Daily Media Links 6/28: Protecting Donor Privacy, President Trump’s politicking raises ethics flags, and more…

In the News

Daily Caller: What’s The Matter With Election Spending?

By Joe Albanese

American politics is corrupt. Big donors buy elections. Voters have no say in their government. These clichés are completely untrue. Sadly, many Americans take them for granted regardless. A major culprit is the countless stories during every election cycle suggesting there is too much money in politics – whether it’s overall political spending, out-of-state donations, or “outside” spending. Ironically, the media outlets that obsess the most over these contests are the first to object when Americans participate in them…

The negative portrayal of political spending, out-of-state donors, and “outside” groups in the media tends to convince readers that “money in politics” is a problem rather than an essential feature of our democracy. Money is essential to communicating with voters, and that’s where much of it goes. High levels of political spending, like high levels of readership for political stories, reflect broad interest in an election. Restricting one is not much different than restricting the other.

Voters may groan as they read about higher levels of political spending. But it sure beats the alternative: restricting the political speech and participation of Americans in the elections of their representatives.


Philanthropy Roundtable: Protecting Donor Privacy

By Sean Parnell

The Center for Competitive Politics, whose work is mainly in the realm of political campaign spending, has taken on the issue of disclosure of charitable donors and represented a think tank, Independence Institute, in its fight regarding improperly applied campaign finance disclosure laws…

[F]ormer California Attorney General (and now U.S. Senator) Kamala Harris began in 2010 to demand unredacted Schedule Bs as part of the annual reporting requirement for charities that solicit contributions in that state…

A March 2014 complaint from the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) filed in the federal court argued that mandatory donor disclosure violated the First Amendment. This suit was a facial challenge, which meant CCP argued the policy should be struck down entirely. A number of nonprofit organizations filed amicus briefs in support of CCP’s petition to the Supreme Court, among them The Philanthropy Roundtable. The Roundtable’s decision reflected its core belief that philanthropic freedom – the right of Americans to choose how and where to spend their charitable assets – and donor privacy are essential to a vibrant and diverse civil society.  

Supreme Court

The Federalist: Thanks To Asian-Americans, Supreme Court Reaffirms Core Of Citizens United: Money Is Speech

By Kevin LeRoy

Matal correctly states that “trademarks often have an expressive content” along with their commercial purpose, which is to identify the company that made a particular good (or the band that recorded a particular song)…

Moreover, “[c]ompanies spend huge amounts to create and publicize trademarks that convey a message,” and yet their right to convey such messages is protected by the First Amendment.

So if spending the money necessary to create expressive trademarks doesn’t remove those trademarks from the First Amendment’s protection, it follows that the government could not limit the amount of money spent to create trademarks, since that would be a limit on free expression. In other words, Matal provides support for the principle that spending money on protected First Amendment expression is itself protected by the First Amendment…
[I]f the First Amendment is to have any meaningful force at all, it must prevent the government from limiting the amount of money a speaker spends on speech. 

Independent Groups

Washington Post: Trump attorney Jay Sekulow’s family has been paid millions from charities they control

By Aaron C. Davis and Shawn Boburg

Before Trump hired him, Sekulow had built a powerful charity empire, leading a team of ACLJ attorneys who jump into high-profile court battles over such hot-button conservative issues as religious liberties and abortion. The ACLJ promotes its work zealously, noting that its representation is free of charge and dependent on the donations of supporters.

That brought in nearly $230 million in charitable donations from 2011 to 2015 – and millions of those dollars ended up going to the members of the Sekulow family or their companies, a Washington Post analysis of IRS tax filings and business records in five states and the District found…

[I]n 2011, the ACLJ formalized an arrangement that first routes donations solicited in its name to the other nonprofit, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, or CASE, tax filings show. CASE is controlled entirely by Sekulow, his wife and his two sons, who serve as the only voting members on the board…

There has been no accusation that CASE or the ACLJ has violated federal law, which bars people with influence over nonprofits from deriving “excess benefits” from them.

Washington Post: After conservative backlash, charity tracker GuideStar removes ‘hate group’ labels

By Susan Hogan

Earlier this month, GuideStar, the world’s largest source for information about charities, added a new feature to its website: warning labels flagging would-be donors to nearly four dozen nonprofits accused of spreading hate.

The outcry was immediate and most vehement from conservative groups, including Christians who said they’d been targeted as hateful for opposing same-sex marriage.

