Daily Media Links 5/10: The Trump Executive Order and IRS Politics, Democrats take on Trump over court vacancies, and more…

In the News          

Washington Examiner: Is the Supreme Court about to give state and local political parties a boost?

By Bradley A. Smith

As part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance “reform” of 2002, virtually everything these local parties do was brought into the web of federal regulation, and their sources of funding largely cut off. A poorly-reasoned Supreme Court decision, McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, upheld these restrictions against a constitutional challenge in 2003. Cases decided since McConnell, however, have relied on traditional First Amendment reasoning to overturn many parts of that decision. One of the few parts that remains is the restrictions on state and local parties.

The Supreme Court now has a chance to rectify this element of the McConnell decision. Currently before the court is the case of Republican Party of Louisiana v. Federal Election Commission, which challenges those legal restrictions on state and local party activity. The party’s position is simple: Why can super PACs, or a nonprofit like Planned Parenthood Action Fund, accept and spend unlimited sums from any source to influence elections, while political parties cannot? And how can parties corrupt their own candidates by trying to help them win elections?

National Press Foundation: Why Limit Campaign Contributions?

By Chris Adams

David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, hears all about efforts to “reform” campaign finance and he asks, Why?

Reviewing the literature on electoral competitiveness, public corruption and the flow of money into campaigns, Keating finds no relationship between money spent and important indicators of robust politics or clean governance. Since adoption of the Federal Election Campaign Act in the 1970s, for example, the number of elections with double-digit shifts in Republican or Democratic seats in Congress has dropped. And over the past 40 years, trust in government has dropped as well.

“I think the impact of these contributions is way overblown,” said Keating.

Keating and his center work to promote and defend First Amendment rights to free political speech, engaging in litigation and training designed to ease restrictions on political donations. In a presentation with NPF Paul Miller fellows, Keating said he would like to get rid of contribution limits to campaigns; substantially raise the financial threshold for something being declared a political action committee; and raise the threshold for what constitutes a small donor who doesn’t have to be disclosed (right now, it’s $200; he would raise that to $1,000).

CCP          

CLC Says CCP’s Wrong about “Dark Money.” Here are the Facts. Readers can Decide.

By Scott Blackburn

Ed. Note:  The following post is in response to a post by the Campaign Legal Center commenting on a previous CCP blog post highlighting 5 lessons about spending in the 2016 election cycle.

Fischer states that “counting dark money as a percentage of overall spending – across all races – is deliberately misleading.” He argues, without citation, that “[i]n the five most expensive U.S. Senate races in 2016, for example, between ten and twenty percent of outside spending came from entities that keep their donors secret.”…

Even within Fischer’s own framework of “the five most expensive U.S. Senate races” – an arbitrary cut-off that entirely ignores the House and the Presidency – he performs a sleight of hand that once again overstates the percentage of “dark money.” Fischer says that “between ten and twenty percent of outside spending came from entities that keep their donors secret.” Outside spending accounted for 65 percent of spending in those races. Outside spending. Not total spending in these five races, including spending by candidates and political parties – Fischer looks only at the “outside spending.” This means that “dark money” actually accounted for 6.5% to 13% of total spending in these five Senate elections – though a casual reader would never know it. This is assuming Fischer’s calculations are correct – a difficult to verify fact, since he has provided no citation or method for his calculation.

The Courts         

Politico: Democrats take on Trump over court vacancies

By Seung Min Kim

Senate Democrats have few powers to prevent judges from getting confirmed to their lifetime appointments, due to rules changes they pushed through in 2013 that eliminated the 60-vote threshold for nearly all nominations. But Democratic senators can wage a silent filibuster of sorts against nominees from their home states through the so-called blue-slip process.

Two of the 10 judicial nominees the White House unveiled on Monday were on Trump’s short list of potential Supreme Court justices during the campaign: Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen, who will be nominated to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Justice David Stras, who sits on the Minnesota Supreme Court and is Trump’s pick for the 8th Circuit.

Minnesota and Michigan are each represented by two Democratic senators. That gives Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, who hail from Minnesota, and Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan, what amounts to veto authority over the nominees, who are already drawing objections from other Democrats.

Trump Administration       

More Soft Money Hard Law: The Trump Executive Order and IRS Politics

By Bob Bauer

Now the IRS will operate under an Executive Order that ends that discretion and establishes a controlling interpretation based on the agency’s quiescence of past years. For the time being, this does make a legal difference to this kind of political spending-at least through the President’s re-election campaign.

This is the other notable aspect of the Order. A President has sought to exercise executive authority to affect the administration of the tax code in matters involving his own political interests. Normally it is thought wise to keep partisan politics out of running of the IRS: the Republicans have had a lot to say about this. No doubt they will say that this latest presidential act is different: it is about religious liberty. But it cannot go unnoticed that the president and others in his party are also addressing a demand from an important political constituency, and that they could not have overlooked the potential political benefit to them-in grateful allies and supportive expenditures-from satisfying that demand.

And Mr. Trump has done so while leaving the Johnson Amendment in place, inviting more conflict in the future. It seems simpler to keep partisan politics out of the administration of the tax laws by taking the IRS out of the business of regulating politics.

Congress       

The Hill: GOP religious freedom bill restores free speech, not ‘dark money’

By Mandi Ancalle, Esq.

