Daily Media Links 4/17: Pro-Trump group launches a $3 million ad campaign to prop up House allies, ‘Gyrocopter Guy’ Still Has a Message to Deliver, and more…


Alt-Twitter and the Battle for Anonymous Political Speech

By Scott Blackburn

Using government power to effectively silence your critics has a long tradition in American politics. The DHS summons to Twitter was effectively equivalent to any state campaign finance board demanding the donors to a nonprofit group that angered some local politician. In both cases, demands for disclosure are being used to quash dissent.

This is exactly why CCP has long argued, for example, that donations to groups publishing nonpartisan voter guides in Delaware and genuine issue ads and public policy papers in Colorado should not be subject to the same disclosure rules and regulations as explicitly political groups, like candidate campaigns, political parties, PACs, and super PACs. It’s not just that the benefit from such information is non-existent; it’s that the laws were passed so that the government could expose political activity it didn’t like. The DHS’s approach was certainly more ham-handed, but it was built on the central tenet that the government can use disclosure to limit political freedom.

“Drain the Swamp” and Competing Conceptions of Corruption

By Luke Wachob

Rather than talk about exchanges of money for favors, or perceived inequalities in the political system, Buck focuses on the actions of party leadership to carrot-and-stick their members into compliance. He says this serves “special interests,” but the real pressure faced by rank-and-file members of Congress isn’t from donors, it’s from party leaders. That might be a problem, but is it corruption? And more importantly, is it a problem we can prevent or reduce with new restrictions on groups engaged in political advocacy and speech?…

Everyone is free to complain about the parts of politics they don’t like, and members of Congress understandably aren’t big fans of asking supporters for donations, or taking heat for breaking with their party on a vote. But advocates of greater regulation of political speech shouldn’t misread these complaints from some conservatives as calling for expansive new speech rules. More accurately, they are criticizing the culture of D.C. and government in general.

Changing that culture and “draining the swamp” isn’t done by writing new regulations. It’s done by creating room for outsiders to challenge the status quo with new leadership and new ideas. To that end, campaign finance deregulation, rather than new restrictions on speech, is just what the doctor ordered.

Independent Groups                                        

Washington Post: Pro-Trump group launches a $3 million ad campaign to prop up House allies

By Robert Costa

Leaders of America First Policies, a pro-Trump nonprofit outfit, told The Washington Post on Sunday that it is starting a $3 million advertising campaign to bolster a dozen House Republicans who publicly backed the health-care proposal that has stalled on Capitol Hill.

In a phone call, the Trump campaign veterans who run the organization described the expenditure as a gesture of appreciation to Trump’s friends in the chamber as well as a way to encourage other House Republicans to get behind the effort to revive health-care legislation.

The $3 million “advocacy campaign” will be split among the 12 Republicans beginning Monday and feature broadcast, digital and social components, the advisers said.

Although the chances of passing a tweaked bill remain unclear, this show of support by the organization is the latest example of Trump’s political network trying to stabilize his agenda and rouse GOP lawmakers, many of whom remain skittish about the president because of his underwhelming standing in polls and lingering questions about his commitment to conservative orthodoxy. 


The Hill: How Congress can reform campaign finance for the American people

By Meredith McGhee

The problem, put simply, is the FEC was purposefully designed to be incapable of effectively addressing the complexity and size of our campaign finance system, and the thousands of candidates, organizations and billions of dollars it has to police, all with a modest budget of about $60 million.

But there is hope: Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), along with 10 other lawmakers from both parties, are ready to overhaul the agency. This bipartisan group introduced the Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act in Congress to change the structure of the FEC to be the same as almost every other independent agency in Washington.

The bill reduces the number of commissioners from six to five, with no two from the same political party, and thus be less likely to fall into endless gridlock. The bill would further create a new blue ribbon advisory panel of experts to help the president identify and then nominate qualified commissioners.

Now more than ever, our nation needs a functional agency to enforce federal elections laws fairly and to serve the interests of the American people, not the politicians or their funders. Laws are only as good as the agency enforcing them.  

