Daily Media Links 5/24: Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens jumps to the defense of dark money, ‘Soft Money’ Rules Upheld by Supreme Court, and more…

In the News   

Washington Examiner: New study fails to prove that money sways politicians, despite activists’ excitement 

By Joe Albanese and Brad Smith

“Money in politics” obsessives have long been frustrated at the lack of scholarly support for the notion that political spending directly alters legislative votes, which would help them to push for greater political speech restrictions. This complaint is a central theme of a new report by the progressive Roosevelt Institute, which the institute claims finally proves the link between money and policy.

The authors look at House Democrats who voted for financial regulations in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, but then voted to amend it in later years. They claim that political spending by the “finance industry” caused these Democrats to suspiciously “change their minds” – as if nobody can support a law while hoping to improve parts of it. The study’s methods discredit its conclusion. (A more in-depth critique can be found here)…

Restricting how campaigns are financed necessarily involves limiting the speech and political activity needed to bring about political change. If this is the best evidence for claiming systemic corruption, there is little corresponding benefit from regulating campaign finance. 


Illinois S.B. 1424; Taxpayer-Financed Campaigns – A Failed and Costly Policy 

By Matt Nese

While proponents of so-called “matching funds” proposals tout these programs as a panacea for eliminating corruption and “fixing” perceived ills in government, the experiences of existing programs in New York City, Los Angeles, Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine – all of which have similar systems to that proposed in S.B. 1424 – are very telling…

I highlight a number of policy issues in my analysis: (I) past corruption scandals in Illinois would have been unaffected by the existence of a tax-financing program; (II) New York City’s matching funds program, one of the oldest in the country, is fraught with corruption; (III) similar programs in Arizona, Maine, and Los Angeles have also experienced much corruption since their inception; (IV) academic studies have found no evidence that these programs decrease the incidence of public corruption or improve trust in government; (V) an analysis of Connecticut’s tax-financing program has demonstrated its failure to change legislative voting patterns; (VI) existing statewide programs have done little to diminish alleged “interest group” influence; (VII) many other claims by advocates of “clean elections” have also been shown to be false; and (VIII) the cost of a statewide program in Illinois would be immensely expensive and is likely to rise over time.


Supreme Court  

Bloomberg BNA: ‘Soft Money’ Rules Upheld by Supreme Court 

By Kenneth P. Doyle

In a move that surprised some observers, the Supreme Court upheld federal restrictions on “soft money” campaign contributions to state and local political parties, denying full review in a case brought by the Republican Party of Louisiana and two local GOP party committees ( Republican Party of Louisiana v. Federal Election Commission, U.S., No. 16-865, summarily affirmed 5/23/17).

A brief order from the court May 22 indicated the judgment of a lower court backing the soft-money restrictions was affirmed by a vote of 7-2. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch supported noting “probable jurisdiction” and setting the case for full review and oral argument, the order said…

Challengers cited recent deregulatory court rulings to argue that the soft-money restrictions in place for the last 15 years no longer pass constitutional muster. The Trump administration Justice Department, however, supported the current campaign finance law restricting these contributions.

The Supreme Court’s latest action indicated the court may be reluctant to further roll back restrictions on campaign money, at least for now.

Independent Groups  

Kansas City Star: Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens jumps to the defense of dark money 

By Jason Hancock

Greitens on Monday accused “the liberal media and some career politicians” of trying to mandate disclosure in order to intimidate donors.

“The people who believe in voter intimidation believe that the minute you make a political donation, that you immediately need to turn all your information over to the government,” Greitens said. “You need to turn over your home address and your contact information, so that the government can turn around and publish that. We believe in the First Amendment. We’ve always supported people’s right to do this. When people go in and they vote, nobody calls that dark voting.”…

Greitens’ Monday comments contradict what he said last year during his campaign for governor.

“What I’ve found is that the most important thing is transparency around the money,” Greitens told St. Louis Public Radio last year. He later added: “I’ve been very proud to tell people, ‘I’m stepping forward and you can see every single one of our donors, because we are proud of our donors and we are proud of the campaign we are running.’ “

Trump Administration 

Vox: How the White House is shredding its own rules against lobbyists  

By Jeff Stein

One week after his Inauguration, President Donald Trump took a small if meaningful step toward “draining the swamp” – signing an executive order restricting the work former lobbyists could do in his White House.

In the four months since, the Trump administration has steadily worked to undermine the rule’s strength and impact. Then in an announcement earlier this week, the White House drove a stake through the heart of its own ethics rules, rendering them largely meaningless…

Perhaps even more important than what Trump has done is what he has not – backed anything remotely resembling meaningful campaign finance reform. Instead, he appointed a Supreme Court justice who is likely to shred what’s left of America’s few remaining restrictions on how much big money can finance political campaigns.

Of all Trump’s broken promises, his pledge to end corruption may be the one that currently most appears beyond recovery. The shredding of his own lobbying ban is just further proof.

Columbia Journalism Review: Joe Lieberman atop FBI would be a First Amendment disaster  

By Trevor Timm

Former Senator Joe Lieberman is reportedly President Trump’s leading choice to replace the recently-fired James Comey as FBI director. If you’re a person who values free speech and press freedom rights, it’s hard to imagine a worse pick for FBI director than Lieberman.

