Daily Media Links 4/28: Should ‘Dark’ Money Power the Resistance to Trump?, NYCLU’s request for donor exemption is denied, and more…


In the News

KUNC Colorado: Reps. Buck And Polis Want Better Enforcement Of Campaign Finance Laws

By Michael De Yoanna

Twelve members of Congress are supporting the Restoring Integrity to America’s Election Act, including two from Colorado: Reps. Ken Buck and Jared Polis, a Republican and a Democrat, respectively.

Buck said the commission was “set up in a way that invited deadlock, and that’s just what we’ve got.”…

The act seeks to reduce the number of commissioners from six to five. No more than two members of the commission could be from the same party. A fifth proposed commissioner would be the chairperson and nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate for a 10-year term.

Groups like Issue One, a bipartisan advocacy organization focused on government ethics and political reform, are supporting the legislation as a way to restore enforcement surrounding money in politics.

Other groups, like the Center for Competitive Politics, worry that the bill’s deciding presidential pick would create an ideological tilt on the commission.

“It would transform campaign finance law enforcement into a partisan exercise, no matter how the agency markets itself,” the group said in a press release.

The Courts

Think Progress: Trump’s first lower court nominee would nuke campaign finance laws

By Ian Millhiser

Donald Trump has nominated exactly two people to the federal bench: Neil Gorsuch, who now occupies the seat that Senate Republicans held open for a year until Trump could fill it, and Judge Amul Thapar, a trial judge Trump hopes to promote to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

And if Thapar gets a promotion, he’ll bring his problematic views about campaign finance laws with him.

In his current job, Thapar authored an opinion suggesting that he would eviscerate what remains of the law limiting the influence of money on politics. Indeed, Thapar’s decision in Winter v. Wolnitzek reached so far beyond existing precedent that much of it was reversed by a panel that included two conservative George W. Bush-appointees…

Thapar struck down a rule that does not permit a judicial candidate to “pay an assessment or make a contribution to a political organization or candidate” other than themselves. And in striking it down, he offered a very aggressive reading on the Supreme Court’s campaign finance precedents which, if taken seriously by higher courts, would threaten nearly any meaningful campaign finance law.

Motherboard: Man Fined $500 for Crime of Writing ‘I Am An Engineer’ in an Email to the Government

By Jason Koebler

In September 2014, Mats Järlström, an electronics engineer living in Beaverton, Oregon, sent an email to the state’s engineering board. The email claimed that yellow traffic lights don’t last long enough, which “puts the public at risk.”…

In January of this year, Järlström was officially fined $500 by the state for the crime of “practicing engineering without being registered.”…

Tuesday, Järlström and the Institute for Justice sued the engineering board in federal court for Violating his First Amendment rights.

“Mats has a clear First Amendment right to talk about anything from taxes to traffic rights,” Sam Gedge, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, told me. “It’s an instance of a licensing board trying to suppress speech.”

Järlström, for his part, said he never expected anything like this to happen when he moved to the United States from Sweden 20 years ago.

“When I got the first letter, it was this feeling of being violated and shocked that someone can be treated like this in the USA for sharing their ideas,” he said. “I’ve done this freely, self-funded, as a civil service. I want to show these ideas to the public and I’m getting surpassed. It’s been a civil rights violation since day one.”

Independent Groups 

American Prospect: Should ‘Dark’ Money Power the Resistance to Trump?

By Eliza Newlin Carney

The Indivisible Project is one of several new anti-Trump groups powered by an influx of members and money that have opted to organize themselves as nonprofits. Our Revolution, launched by devotees of Bernie Sanders, urges members to fill local Democratic Party leadership positions and phone bank for endorsed candidates, but has also set itself up as a tax-exempt social welfare group-a move that helped prompt some early organizers to quit in protest. Their complaints centered in part on the group’s tax status, which allows it to raise unlimited donations without disclosure.

Majority Forward, a group run by Democratic operatives with close ties to former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, recently won IRS approval as a tax-exempt social welfare group-despite having spent more than $12.5 million backing Democratic Senators up for reelection in 2016…

Party leaders have made attacks on undisclosed “dark” money a leading talking point. If Senators up for reelection get help from progressive groups operating in secrecy, it potentially undercuts Democrats’ campaign finance message.


CRP: Surge in LLC contributions brings more mystery about true donors

By Ashley Balcerzak

And inaugural committees aren’t the only recipients of surging LLC contributions – their donations to presidential campaigns and super PACs in 2016 also spiked: About 840 of them gave roughly $21 million in the last cycle – almost double the $12 million by 109 LLCsin 2012, the first presidential race after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision…

“LLC donations have created this whole new realm of transparency problems,” said Brendan Fischer, federal program director at the Campaign Legal Center. “They require minimal transparency and they are easy to set up, making them an appealing vehicle for a donor that doesn’t want his name attached.”…

“When super PACs first started out contributors generally consisted of individuals, so this phase two maturation is where we see more businesses like LLCs that are closely held and controlled by individuals,” said Caleb Burns, a partner at Wiley Rien. “I think this is the middle of a trend, where ultimately we will have other businesses in the not so distant future, including public companies becoming bigger players as super PAC donors.”

