Daily Media Links 5/9: President Trump seizes on election rules to push his agenda in new ways, Federal judge blocks parts of Missouri law meant to curb influence of money in politics, and more…


AEI Panel Explores the Reasons for Congressional Gridlock

By Joe Albanese

The general thread between speakers was that reforming governing institutions can have unintended consequences. For instance, attempts to make government more transparent and democratic may have actually created greater polarization between the parties. Over time, politicians have relied less and less on their party to make their case to voters, and more and more on outside forces such as the media and like-minded advocacy groups. The breakdown of the old committee system in Congress increased the power of party leaders on paper, but, in practice, also weakened them…

During the question-and-answer segment, Rauch noted that the public doesn’t know or care very much about specific institutional rules, like regulations that limit the contributions and permissible expenditures of political parties…

Low contribution limits and excessive public disclosure regimes motivate donors to contribute to independent groups that have more leeway in their political spending (in the case of super PACs) or that can protect the privacy of their supporters (in the case of nonprofit advocacy groups). Such restrictions also make it harder for politicians to raise money to sufficiently advertise their candidacy and their message, allowing “earned media” and independent spending to fill the vacuum.

The Courts         

USA Today: Trump names 10 conservatives for federal courts

By Richard Wolf

Trump’s action represents the opening salvo in what will be at least four years of battles with Senate Democrats over the federal judiciary, one that the president intends to pack with conservatives after President Barack Obama spent eight years tilting nearly every circuit court to the left.

It also elevates some rising legal stars who made it on to Trump’s original list of 21 potential Supreme Court justices last year…

Two judges from that list were among the 10 nominees named Monday. Joan Larsen, 48, a Michigan Supreme Court justice, was nominated to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. David Stras, 42, a Minnesota Supreme Court justice, was nominated for the 8th Circuit. Previously, federal district court Judge Amul Thapar of Kentucky, who also made Trump’s high court list, was nominated to the 6th Circuit.

Others in line for federal appeals courts are Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett, Kentucky lawyer John Bush and former Alabama solicitor general Kevin Newsom. Those in line for district courts are Dabney Friedrich, Terry Moorer, David Nye and Scott Palk, while Damien Schiff was in line for the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Independent Groups        

U.S. News & World Report: Republican Super PAC Plans $2.6 Million Ad Buy for Strange

By Kim Chandler, Associated Press

The Senate Leadership Fund on Monday reserved a $2.6 million television ad buy on behalf of U.S. Sen. Luther Strange of Alabama, bidding to ward off challengers for the seat previously held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The super political action committee, which has ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, made the show of fiscal force ahead of an August GOP primary on which Strange will face several challengers, including former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.

Senate Leadership Fund spokesman Chris Pack told The Associated Press the buy is just the start of what the group plans on spending to support the Republican senator. The ads will start July 11 and run through the Aug. 15 primary.


Denver Post: Ken Buck and Jared Polis are right to call for a stronger FEC

By Richard D. Lamm

Earlier this month, Buck and Polis – along with five other House Democrats and five other House Republicans – introduced H.R. 2034, the Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act. This legislation would overhaul the gridlocked Federal Election Commission to ensure there is a competent cop on the beat at a time when billions of dollars are flowing into our elections. Their willingness to work together on this issue in a bipartisan fashion should be applauded, because to any reasonable observer, the Federal Election Commission is broken.

Ahead of the 2016 election cycle, the six-member Federal Election Commission deadlocked on important enforcement cases 30 percent of the time, according to one count. That’s up from deadlocking fewer than 3 percent of the time on such cases a decade earlier…

Their new bill would strengthen the Federal Election Commission by restructuring it with an odd number of commissioners, as is the case for almost every other agency in the federal government. Furthermore, it would create a blue-ribbon advisory panel to assist the president in determining qualified people to serve as commissioners.

Candidates and Campaigns      

USA Today: President Trump seizes on election rules to push his agenda in new ways

By Fredreka Schouten

Traditionally, presidents use federal money to push their policies and refrain from overtly political activity until later in their terms. But Trump’s unorthodox move to immediately start fundraising allows him to capitalize on federal election laws to push his agenda in new ways. He can rally his supporters, openly denounce his political enemies and pressure recalcitrant lawmakers in Congress – all without running afoul of rules that bar using taxpayer money for politics…

Glassner said the campaign doesn’t restrict attendance at Trump events.

Participants need tickets to attend, however. That ticketing allows the campaign aides to grow Trump’s already massive database of supporters and their addresses – another way to solicit campaign donations and to mobilize Trump-friendly voters for policy battles he’ s waging in Washington…

Trump’s go-early approach could fundamentally alter how campaigns are financed for years to come, said Michael Toner, a Republican election lawyer and former Federal Election Commission chairman.

Trump’s move to raise money from Day One on the job could emerge as “the new blueprint for presidents,” Toner said.

Trump Administration       

McClatchy DC: Trump’s religious freedom executive order is a promise kept, sort of

By Andrew Malcolm

Countless times during the campaign Trump promised to reinforce religious freedoms and “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment. While in Congress in 1954, future president Lyndon Johnson introduced a statute to the tax code that specifically prohibits all non-profits, including universities, foundations and churches, from endorsing political candidates…

Christians especially have voiced the greatest concerns that merely dangling the financially devastating threat of losing tax-exempt status was sufficient to censor free speech.

