limits is worsened by the messiness of its application. Incumbents and other largely unopposed candidates do well under this system, collecting money for primaries they don’t have to compete in and transferring the money to their general election accounts…

Defending this arrangement just adds to the inefficiencies and cost of compliance with the “regular” campaign finance system, and to the reasons why candidates and parties flee from it.

Supreme Court                                      

Denver Post: “Nuclear option” hangs over Gorsuch vote as lines are drawn in Senate

By Ed O’keefe and David Weigel, Washington Post

Gorsuch needs 60 votes to clear a procedural hurdle required of high-court confirmations in the Senate, but Republicans, who hold just 52 seats, may not have the votes in a chamber that is divided deeply along partisan lines.

Republicans do, however, have the votes to choose the “nuclear option” – to change the rules and allow Gorsuch’s confirmation – and others after it – to proceed on a simple majority vote…

A final vote on Gorsuch is still more than a week away. On Monday, the Judiciary Committee delayed a vote on Gorsuch for one week at the request of Democrats. Republican leaders are hoping to confirm him by April 7, when a two-week congressional recess is scheduled to begin, so that Gorsuch can join the court by late April for the final cases of its term that ends in June…

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., last week announced plans to filibuster Gorsuch. Others including Thomas Carper, D-Del., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Al Franken, D-Minn., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., followed suit. No Democrat has announced support for Gorsuch, and some moderates say they are still mulling a final decision.

New York Daily News: Make him Justice Gorsuch

By Editorial Board

Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee to the high court, withstood a murder board of questions last week to prove himself to be an extraordinarily qualified, whip-smart jurist with exemplary judicial temperament.

Were this Editorial Board a judge sitting on the Supreme Court, we would surely rule differently from Gorsuch on many cases. That ought not be the standard for Senate consent.

In exchange after exchange with members of the Judiciary Committee, Gorsuch revealed himself to be not the caricature conjured up by Democrats, but a rigorous judicial practitioner with respect for the legislative process and for precedent…

As a federal appeals court judge for over a decade, Gorsuch has written 2,700 rulings that are together a clear indication of his approach to the Constitution and the law.

Democrats are doing the nation a disservice by planning to filibuster his nomination.

The Courts                                           

Bloomberg BNA: Court Allows Challenge to FEC Rule Shielding Nonprofit Donors

By Kenneth P. Doyle

A Federal Election Commission rule on “independent expenditures,” which has allowed millions of dollars’ worth of campaign ads to air without disclosure of the donors funding them, can be challenged in court, a federal judge ruled…

Numerous ad sponsors have responded to inquiries from the FEC by telling the agency that none of their donors had to be revealed because none gave money “for the purpose of furthering” a specific election-related expenditure. When this provision of its independent expenditure rule-11 C.F.R. Section 109.10(e)(1)(vi)-has been cited by ad sponsors, the FEC hasn’t questioned them further.

The March 22 preliminary court ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) regarding the FEC’s dismissal of an administrative enforcement action against Crossroads GPS, a conservative nonprofit that worked to elect Republicans. Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied an FEC motion to dismiss the challenge of its independent expenditure rule as time-barred.

Independent Groups                                             

Bloomberg: With Trump Struggling, Wealthy Backers Rush in to Shore Him Up

By Joshua Green

Making America Great, a nonprofit run by Rebekah Mercer, one of Trump’s most influential donors, will begin airing $1 million in television ads on Wednesday, coupled with a $300,000 digital advertising campaign. The TV ads will run in the District of Columbia, along with ten states Trump carried in the presidential election where a Democratic senator is up for re-election in 2018: West Virginia, Wisconsin, Missouri, Michigan, North Dakota, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Montana and Pennsylvania. The digital campaign also will focus on voters in those states…

The new advertising campaign marks the belated public entry of outside groups formed after the election to provide support for Trump and his agenda. In December, Mercer registered Making America Great as a nonprofit. At around the same time, a group of Trump campaign aides led by digital director Brad Parscale formed a different nonprofit, America First Policies.


Washington Post: The GOP’s health-care failure is no one-off event. Welcome to our fragmented politics.

By Richard Pildes

By political fragmentation, I mean two things. One is how power within Congress has shifted from the party leaders to individual members of Congress, who are now far more capable of acting independently than in the past. The second is the shift in power from the political parties themselves to outside groups and actors…

What has changed in recent decades to bring about this fragmentation? It is not just that there are significant policy differences within the Republican caucus. That is often the case. The question is why House leaders were not able to get members to work through those differences…

First, many members of Congress now depend less on the party’s financial and other support. This was manifest in the highly public pledge of the Koch brothers’ network to support Republicans who bucked the party leadership. But it is not just these big funders who have changed the landscape. The communications revolution has enabled individual members of Congress to connect effectively with small donors throughout the country. Small donors (like other individual donors) tend to be the most ideologically polarized source of money in politics, and they further empower the extreme wings of the parties to stand up against more centrist leadership.


