Daily Media Links 5/30: New law chills charitable giving by violating donors’ privacy, New FEC website aims to simplify access to campaign finance data, and more…


FedScoop: New FEC website aims to simplify access to campaign finance data 

By Ryan Johnston

Built in conjunction with General Services Administration office 18F, the updated site presents a striking contrast from the previous version, which grew organically and erratically – and often made life difficult for visitors trying to access campaign finance information.

Focusing on user-centered design and information consolidation, 18F and the FEC’s final product includes a glossary search tool designed to assist users in locating definitions for campaign finance terms, a reorganization of the homepage and an easy-to-locate press release block on the front page.

“We want the wider public, not just highly trained data researchers, to be able to use the site fully,” a spokesperson from the FEC said. “Providing transparency and disclosure of campaign finances is a key part of the FEC’s mission, and the website is absolutely central to that service.”…

A number of tools also exist on the new site that are designed to ease the burden of campaigns seeking legal information and advice. Databases of regulations, advisory regulations and information surrounding FEC enforcement are also readily available.

Newsweek: Hillary Clinton Supporters Filed a Complaint Against Bernie Sanders – And Lost 

By Jason Le Miere

A complaint filed against Senator Bernie Sanders by a Hillary Clinton super PAC during the 2016 Democratic primary campaign was dismissed by the Federal Election Commission…

The complaint alleged that Sanders, an independent, and his campaign treasurer, Susan Jackson, accepted excessive contributions…

The FEC’s decision was addressed to Brad Woodhouse, founder of the American Democracy Legal Fund and president of the pro-Clinton super PAC Correct the Record. Both the ADLF and the super PAC were founded by prominent Clinton supporter and Media Matters founder David Brock…

“Just one day after the Clinton campaign said we needed to change our tone, the leaders of their coordinated super PAC, which is funded by millions from Wall Street, filed baseless and frivolous complaints with the FEC,” Sanders Campaign Manager Jeff Weaver said at the end of March 2016. “Tells you all you need to know.”

Trump Administration

Associated Press: White House to share information about lobbyist waivers 

By Julie Bykowicz

The White House is preparing to post to its website information about waivers it has granted to ex-lobbyists working in the president’s office.

Spokeswoman Lindsay Walters says the information will be available before the Thursday deadline set by the Office of Government Ethics.

A letter Friday from the Office of Management and Budget says the rest of the executive branch – departments such as Treasury, State and Defense – also will comply.

Similar information was shared with the ethics office during the Obama administration. OGE Director Walter Shaub had asked President Donald Trump to continue that tradition, formally making a request last month.

As part of Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington, the president continued an Obama-era two-year prohibition of lobbyists and lawyers hired into the executive branch from working on “particular” government matters that involved their former clients.

Candidates and Campaigns 

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Democrats are outspending Republicans in Georgia 6th race 

By Greg Bluestein

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis shows that Democrats have narrowly outspent Republicans in the runoff phase of Georgia’s 6th District contest, the nationally-watched race that could prove an early test of the GOP agenda.

The contest, by far the most expensive U.S. House race in the nation’s history, has now cost more than $36 million overall…

GOP groups have rushed to try to fill the void. The National Republican Congressional Committee has laid out more than $4.1 million and the Congressional Leadership Fund – which has close ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan – doled out $2.8 million. The U.S. Chamber put in about $1 million.

The handwringing among Republicans is well underway.

“It’s a real problem when one campaign outspends the other about 7-1,” said a senior GOP official…

Los Angeles Times: Outside money spills into L.A. congressional race as election day nears 

By Christine Mai-Duc

Spending by outside groups hoping to influence Los Angeles’ congressional race is picking up, with less than two weeks to go before the runoff for the 34th Congressional District…

Spending separate from the candidates’ campaigns is reaching into the six-figure range, with most of the outside money going to support Gomez, the heavy favorite of establishment Democrats…

Outside spending in the 34th Congressional District race has been dwarfed by candidate spending.

