Daily Media Links 5/25: Why the High Court Sidestepped a Soft Money Case, FEC official worried about ‘foreign money’ spent on Facebook election ads, and more…

Supreme Court  

U.S. News & World Report: Why the High Court Sidestepped a Soft Money Case 

By Joseph P. Williams

Gorsuch’s record, [Jonathan Turley] says, indicates he more likely views the Louisiana GOP case as a stimulating intellectual puzzle that could expand the boundaries of the First Amendment rather than a sop to Republicans and deep-pocketed corporations.

The Citizens United ruling “left this distinction” between what types of big-dollar political donations are allowed, he says. “That didn’t entirely answer the question for some free speech advocates and also [Constitution] textualists like Gorsuch.”…

“I associate with the free speech community. Citizens United divided the community,” Turley says, noting that those who favor restrictions in political contributions “have criticized [the decision] without reading it. I think people of good faith can reach different results with that case. It’s easy to dismiss it as appealing to wealthy individuals” without recognizing the legitimate First Amendment issue at stake.

That unfairness, he added, extends to Gorsuch as well: “The temptation is to dismiss people you don’t agree with as being tools for corporate interests or political ideologues. I don’t think Justice Gorsuch is either.”

The Courts   

Louisville Courier-Journal: Following cloture vote, Kentucky judge faces Senate confirmation Thursday 

By Andrew Henderson

Judge Amul Thapar is expected to face the Senate on Thursday for confirmation to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit…

Prior to Thapar’s nomination by the Senate Judiciary Committee, a letter cosigned by 24 different organizations, such as the American Federation of Teachers and Center for American Progress, was delivered to the committee opposing the confirmation of Thapar.

The organizations claim Thapar has “gone beyond the Supreme Court’s directives in his antagonism towards basic rules designed to ensure we have a government that is of, by and for the people.”

They point towards the case Winter v. Wolnitzek where Thapar “struck down a prohibition on judges making political contributions.”…
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, in a statement last week prior to voting on Thapar’s nomination, his ruling in Winer v. Wolnitzek “held that these rules governing a host of issues from political endorsements to campaign contributions inappropriately burdened the candidates’ free speech rights.”

FEC   

CNN: FEC official worried about ‘foreign money’ spent on Facebook election ads 

By Seth Fiegerman

FEC commissioner Ellen Weintraub told CNN’s “New Day” she is concerned about “the potential for foreign money creeping into our system” and said spending on Facebook ads would fall under the agency’s purview…

“I had spoken about whether those Facebook ads would be subject to FEC regulation, and they would be, because we do have jurisdiction over any money that is spent on advertising,” Weintraub told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota in an interview Wednesday.

“I have spoken out on many occasions about my concern about the potential for foreign money creeping into our system,” Weintraub continued. “And I’ve tried on numerous occasions to introduce stronger rules to the FEC to try and ward that off.”…

Weintraub, a longtime Democratic commissioner at the FEC, said she’s struggled to implement greater protections against foreign influence in U.S. elections due to opposition from Republican commissioners. The FEC is set up to be split evenly, with three Democrats and three Republicans.

The opposition, she noted, “started” when current White House counsel Don McGahn was an FEC commissioner from 2008-2013.

Bloomberg BNA: FEC Memo Says Cruz Declines to Amend Disclosure Reports 

By Kenneth P. Doyle

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has refused demands by the Federal Election Commission to provide more public details about more than $1 million in bank loans that helped finance his original campaign for the Senate in 2012, according to a new memorandum from FEC staff auditors.

Questions about Cruz’s loans were raised in news reports during last year’s presidential campaign, when the Texas senator was running for the Republican presidential nomination. The questions have never been fully resolved, according to the FEC auditors.

An audit finding that Cruz violated campaign finance reporting rules is set to be considered at the FEC commissioners’ next open meeting May 25. Cruz’s office told Bloomberg BNA that the campaign disclosure reports would be amended after the FEC commissioners approve the audit findings.

Free Speech

Washington Post: Speech restrictions in the early 1900s  

By Floyd Abrams

For all its eighteenth-century lineage, the First Amendment was not seriously explored and then applied in opinions of the Supreme Court until well into the twentieth century.

