Daily Media Links 6/30: Lawsuit Calls Seattle’s “Democracy Vouchers” Compelled Speech and a First Amendment Violation, How the Southern Poverty Law Center Enraged Nominal Conservatives Into Betraying Free Speech Values, and more…

In the News

WAMU D.C. Public Radio: Should Taxpayers Help Underwrite Political Campaigns? A Majority of D.C. Council Says Yes

By Martin Austermuhle

Dozens of activists, former elected officials and current legislators spoke out Thursday on behalf of a D.C. bill that would create a system of public financing for local campaigns…

But while much of the hearing was an “Amen chorus,” as Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) quipped, Tyler Martinez from the Center for Competitive Politics sounded a note of dissent on whether public financing of campaigns works – and whether it’s worth it.

“These programs have failed to live up to their lofty expectations, while wasting precious taxpayer dollars, and forcing citizens to subsidize the candidacies of individuals with which they may disagree on many issues, including at times highly controversial candidates whom many, if not most, taxpayers oppose,” he said.

Daily Caller: FEC’s Commissioner, Weintraub, Flagrantly Abusing Power

By Michael Thielen

Commissioner Weintraub has been championing brazen partisanship inside a federal agency bound by law and the legal scope and jurisdiction of the agency…

Former FEC Chairman Brad Smith wrote recently that Weintraub should resign immediately because her attacks against Trump and his White House Counsel Don McGahn are in danger of jeopardizing the real work and mission of the FEC.

“Weintraub has placed herself in a position where any participation by her in a matter involving the Trump campaign could jeopardize any agency finding against the campaign. . . . For some time now, Weintraub has apparently given up on the substantive work of the FEC in favor of pursuing her obsession with McGahn (who left the Commission nearly four years ago) and political grandstanding.”

Smith goes on from there to describe the often silly and unprofessional behavior Weintraub has exhibited in her crusade against Trump. Weintraub’s antics are embarrassing enough for a once-respected agency with a reputation for, if not pure impartiality, the ability to get the work done in spite of political differences.

Now, Weintraub threatens to make it nearly impossible for the FEC to remain impartial on any matter regarding President Trump.


The Tone-Deaf Response to the “Democracy Vouchers” Lawsuit

By Joe Albanese

Adav Noti of the Campaign Legal Center said the arguments made by those challenging the law were a weak challenge to the government’s prerogative to spend tax dollars as it sees fit. . . “Could somebody bring a lawsuit saying, ‘I don’t want to subsidize Sean Spicer’s salary because I don’t like his speech?'”

This is a strange analogy. To say that tax dollars flowing to political candidates is the same as taxpayers paying the salary of a government employee who is paid to speak to the press is a huge stretch…

That said, Noti’s response wasn’t nearly as tone deaf as one found in a story about the lawsuit in The Stranger, a Seattle-based website:

“University of Washington Constitutional law professor Hugh Spitzer sounded like he could barely contain his laughter as we talked about the PLF’s legal challenge to Democracy Vouchers this afternoon.”….

The pro-regulation group Every Voice likewise described the lawsuit as “laughable” in their June 29, 2017 media clips. Why would they print or allow others to quote them as engaging in that kind of condescension?

If defeating this lawsuit is as much of a slam dunk as its opponents assert, it should be easy to argue against it in a compelling way. 


Reuters: Columbia professor Jackson leads field for SEC job: sources

By Sarah N. Lynch and Svea Herbst-Bayliss

Columbia University law professor Robert Jackson is a leading contender for one of the two commissioner vacancies on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, according to people familiar with the matter.

If ultimately nominated by U.S. President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate, Jackson would fill a vacant spot reserved for a Democrat on the five-member panel…

Jackson is known for his advocacy work in trying to advance new rules at the SEC that would force public companies to disclose their political spending to investors…

Other names for the democratic slot at the SEC that have been in the mix in the past have included Bharat R. Ramamurti, a legislative aide for Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, as well as Vermont Law School professor Jennifer Taub, the AFL-CIO’s office of investment director Heather Slavkin Corzo and Andy Green, a managing director at the Center for American Progress.

The White House is also said to be considering nominating Hester Peirce for the other Republican vacancy on the SEC, one of the sources said. 

Independent Groups

Popehat: How the Southern Poverty Law Center Enraged Nominal Conservatives Into Betraying Free Speech Values

By Ken White

Liberty Counsel has sued GuideStar, a database of charities, over GuideStar’s controversial adoption of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “hate group” designation of entities including Liberty Counsel, which GuideStar later retracted…

The complaint, filed in federal court in Virginia, accuses Guidestar of a violation of the Lanham Act – that is, it accuses Guidestar of false advertising based on Guidestar offering its opinion that Liberty Counsel is a hate group. It also accuses Guidestar of defamation and of interfering with its prospective economic advantage. These frivolous theories boil down to one idea: you’re not allowed to repeat the SPLC’s negative opinion of us.