Congressional Republicans are not calling for a full repeal of the Johnson Amendment. In fact, Representative Jody Hice (R-Ga.), who served briefly as chairman for purposes of the hearing, introduced the Free Speech Fairness Act with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.), in order to roll back a problematic part of the Johnson Amendment.

The idea behind the Free Speech Fairness Act is to restore the First Amendment freedom of speech to pastors and other 501(c)(3) organizations’ leaders, while ensuring churches and other non-profits do not become about “dark money” or transition into political action committees. The Free Speech Fairness Act is all about speech. It does not allow 501(c)(3) organizations to begin purchasing political campaign ads, or to otherwise create a cash flow of “dark money” for politicians…

For almost 200 years, the religious, educational, and charitable work of 501(c)(3) organizations, and their tax exempt status, did not compromise their ability to engage on political candidates and issues. The free speech rights of 501(c)(3) organizations and their leaders should be restored, and the Free Speech Fairness Act is the precise vehicle for creating a proper balance in which pastors are liberated without allowing churches to become political action committees.

Independent Groups       

Talking Points Memo: Ryan-Aligned Super PAC Hits Ossoff For Raising Money Outside Georgia In Ad

By Caitlin MacNeal

A Paul Ryan-allied super PAC on Tuesday released a new television ad criticizing Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate in the runoff to fill an open U.S. House seat in Georgia, for taking campaign contributions from out of state.

The 30-second spot from the Congressional Leadership Fund attempts to mock Ossoff as “San Francisco’s congressman” and align him with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

“We’re proud that California is the leading funder of the Jon Ossoff campaign,” a woman standing on a San Francisco street says in the ad.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC arm of the American Action Network, a nonprofit aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), said in a statement that the ad will begin airing on Tuesday as part of the $6.5 million the super PAC has pledged to infuse into the Georgia special election.

Donors          

Huffington Post: Democrats Are So Riled Up, They’re Contributing To Races With Unknown Candidates

By Paul Blumenthal and Nick Baumann

At least three Democratic-allied groups – including ActBlue, the biggest online fundraiser for Democratic candidates – are raking in money from donors who don’t care who they’re supporting, as long as it’s a Democrat in a certain district…

The candidate funds work like an escrow fund. Donors pool money to support a Democratic Party candidate in a particular race – say the Texas Senate race or New Jersey’s 4th Congressional District. That money is then held in the fund until a candidate wins his or her respective primary election. To the victor go the spoils.

ActBlue has offered donors these sorts of candidate funds since 2008, but hadn’t used them as much before this year. The original idea was to allow activists and donors to put their money on the table for a particular race, which, in America’s money-driven political system, represents a real display of voter interest in an election. More importantly, the money can entice qualified candidates to jump in, knowing they won’t instantaneously be overwhelmed by a better-funded incumbent or have to spend all of their time on the trail fundraising.

The States

Washington Post: Va. gubernatorial contender Northam calls for ban on corporate campaign giving 

By Fenit Nirappil

Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Monday called for a cap on campaign donations and a ban on corporate contributions, escalating a clash over campaign funding in the primary race for governor.

Virginia’s state campaign finance system is essentially a free-for-all: People, businesses and political organizations can give as much as they like to individual candidates who can spend the money however they like, even on personal expenses.

Northam’s plan would limit donations to $10,000 (with political parties excluded), bar businesses and corporations from giving and require nonprofits trying to influence Virginia elections to reveal their donors.

A spokesman for his opponent in the June 13 Democratic gubernatorial primary, former Congressman Tom Perriello, responded to the plan by urging Northam to return or give away nearly $725,000 in corporate donations he’s taken throughout his political career. Perriello supports public campaign financing.

Northam’s spokesman retorted he wouldn’t take the call to return donations seriously until Perriello returns contributions from hedge funds and the National Rifle Association from his 2008 and 2010 Congressional campaigns.

Tri-City Herald: Tighten law on surplus campaign money 

By Editorial Board

Campaign finance rules allow elected officials to use what’s left in their campaign coffers for their next run at office, or they can donate the money to political parties or charities. That’s all well and good.

But they also can use it for unreimbursed expenses related to their work for the public. It’s this category that seems to be a problem.

Apparently there are varying interpretations of the types of expenses that fall under that broad umbrella…

Using funds for travel related to work as an elected official would be acceptable. Using the same funds for travel related to another job would not. Most senators who were questioned didn’t fully explain how the expenses were related to their work in public office. This “allowable” type of spending leaves more questions than answers…

That just seems like too much grey area, regardless of the elected officials’ intentions. We’d like to see the rule changed to allow the money to only be used for subsequent campaigns or donated to charity. That would keep things neat and tidy, and remove questions about restaurant tabs and laundry from the equation.

Tennessean: Bill to increase campaign finance audits heads to governor 

By Joel Ebert

A bill to increase the number of random campaign finance audits received unanimous support in the Senate on Tuesday, sending the measure to the governor.

Lawmakers’ effort to double the number of campaign audits from 2 percent to 4 percent came in the aftermath of a USA Today Network – Tennessee investigation into how state lawmakers spend public money and campaign funds…

In light of the USA Today Network – Tennessee investigations, lawmakers called for no additional changes to the state’s oversight of their campaign committee, arguing that increasing the number of audits would provide adequate scrutiny.

Although there was some discussion about increasing the number of random audits earlier in the year, lawmakers didn’t take action to formally amend any legislation until after the release of the USA Today Network – Tennessee investigation.

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