Politico: Trump serves as rocket fuel for Democratic fundraising

By Gabriel Debenedetti and Scott Bland

Democrats are on a torrid fundraising pace in the first months of the Donald Trump era, powered by enraged small donors who are plowing millions of dollars worth of online contributions into campaign and committee treasuries…

On the Democratic side, a wide range of progressive groups are also reporting online fundraising spikes – miniversions of the ACLU’s now-famous $24 million weekend in January after Trump’s initial travel ban was implemented…

The biggest Democratic donors were demoralized by Hillary Clinton’s defeat, and many remain frustrated with politics after giving record amounts of cash to Clinton only to see her lose. Some of those contributors feel let down, and four months later, they are reluctant to fork over large sums in the absence of a formal campaign post-mortem report from either the Clinton campaign or the Democratic National Committee.

Small donors, however, have stepped into the void, enabling many Democrats to bust through their online goals in recent weeks – particularly when the Trump administration has high-profile missteps or moments that have captured the country’s attention.

The Media                                            

Wall Street Journal: Facebook Wants to Help You Be a Better Citizen

By Geoffrey A. Fowler

Millions of us turn to Facebook to talk politics. Now the social network wants to get us more politically active in the real world.

Facebook has rolled out a nonpartisan civic engagement service in the U.S. called Town Hall. It identifies your elected officials-even local ones-sends reminders to vote and goads you to pick up the phone.

It is one of the first glimpses of how Facebook will execute on Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of using the social network’s influence-built on keeping up with friends-to address humanity’s biggest problems.

“Our next focus will be developing the social infrastructure for community-for supporting us, for keeping us safe, for informing us, for civic engagement, and for inclusion of all,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote in a manifesto last month.

Facebook has a mixed record in tackling these issues. Its first major voter drive in the U.S. last year helped register more than two million people. But its main product, the News Feed, also had an invisible hand in spreading misinformation and contributing to polarization during the election season.

The States

Bangor Daily News: Maine pols push to keep late campaign contributions hidden until after elections

By Steve Mistler

Last year, candidates, PACs and ballot question campaigns disclosed more than $2.6 million of spending under what’s known as 24-hour reporting. This activity was available to members of the public before Election Day, allowing them to track major spending and contributions within 24 hours of each transaction.

But the proposal, sponsored by Republican Senate Leader Garrett Mason and backed by both Democrats and Republicans, would scrap that requirement. If enacted, the flurry of spending and contributions two weeks before an election would remain hidden until 42 days after Election Day…
During a public hearing on the bill Monday, Mason argued that the reporting requirement is burdensome and can ensnare inexperienced campaigns, subjecting them to fines.

And Kate Knox, general counsel for the Maine Democratic Party, agrees…

She said 24-hour reporting is irrelevant because the state no longer allows publicly-funded candidates to receive additional matching funds when their opponents outspend them. 

South Carolina State: Revamped SC ethics panel starts to take shape

By Jamie Self

As a State House corruption probe continues, a new watchdog panel charged with policing the state’s ethics laws is taking shape.

The new S.C. State Ethics Commission, whose eight members are slated to start work April 1, will be made up of four appointees by the governor, split between the two major political parties, and four members appointed by the S.C. House and state Senate, one from each chamber’s majority and minority political parties.

While some appointees have been named, the new commissioners likely will not be vetted by legislative committees and voted on by the House and Senate before the April 1 starting date of their terms.

That starting date was set in a new ethics law that changed the makeup of the watchdog panel. Previously, the panel’s members had been picked by the governor, raising questions about their ability to be objective.

U.S. News & World Report: Campaign Donation Limits Lifted in Illinois Governor’s Race

By Sophia Tareen, Associated Press

Democratic businessman Chris Kennedy’s roughly $250,000 donation to his own campaign has lifted spending caps in what’s expected to be another big money race for Illinois governor…
When a self-funded statewide candidate or family member gives over $250,000 in the 12 months before an election, the caps are lifted for all candidates, according to state law. Illinois’ gubernatorial primary is March 20, 2018…

Several Democrats with less personal wealth have thrown their hats in the ring, including Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar and state Sen. Daniel Biss, who has $1.4 million cash on hand.

“If Democrats want to out-Rauner Rauner, we’re going to lose,” Biss said in a statement. “Sending the message that only the rich or only the machine have access to this government just exacerbates the broken culture in Springfield that voters are yearning for us to fix.”

Pawar’s campaign circulated a fundraising email Friday after Kennedy’s donation was filed seeking donations of $3 or more from people “tired of big money politics running the show.”

KSFY Sioux Falls ABC: Protesters hit the streets for anti-corruption rally

By Carlos O. Gonzalez

Initiated Measure 22 made national headlines when South Dakota lawmakers voted to repeal the voter-approved measure that would have created a government ethics commission, along with setting restrictions on campaign finances.

Saturday, South Dakota voters marched against government corruption, taking a stand against the repeal, saying lawmakers did not do enough to replace IM 22.

“The point is to send a message the people aren’t satisfied,” said co-founder of Represent South Dakota Mark Winegar…

Organizers say they used the rally as a step to try and hold the state government accountable, hoping to spread it to a national level.

“The end game is to go to the states and change it at the state level,” said Winegar. “When we have solved this problem in enough states, it will happen in congress.”

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