Hot Air: Holy sacred cow: Tax reform package to set churches free to campaign?

By Ed Morrisey

If the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill can work out a tax reform plan, it may unleash churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations into partisan politics. The Washington Post reports that negotiations between both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue include the revocation of the “Johnson amendment”…

Advocates for repealing the Johnson amendment have argued that the rule stifles free speech, and that enforcement of the current rules have been arbitrary and aimed more at conservatives. That may or may not be true, but a repeal could make matters even worse, as noted above. If we want to protect both free political speech and religious liberty, the better approach would be to completely revamp campaign-finance regulation to eliminate contribution limits and allow funds to flow directly to candidates and parties, with full and immediate disclosure of sources. That would end the attraction of filtering funds and messaging through other organizations, especially churches. Repealing the Johnson amendment doesn’t deal with the real problem of indirect campaigning, and instead will exacerbate it and make it even more opaque – and give government a camel’s nose in the tent of licensing religions that people of faith may long regret.

Political Parties

The Hill: House Dems’ campaign arm raises $31M in first quarter 

By Lisa Hagen

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) raised $13.2 million in March, closing out the first fundraising quarter with a record $31 million in donations.

The DCCC’s fundraising haul, provided first to The Hill, trails the National Republican Congressional Committee’s (NRCC) March and first-quarter hauls. The NRCC raised $15.5 million in March and ended the first three months of the year with nearly $36 million in contributions.

But the DCCC touted its online fundraising, which vastly outpaced its GOP counterpart. House Democrats raised a record $13.6 million online in the first quarter, compared to the NRCC’s $1.7 million online during that same time, according to National Journal.

The DCCC says it received 750,000 contributions online and had 121,000 first-time donors. The campaign committee ended March with more than $16 million cash on hand.


Politico: ‘Gyrocopter Guy’ Still Has a Message to Deliver 

By Ben Montgomery

To support reformists running against incumbents, Hughes has proposed traveling the country with his gyrocopter-or a replica-in tow to bring out local media…

The reformist majority is in place by the 2020 election. The next move is a massive rally at the Capitol. (Why not 2018? Hughes says Trump believes that the rich should rule and he would not sign legislation which neutralizes the control money has over the political process. So if an electoral coup were possible in 2018 the only thing they could accomplish is a Constitutional amendment. And that’s not enough.) The massive rally is held in concert with a demand from the new bipartisan reformist majority to hold a vote on reformist legislation. That leadership won’t let that happen, the plan goes, so the reformists will stage a walkout and join the protesters outside the Capitol, not far from the spot where Hughes landed his gyrocopter…

If that sounds farfetched, it’s because the guy who thought it up was the same guy who spent two years learning to fly a gyrocopter so he could deliver 535 letters to Congress and arrest the news cycle so Americans would think for a moment about campaign finance reform.

Candidates and Campaigns

Washington Post: Trump’s reelection stockpile grows as small donors keep giving

By Matea Gold

President Trump’s supporters kept up a robust stream of donations in the first quarter of 2017, pouring more than $42 million into the coffers of his campaign and the Republican National Committee, according to new Federal Election Commission filings and party officials.

Much of the money came from small donors who gave less than $200 in response to email solicitations urging them to support the president’s agenda and stymie “the Fake News and Democrats in Congress,” as one put it. More than 250,000 new contributors have given online to Trump’s campaign committee or the RNC so far this year, officials said.

Trump’s $42.6 million haul with the national party and two joint fundraising committees is more than twice as much as the $15.8 million that then-President Barack Obama raised in conjunction with the Democratic National Committee during the first quarter of 2009, campaign finance reports filed Friday show.

That’s largely because, unlike his predecessors, Trump has not ceased fundraising since his election. Emails touting Trump-branded merchandise and offering donors the chance to win a trip to Washington for his inauguration helped him stockpile $8.4 million for a 2020 reelection bid by March 31.