The Media

Washington Examiner: Ex-FEC chair: ‘Indict’ media for price gouging political campaigns

By Paul Bedard

Appearing on the Tavis Smiley Show, Ann Ravel rapped the campaign “industry” that includes high priced TV ads and consultants.

Smiley hit the media for “their greed, their complicity” in campaigns. “These media made a boatload,” he said.

Ravel responded: “I think it’s the media and the fact that the media raises prices and therefore can sort of corner the market for campaigns. And there’s an indictment for them, there’s an indictment for the consultants who work for the candidates so there is definitely a campaign finance industry that surrounds these campaigns.”

Ironically, as she called for new attention on media gouging, she also said that most campaign ads are shifting to the internet, where she fears a lack of regulation on “fake news” and campaign ads.

“It’s exempt from pretty much any regulation,” she warned.

The States

Albany Times Union: NYCLU’s request for donor exemption is denied 

By Chris Bragg

Commissioners of New York’s lobbying and ethics watchdog agency voted on Tuesday to deny an exemption that would have allowed the New York Civil Liberties Union to shield its donors from public scrutiny.

Seven commissioners of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics voted against granting the exemption, while five voted in favor.

The NYCLU, the New York chapter of the national group that works to maintain individual rights, has argued that its donors could face retaliation if their names become public.

Under state law, issue-oriented lobbying groups that spend more than $15,000 annually on lobbying in New York must disclose donors who give more than $2,500…
In its application, the NYCLU listed past instances of hostility towards it such as bomb threats, mailed threats and vandalism…

The same group is suing Attorney General Eric Schneiderman over a 2016 state law that requires nonprofits that lobby to disclose far more donor information, including funds given by charitable organizations.

Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Bipartisan compromise leaves ethics reformers unsatisfied 

By Dana Ferguson

Four retired judges will be appointed in the coming months, forming the nearest thing to a state ethics board the state has had in nearly four decades. Once convened, the panel will exist as a place for South Dakotans to bring concerns about government fraud, conflicts of interest and other potential wrongdoing.

It was a seemingly unlikely success for a perennial Democratic proposal…

The compromise bill cleared the Legislature in the wake of protests over lawmakers’ repeal of a major ethics and campaign finance law approved by voters in November. Now, backers of that campaign are ramping up for another fight over ethics reform at the ballot box.

Critics said the new accountability board is at best a tepid step in the right direction and at worst a symbolic move to give lawmakers cover from criticism following the repeal of Initiated Measure 22.

New Haven Register: Connecticut Republicans to propose state budget that differs from Malloy’s 

By Mary O’Leary

On agency issues, the GOP has recommended eliminating public financing for the Citizens Election Program, which it said will need a $10 million infusion before the next election. “This program, in its current form is not effective in keeping special interest money out of politics and is unsustainable,” the Republicans said in their summary document.

“It is sad to see Republican leaders want to return to the corrupt campaign finance system of the John Rowland era. After a cycle of benefiting from Koch brothers’ backed entities’ dirty money they are playing games for political gain,” said Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut.

Gotham Gazette: Proposal Would Boost Public Campaign Matching Funds 

By Samar Khurshid

A bill heard by the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations on Thursday aims to further limit the influence of big-dollar donations and special interests in city elections. The bill, co-sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the committee, would tweak the city’s public campaign finance system by removing a cap on public funds disbursed to candidate campaigns by the Campaign Finance Board (CFB).

The city’s campaign finance system is held up as a national model that incentivizes small dollar donations by matching them with public funds. Each qualifying contribution up to $175 is matched 6-to-1 by the city, through the CFB…

Intro. 1130-A, co-sponsored by Council Members Kallos, Brad Lander and Fernando Cabrera, would increase that public funds payment to a full match against the spending limit, minus the amount of matchable contributions raised by the candidate. Effectively, a Council candidate who raises $26,000 could receive a maximum of $156,000 in public funds, for a total budget of $182,000 (in the primary and/or in the general).

New York Post: ‘Anti-Semitic’ politician tricks critics into raising money for him 

By Carl Campanile

A two-bit political gadfly named Thomas Lopez-Pierre has been running for City Council on an outrageous platform that calls for stopping “greedy Jewish landlords” from committing “ethnic cleansing” against blacks.

His low-rent hatemongering seemed designed to get as much negative attention as possible. And it did – as Jewish groups and leaders demanded he be booted out of the Democratic Party.

In the midst of this firestorm a GoFundMe called “Stop Thomas Lopez-Pierre Hate Campaign” suddenly popped up and was so successful, it raised $5,781.

But anyone who donated hoping to actually stop Lopez-Pierre is going to be sorely disappointed – because the page was created by the candidate himself to scam money from his foes.

“I call it bait and switch,” Lopez-Pierre actually bragged to The Post.

“I intend to use the money to pay for my marketing expenses. The people who are doing this [donating] oppose me. I thank them for their support.”…

A spokesman for the website said all the contributions have been frozen. 

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