There are many reasons to criticize the modern SPLC…

But the SPLC’s conduct is core, classic political speech. Ranting political generalizations about other people and groups and parties is exactly what the First Amendment protects. The SPLC’s classification of a dizzying array of entities as “hate groups” may be unfair, unprincipled, immature, and even immoral. But it’s also opinion absolutely protected by the First Amendment.

The States

CALmatters: Lawmakers torn over whether to reveal true funders behind campaign ads

By Laurel Rosenhall

[V]arious forms of the Disclose Act have failed in the Democratic-controlled Legislature four times in the last seven years. (It requires approval from a two-thirds majority because it changes the state’s Political Reform Act.) A recent version-mired in opposition from some labor unions-couldn’t even get a vote in committee…

The bill was on hold while its author, Democratic Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez of Los Angeles, negotiated behind the scenes with key labor unions. He just released a new version, Assembly Bill 249, and it’s been substantially watered down. Instead of applying the proposed disclosure rules to ads for all kinds of political campaigns, the new version would only require the actual funders be listed on ballot measures ads, not candidate ads…

In a letter explaining why it opposed the earlier version of the bill, the California School Employees Association wrote that it didn’t want new disclosure rules applied to independent expenditures.

“This change would hamper labor’s ability to pool resources and share information to engage in independent expenditures from coalition committees,” said a letter signed by the union’s executive director, Dave Low.

Seattle Times: Lawsuit challenges Seattle campaign ‘democracy vouchers’

By Gene Johnson, Associated Press 

Seattle’s first-in-the-nation voucher system for publicly financing political campaigns is facing a new legal challenge by two local property owners who say it forces them to support candidates they don’t like.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian-leaning law firm, sued the city Wednesday in King County Superior Court…

[T]he lawsuit, brought on behalf of architect Mark Elster and landlord Sarah Pynchon, claims using their tax dollars to provide vouchers to their fellow citizens, who can then use them to support candidates Elster and Pynchon oppose, violates their free-speech rights under the U.S. Constitution.

“Our free-speech rights come with a right not to speak,” Elster said. “They’re putting words in my mouth. They’re putting political speech in my mouth. They’re using my money for political campaigns I may or may not agree with.”…
The lawsuit does not seek an immediate court order that would block the use of the vouchers this year; Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Ethan Blevins said that was a strategic move to give the court time to weigh the case, rather than rush a decision. 

Reason: Lawsuit Calls Seattle’s “Democracy Vouchers” Compelled Speech and a First Amendment Violation

By Christian Britschgi 

“When you are forced to give a certain amount of money to someone who then uses it to contribute it to a candidate,” Ethan Blevins, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, says, “that’s compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment.”…

So far, the voucher program isn’t quite as democratic as envisioned by its progressive sponsors. More than half of the total amount of contributions has gone to Jon Grant…

The voucher program, Blevins said, has allowed Grant to do something remarkable. He has “pretty much drawn all his campaign money from a constituency that is inherently opposed to his positions,” Blevins said.

Few of the 410,000 registered voters in Seattle can make use of the Democracy Voucher program, even if there were candidates they wanted to support. The tax dollars that fund the vouchers is first come first serve, and not nearly enough is collected each year to ensure that each Seattleite gets a chance to participate…

“When you are forced to become an unwilling vessel for a message you disagree with,” Blevins says, “that violates human dignity and it certainly violates the First Amendment.” 

Providence Journal: Senate panel OKs bill to block candidates with overdue fines

By Patrick Anderson 

The Senate Finance Committee passed a scaled-back version of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposal to conduct random audits of campaign finance accounts and prevent people with unpaid campaign finance fines from running for office.

In the version of the bill passed out of committee, the block on candidates with overdue fines remains, but random campaign account audits were replaced by audits on candidates who have failed to file at least two finance reports with the Board of Elections, or those who owe more than $1,000 in fines.

John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, which worked with Raimondo’s office on the bill, described the new version as “half a loaf,” but said seeing any progress on the issue is encouraging.

The bill faces an uncertain fate in the House, where a number of lawmakers faced campaign finance charges in recent years.

Gotham Gazette: High Participation in Campaign Matching Funds, But Several Big Name Opt-Outs

By Felipe De La Hoz 

Told of his colleagues’ reticence to participate, Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the Governmental Operations Committee and one of the matching funds program’s most steadfast defenders, expressed frustration and said he was “surprised to see so many elected officials not taking part.”

“Those public dollars are there to incentivize elected officials, perhaps more importantly than candidates, to take small-dollar donations instead of the more corrupting checks for $2,750,” he said, referencing the individual donation contribution limit for City Council races…
According to Kallos, any step back in participation is “a side effect of not having proper incentives.”

To create some of these incentives, last year he introduced a bill, Int. 1130, that would increase the public funds disbursement cap, currently 55 percent of the spending limit, to the full amount of the spending limit…

Council Member Williams defended opting out of the program, saying that he didn’t need the funds and “you don’t always want to spend the public’s money if you don’t have to.”

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