Wall Street Journal: Senate Democrats’ Fundraising Jumps Ahead of 2018 Election

By Byron Tau and Rebecca Ballhaus

Riding a wave of grass-roots enthusiasm, several Senate Democrats up for re-election in 2018 posted strong fundraising takes in the first quarter, amassing big war chests of campaign cash.

Democratic candidates in Virginia, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota reported large fundraising hauls rarely seen so early in an election cycle. Elsewhere, progressive champions such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Chris Murphy of Connecticut raked in millions of dollars, despite representing heavily Democratic states where they are expected to cruise to an easy re-election.

The pickup in donations is dramatic. Democratic incumbents in 14 Senate seats that had released their fundraising totals by Friday afternoon had raised more than $30 million in the first quarter of the year, about three times as much as those same candidates raised in the same period six years ago.

Meanwhile, Republican incumbents in six Senate races that announced their fundraising efforts had raised $6.7 million, almost double what they raised in the same period in 2011.

USA Today: The President Trump effect? Democrats see early fundraising surge

By Fredreka Schouten

ActBlue, an online fundraising conduit for Democratic candidates and causes, has processed more than $111 million in contributions during the first three months of 2017, more than four times the amount it handled during the comparable period in the 2016 election cycle.

Among the Democrats raising money through ActBlue: Jon Ossoff, a first-time congressional candidate in Georgia, who is vying for a Republican-held House seat in Tuesday’s special election. Ossoff, running on a “Make Trump Furious” theme, has raised $8.3 million – a staggering number for a House race – in the battle for a seat once held by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich…

A new group, Flippable – founded the day after Trump’s win by Clinton campaign staffers in Ohio – is working to drive donations and volunteers from around the country to competitive down-ballot races. This week, the group launched a political action committee aimed at raising $125,000 by mid-June to help Virginia Democratic candidates viewed as likely to “flip” Republican seats.

Washington Post: Somebody just put a price tag on the 2016 election. It’s a doozy.

By Christopher Ingraham

$6.5 billion is a staggering sum. With that much money you could fund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for 15 years, fix the Flint, Mich., lead pipe problem 30 times over or give every public school teacher a $2,000 raise.

Instead, Americans used that money to fuel a 596-day political contest that most of us were ‘disgusted’ by well before it was over.

Clinton’s unsuccessful campaign ($768 million in spending) outspent Trump’s successful one ($398 million) by nearly 2 to 1. The Democratic National Committee and left-leaning outside groups also outspent their Republican counterparts by considerable margins…
Much of political campaign spending is wasted, in other words – the people who give to a winning candidate get to put their candidate of choice in office. The people who give to a losing candidate get nothing in return… 

Here in the States we’re wedded to the idea that money is speech. In a 2010 Gallup survey 57 percent of respondents said that money given to a candidate is a form of free speech, while only 37 percent disagreed.

But if money is speech, then giving it to a losing candidate is akin to shouting into the void.

The States

Santa Fe New Mexican: Think tank won’t file finance report for soda tax initiative yet 

By Daniel J. Chacón

“As of now, my research indicates that we have not engaged in any conduct or spending that require disclosure under the [city] ordinance,” Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation, wrote in a letter Friday to Assistant City Attorney Zachary Shandler.

Shandler, who advises the city Ethics and Campaign Review Board, last week sent a letter to the Albuquerque-based group stating that the foundation might have to file a campaign finance statement under provisions of the city election code.

However, Gessing said his group decided to hold off on spending plans in order to avoid any requirement to disclose the names of the foundation’s contributors…

“We were planning to engage in public communications that would have triggered your reporting requirements and would have done so but for the ordinance,” Gessing wrote in his response to Shandler.

Referring to a section of the federal tax code, Gessing said, “Requiring 501c3 nonprofits to disclose their donors is a major burden and, accordingly, we are choosing not to speak rather than expose the privacy of our donors, including exposing them to potential harassment.”

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