It was only a week ago we learned that Trump allegedly urged Comey in a private meeting to prosecute reporters for publishing classified information. So one of the most vital issues for any confirmation hearing will be whether the next FBI director will respect journalists’ right to report on the government. You don’t have to look far to understand how dangerous an FBI Director Lieberman would be to the journalism profession.

In 2010, when WikiLeaks, in conjunction with The New York Times, The Guardian, and other papers, started publishing secret State Department cables, then-Senator Lieberman was Congress’s leading advocate for prosecuting the publishers of the cables-First Amendment be damned…

The episode in 2010 is only one of many incidents in Lieberman’s career in which he pushed censorship to stamp out speech.

The States

Connecticut Mirror: Campaign finance, minimum wage bills in the mix despite budget crush  

By Kyle Constable

For weeks, legislative leaders have said a vote on a campaign finance reform package would be coming. It hasn’t happened yet, but Aresimowicz said he expects it to come this week, though it may be a more limited version.

The speaker’s bill, which advanced to the House floor after passing a committee vote in March along party lines, has been the focal point of discussion on campaign financing for both parties…

Aresimowicz said his bill would increase disclosure requirements for independent-expenditure groups…

House Republicans are working with Aresimowicz on the language of the bill, Republican caucus spokesman Pat O’Neil said. They are advocating for a cap on the number of personal political action committees a candidate can operate.

Even if a bipartisan agreement is reached in the House, it still would face hurdles in the Senate. Fasano said Aresimowicz’s bill is “unconstitutional” and would be struck down in court under the precedent set in the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Missouri’s new campaign finance limits law changes again  

By Kurt Erickson

In an opinion issued by the Missouri Ethics Commission, campaign committees formed by party leaders in the House and Senate are no longer limited to contributions totaling $25,000 annually.

Rather, the opinion penned by MEC Executive Director James Klahr says those committees can once again receive unlimited contributions…

Jefferson City election law attorney Chuck Hatfield said the MEC was simply reading the law as it was written.

“The drafters of this constitutional amendment did not limit contributions to or from these legislative committees. As a result, there is a huge opportunity – some would call it a loophole – to move unlimited amounts of money through these committees to candidates,” Hatfield said…

The MEC opinion, filed May 18, came after U.S. District Court Senior Judge Ortrie Smith issued a decision earlier this month that said much of the new law didn’t meet constitutional muster when it came to limiting certain kinds of organizations from contributing to political candidates and causes.

Maine Sun Journal: Senate backs more cash for Maine Clean Election Fund  

By Steve Collins

State senators agreed Tuesday to pump another $4.7 million into the Maine Clean Election Fund to ensure there will be enough next year to cover legislative and gubernatorial candidates who choose to participate in the program.

By an 18-16 vote, senators declined to go along with Republican Majority Leader Garrett Mason’s assertion that the money isn’t needed.

A majority agreed to restore $1.7 million taken from the fund in the past and to toss in a $3 million payment slated for 2019 seven months early.

Senators also agreed with their House colleagues to kill a bill that sought to end public financing for the governor’s race…

Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, told lawmakers recently that projected revenues for the Clean Election Fund “may not be sufficient to make the required payments to candidates.”

“Depending on the participation in the legislative and gubernatorial programs in 2018, the Maine Clean Election Fund could experience a shortfall,” Wayne said in his testimony.

New York Times: Dark Money Comes With a Twist in Virginia’s Statewide Races  

By Associated Press

In Virginia’s closely watched statewide political contests, so-called “dark money” comes with a few ironic twists.

Two Republican candidates being attacked by mysterious funds have their own ties to nonprofits that have spent millions of untraceable dollars attacking politicians, often with aggressive ads. And the insurgent candidate in the Democratic primary, a longtime advocate of more transparency in political funding, has received $230,000 in anonymous donations from a nonprofit he helped start, making it one of his single biggest donors.

Virginia’s campaign finance system generally requires political giving and spending to be reported, but exceptions and loopholes allow nonprofits to invest in campaigns without having to reveal those details…

Advocates for anonymously funded groups say they allow donors to express themselves without fear of repercussions. But critics say they enable unaccountable attacks that hurt the democratic process.

Chicago Sun Times: Pass Fair Elections Act to fix broken Illinois  

By Brian Gladstein

How can we justify a system in which over $150 million was spent on political races in 2016, while social services are being cut and schools remain underfunded? How can we sit idly by when over $75 million has already been contributed to the gubernatorial race by just three individuals with 18 months remaining before the 2018 election?

What we can do is to pass reforms that will provide an alternative to unlimited campaign spending, limit special interest control in Springfield, and allow people from communities across Illinois to run for office. It is time for our politicians to start listening to the needs of their constituents, and not just the whims of their political donors. It is time to stop the poisonous campaign ads that flood our airwaves during election time. It is time that Illinois pass the Fair Elections Act (SB1424), a bill strongly supported by Common Cause Illinois and recently passed by the Illinois Senate, which would create a small donor public financing system for elections.

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