Occasional church-goer Trump agreed, calling it very unfair. “If a pastor, priest or imam speaks about issues of public or political importance,” Trump said, “they are threatened with the loss of their tax-exempt status – a crippling financial punishment.”…

Trump’s order basically instructs the Internal Revenue Service to ignore that law while its actual repeal is written into upcoming tax reform legislation, as promised in the Republicans’ 2016 platform…

Public Citizen, a liberal outfit favoring strict campaign finance limitations, said it planned to challenge the order.

The Media         

National Press Foundation: Reporters Share Tips for Documenting Campaign Cash

By Chris Adams

On the money and politics beat, you need to master the numbers – but also remember the numbers are just the start.

Five reporters who cover the ins and outs of campaign finance and lobbying gave NPF Paul Miller fellows an overview of how to cover a beat that gets to the very core of American democracy.

“Money touches everything in politics,” said Michael Beckel, who is manager of research, investigations and policy for the advocacy organization Issue One…

But as Beckel, Matea Gold of The Washington Post and Fredreka Schouten of USA Today all said, the dollars and cents are just the start…

Gold, who tracked the big money behind the 2016 presidential candidates, talked about the huge shift in the political mindset and how the power that money represents is all about trying to achieve specific policy outcomes…

Sometimes, reporters in pursuit of the story run into roadblocks that can’t be broken with traditional tools. So Bill Allison of Bloomberg and Derek Willis of ProPublica learned how to build and oversee their own tools – often by teaching themselves the programming skills necessary to do so.

The States

Kansas City Star: Federal judge blocks parts of Missouri law meant to curb influence of money in politics 

By Bryan Lowry

A federal judge has blocked portions of a constitutional amendment Missouri voters passed in November as a way to limit the influence of money in politics.

The $2,600 campaign contribution limit, which passed with the support of 70 percent of Missouri voters, will remain in place, under the order of Judge Ortrie Smith of the U.S. District Court in Western Missouri.

However, Smith’s order blocks other portions of the new law, including a restriction against donations from foreign corporations and a provision that prohibited transfers between political action committees…

The Missouri Ethics Commission, which was represented by Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office, argued that transfers between PACs provide a way to circumvent campaign contribution limits and raise the risk of corruption by making it hard to track the source of political donations. However, the judge found that the absolute prohibition on PAC to PAC transfers was unconstitutional.

“While evasion of campaign finance limits is an important interest … absolute prohibition on PAC to PAC transfers is not closely drawn to serve this interest,” the judge wrote.

Portland Press Herald: Maine needs public funding for referendum campaigns 

By Rep. Patrick Corey

By giving well-organized, Maine-based nonprofits and citizen groups the ability to qualify for public financing, we can bring opportunity for different viewpoints to be heard in the citizen initiative process.

L.D. 1561, An Act To Enact the Maine Citizens’ Initiatives Clean Election Act, does just that. By allowing advocates to collect qualifying contributions showing public support for or against ballot measures, they could become eligible for up to $1 million of public funding…

Using this voluntary funding option, proponents are limited to spending $100,000 on a petition drive effort…

Expenditures made by political action or traditional ballot question committees cannot be made in cooperation with publicly funded ballot question committees. Publicly funded ballot question committees would also be prohibited from donating resources, including staff time, to organizations, PACs or other ballot question committees trying to influence the same ballot question.

For publicly funded ballot question committees, the initial distribution would be $600,000 after collecting 2,500 $5 contributions from individual voters. Eight additional $50,000 supplemental distributions, each based on collecting 240 contributions, would be available.

Minnesota Star Tribune: Public subsidies program helps keep Minnesota elections clean 

By Editorial Board

In 2016, 85 percent of legislative candidates received subsidies in amounts based in part on party preferences expressed by each district’s taxpayers via a $5 income tax “checkoff.”

The checkoff minimizes – but does not eliminate – the flow of public money to a candidate or party not of a taxpayers’ choosing. It’s that undirected trickle that the program’s GOP opponents cite to justify their teardown. The subsidy and checkoff would disappear under provisions tucked into a state agency budget bill. The bill also cuts funding and limits the rule-making authority of the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, which administers campaign-finance laws and keeps the flow of money in politics visible to the public.

Meanwhile, the GOP-controlled Legislature’s failure to act on DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s nominations to the board has left the six-member body with only three members, one short of a quorum and unable to function.

Together, these moves would have Minnesota surrender some of this state’s best tools for resisting the onslaught of excessive special-­interest influence in state government.

WyoFile: Can Wyoming citizens help stop “dark money?” 

By Andrew Graham

Ken Chestek says he was blindsided by political mailers attacking his opponent in last fall’s race for House District 46…

Today, he still has to distance himself from the fliers as he ramps up his next political campaign. This time, however, Chestek isn’t running for office. Instead, he’s engaged in a long-shot campaign to undo the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission, widely credited with opening the door to more money in elections at nearly every political level. His goal is to place an initiative on the November 2018 ballot that would make Wyoming join 18 other states calling for a constitutional amendment to counter Citizens United…

Chestek’s and Shadwell’s group is called Wyoming Promise, and is linked to a broader national group called American Promise. Simpson serves on American Promise’s advisory council.

To negate the Supreme Court’s ruling, activists say they need an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Nationally, American Promise’s goal is to get enough states calling for such an amendment that Congress is forced to act and pursue one.

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