The States

Crain’s New York Business: New law chills charitable giving by violating donors’ privacy  

By Sean Delany, Laura Abel, and Sharon Stapel

The law requires a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to publicly disclose its donors if it contributes cash or in-kind support to another organization that has 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status-meaning it can engage in political activity-and does a substantial amount of lobbying in New York. While Gov. Andrew Cuomo claims the law will shed light on “dark money” in elections, the law has nothing to do with campaign finance. Even if the purpose were to reveal those who fund lobbying, it is overbroad because it requires disclosure even if the donations do not support lobbying…

This law is unprecedented in this country. No statute has previously required disclosure of the identity of donors to 501(c)(3) nonprofits, which are nonpolitical. There are many good reasons a contributor might want to keep his or her identity and the amount of a contribution confidential: modesty, a fear of danger that would result from exposing the extent of the donor’s wealth, a desire to avoid being targeted for funding requests, or wanting to make a donation anonymously to honor a loved one. The state has nothing to gain, and much to lose, by discouraging such people from donating to charity.

The law is not only bad policy-it is unconstitutional.

Grand Junction Daily Sentinel: Thurlow hit with campaign fine as governor signs bill limiting them  

By Charles Ashby

Last week, Administrative Law Judge Matthew Norwood fined Thurlow $500 and ordered him to return $200 in campaign donations, for failing to include addresses for some expenses and noting that some contributions came from limited liability companies on a campaign finance report filed last year.

A few days after that fine was levied, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed HB1155, a bill introduced by Thurlow aimed at that very issue.

The bill gives administrative law judges who review such complaints more leeway in how they fine candidates for such violations, giving them the discretion to withhold fines for minor errors, and apply stricter ones on intentional omissions.

Thurlow said he carried the bill because there are people who are using the state’s campaign finance laws to punish lawmakers they don’t much care for, using strict legal interpretations of campaign finance laws on minor mistakes just so they can run “gotcha” campaigns against them.

Connecticut Record-Journal: Aresimowicz: House-approved bill improves campaign finance transparency  

By Mike Savino

The bill, approved Thursday by the House, has been a priority for Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, who said before the 2016 election that he wanted to increase transparency for independent expenditure political action committees, or PACs…

Republicans objected on the grounds that the bill failed to actually stop any of the types of campaign finance that sparked the bill, and also questioned whether a donation cap would be enforceable…

The bill seeks to define what constitutes an independent expenditure political committee and would require such entities to register with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. It would also prohibit groups from accepting donations of larger than $70,000 from any individual donor over the course of a calendar year.

Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, said the cap likely would be struck down in court, though, pointing to a decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes Connecticut, that determined a similar measure in New York was unconstitutional.

Washington Post: The populist ethical issue hurting Virginia Democrats  

By Stephen Nash

What if they didn’t take the cash?

Some Democrats in Washington and Richmond mill and mull, dazed and Trump-flummoxed. They’re compelled to look for new roles to play but can’t unstick from the old ones – can’t find clarity or hope to offer a mistrustful electorate.

Campaign finance reform at the state legislature would be a great place to start, but it’s hard for some Democrats to think outside the treasure box…

You could ask your state senator or delegate: Why is it ethical to take money from a state-regulated entity or any corporation and then vote on measures that affect those corporations’ profits? Don’t accept the easy answer: “I need the money to get elected.” Vermont, Connecticut and conservative Arizona have figured that out, with voluntary donation limits and public financing for candidates. Is your senator or delegate pushing – noisily – for that? Why not?

Democrats could change and grab onto this populist ethical issue, but many of them would burn their hands. Dominion – the top corporate giver on a long list of big donors – gives money to dozens in both parties.

Missourian: Candidate spending gets little scrutiny under Missouri ethics laws  

By Ellen Cagle

Missouri politicians are cutting corners in the way they report spending campaign funds, and lax ethics laws allow them to do it.

Candidates’ campaign finance reports from the past year are often short on details about how they spent their money. Politicians shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars on political consulting without describing the services purchased, even though state law requires more specificity…

Vague terminology on the reports rarely raises eyebrows at the Missouri Ethics Commission, the body that collects and reviews campaign finance reports. The commission is short-staffed and lacks the resources to effectively review each expenditure reported by a candidate.

Compounding the problem, Missouri statutes are imprecise in delineating the requirements for how candidates should report their expenditures and what is a proper campaign expense.

Those questions are at the center of a case that will be considered by the Missouri Supreme Court this summer, when judges hear an appeal filed by former Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis.

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