The complaints prompted GuideStar to reverse its course. The company said it’s removing the labels “for the time being” beginning Monday, in part because of concerns raised about their objectivity but also because of the threats against employees.

“Dismayingly, a significant amount of the feedback we’ve received in recent days has shifted from constructive criticism to harassment and threats directed at our staff and leadership,” said a statement posted to GuideStar’s website on Friday. “With this development in mind – driven by both our commitment to objectivity and our concerns for our staff’s wellbeing,” the labels are being removed…

GuideStar said it will continue to make the “hate groups” information available “on request.”

Political Parties

Vox: We need new ideas to reduce partisan polarization

By Lee Drutman

If the problem is that parties are being pulled to extremes by outside groups and factions, we might expect that in states where parties can control more money, there should be less polarization. This was the contention that political scientists Raymond J. La Raja and Brian Schaffner put forth in their 2015 book, Campaign Finance and Political Polarization: When Purists Prevail…

It turns out, however, that the opposite is true. The more competitive the state, the more polarized the state. This is a significant and important finding that political scientists Frances Lee and Kelly Hinchcliffe published in a 2015 article, “Party Competition and Conflict in State Legislatures,”…

Now, along comes a new Campaign Finance Institute analysis, “Party Contribution Limits and Polarization,” which puts the two explanations for partisan polarization into the same data analysis and compares the evidence

In the head-to-head contest, there is a clear winner: Lee and Hinchcliffe’s story holds up. La Raja and Schaffner’s doesn’t. More competitive states have more polarized legislatures. By contrast, campaign finance laws had no effect. As study authors Michael Malbin and Charles Hunt write, “whether a political party was allowed to make or receive unlimited contributions had no independent effect on the level of polarization in state legislatures.”

Candidates and Campaigns

CNBC: President Trump’s politicking raises ethics flags

By Associated Press

Barely five months into office, President Donald Trump keeps taking time out from governing to run for re-election.

On Wednesday night, he’ll attend his first 2020 campaign fundraiser…

The historically early campaigning comes with clear fundraising benefits, but it has raised red flags. Among them: Government employees have inappropriately crossed over into campaign activities, tax dollars may be subsidizing some aspects of campaign events, and as a constant candidate, the president risks alienating Americans who did not vote for him.

Larry Noble, former general counsel to the Federal Election Commission, said the early campaigning creates plenty of “potential tripwires,” adding: “They’re going to have to proceed very carefully to avoid violations.”

The States

Allentown Morning Call: Bill would strengthen lobbying disclosure in Pennsylvania

By Steve Esack and Sarah Mearhoff 

House Bill 1175 would increase penalties for lobbyists who do not abide by the 2007 Lobbying Disclosure Law, and would encourage more transparent and efficient online reporting for lobbyists and the Department of State, which oversees the industry.

The bill would double or quadruple the penalty for unlawful, late or negligent lobbying and disclosure. Fees in place now haven’t been revised in years, said Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, who introduced the bill with Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-Washington…

The bill also would require electronic registration and reporting for lobbyists and principals. It would require the Pennsylvania Department of State to post all lobbying reports online within seven days of receiving them, and to issue electronic receipts for all electronically filed documents…

Having introduced the bill for five consecutive sessions and adjusted it as needed, Cutler said he expects it to pass the House this session.

But there could be a minor speed bump: Neuman recently floated an amendment that would prohibit lobbyists from managing political campaigns.

Reason: Connecticut’s Liquor Pricing Scheme Is a Bad Law That Just Won’t Die

By Allie Howell 

Despite efforts from liquor giant Total Wine and Company and the free-market Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy, the pricing cartel continues. Most recently, Total Wine’s antitrust lawsuit, which accuses the state of price-fixing, was dismissed by a federal judge earlier this month…

Total Wine attracted attention to their suit with full page newspaper ads, promising to sell liquor below the state minimum. Another company, BevMax, joined in on the protest and lawsuit. Total Wine paid $37,500 in fines as a result. The stores also posted signs requesting customers call their legislators when the state required prices be raised. Company spokesman Ed Cooper called it an act of “civil disobedience.” The state legislature responded with two bills to increase penalties for violating minimum bottle price or false advertising…

While Total Wine’s lawsuit has failed and Connecticut is unlikely to dissolve the liquor pricing cartel, Total Wine promises not to abandon the fight against government overreach.

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