I had occasion, early in this century, to prepare an introduction to a book called Political Censorship containing New York Times articles on censorship published from 1900 through 1999. Doing so from a twenty-first-century First Amendment perspective was startling. Until well into the twentieth century, censorship was rampant. It was as if the First Amendment had yet to be written. A number of the Times’s articles, published in the first decade of the twentieth century, are illustrative. All reported on censorial acts, not one of which was viewed as a First Amendment violation at the time. Not one would be constitutionally permissible today…

[N]ot until a series of enduring opinions of Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis, often in dissent, commencing in the 1920s, did serious juridical exploration of the First Amendment even begin; not until 1925 was the First Amendment held applicable to the states; and not until 1965 was a federal statute held to be unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Disclosure

The Hill: Guess who’s addressing money in politics? It’s not the government  

By Bruce Freed and Nanya Springer

Currently, only 45 percent of the S&P 500 disclose their payments to trade associations, and 31 percent disclose their payments to 501(c)(4) organizations.

In the age of President Trump, the question of how companies use shareholders’ money for political purposes is particularly salient. As companies continue to be named and in some cases shamed by the president, many observers expect to see an uptick in company political spending…

Today, the burden falls on companies to safeguard their reputations by being forthcoming with shareholders and consumers, and by adopting protective transparency and accountability policies. Even where the law does not require disclosure, anonymity can’t be guaranteed. Inadvertent disclosure will always pose a risk to companies – one that can be mitigated by establishing robust decision-making, disclosure, and oversight policies and procedures.

It is for these reasons that now more than ever, companies must have their political spending houses in order.

The States

Casper Star Tribune: Officials: Election complaint statutes need clarity  

By Laura Hancock

In October, the Wyoming GOP asked the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office to look into whether progressive organizations illegally coordinated with a handful of Democratic legislative candidates’ campaigns.

The Wyoming Hunters and Anglers Alliance and Women Lead Wyoming – part of a dark money group called Forward Wyoming Advocacy – sent campaign mail praising the Democrats and denouncing their Republican opponents. The groups and Democratic candidates have said they did not coordinate.

The complaint has twice been at the Secretary of State’s office, twice at the Wyoming Attorney General’s office and once with the Albany County Attorney.

And officials are saying it’s the perfect example of why the law needs to specify who investigates election complaints…

Lawmakers may address the issue during the summer, said Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, chairman of the House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.

Legislative leaders assigned the committee to study campaign finance and oversight laws, Zwonitzer said.

Missouri Times: Curious comments from Greitens on campaign finance disclosures spark ire of Senate Dems  

By Travis Zimpfer

Less than a month after Gov. Eric Greitens’ campaign admitted to the Missouri Ethics Commission that he failed to report a fundraising list, the governor seemed to question Missouri’s practice of disclosing donors to the commission…

“The people who believe in voter intimidation believe that the minute you make a political donation, you immediately need to turn all your information over to the government, that you need to turn over your home address and your contact information, so that the government can turn around and publish that,” he said.

While he was speaking within the context of dark money donations, the names and addresses of donors to most political campaigns already appear on that campaign’s quarterly and pre-election committee reports. Yet, New Missouri does not have to release such information.

For a governor who campaigned on ethics reform and transparency in government, the statement struck Senate Democrats as disingenuous.

Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said Greitens’ statement “seemingly called for an abolition” of Missouri voter laws.

Oregon Lund Report: Greenlick Pushes Ballot Measure to Cap Campaign Spending of Public Players  

By Chris Gray

Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, has drafted a ballot referendum that would limit political donations to $500 from any organization that gets more than half of its funding from public sources.

The chairman of the House Health Committee is aiming his ire at a group of Medicaid providers that have profited from the Oregon Health Plan while bankrolling political campaigns to the tune of $700,000 a year.

He unveiled the bill the same day that Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene, the top recipient of campaign finance cash from the Medicaid providers, pulled his CCO reform bill, House Bill 2122, from the floor. Nathanson received $13,000 from these groups in 2016…

“I intend it to cover any entity in Oregon in any sector,” Greenlick told The Lund Report. “If they have more than 50 percent of the revenue directly from a state or federal tax source a candidate cannot accept a contribution greater than $500. That means directly or indirectly.”

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