Daily Media Links 7/27: Rio Grande Foundation sues over Santa Fe campaign disclosure rule, Missouri attorney general wants to reinstate ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers, and more…


New CED Study Dispels Myth of a ‘Wild West’ in Campaign Finance

By Luke Wachob

CED’s findings join a growing body of research that makes the doom and gloom predictions surrounding Citizens United look embarrassingly off the mark. It is increasingly clear that candidates and parties have not been “drowned out” by “outside” speakers; that super PACs amplify the voices of citizens more than corporations; and that “dark money” constitutes a tiny portion of total political spending.

CED – a critic of political spending and a proponent of expanding disclosure mandates – deserves credit for looking at the evidence in the cold light of day. No matter what your policy preferences, we should all be able to agree on the facts.

Citizens United was a big win for the First Amendment, but political speech and association is still heavily regulated. As the report’s conclusion notes, “even with these changes, the vast majority of the money in federal elections still comes from the limited, disclosed contributions made by individual donors to candidates, parties, and PACs.”

Surprise, Surprise: Politicians Are Happy to Benefit from Taxpayer Money

By Joe Albanese

Seattle’s new “democracy vouchers” program is the latest effort by supporters of greater campaign finance regulation to give government a bigger role in political campaigns. The system funnels taxpayer money to politicians via four $25 vouchers for each registered voter, and is intended to reduce candidates’ need to fundraise via voluntary contributions. Some Seattle property owners have challenged the law (with help from the Pacific Legal Foundation) on the grounds that raising their taxes to pay for political speech that they may not agree with is unconstitutional.

One of the politicians benefiting from this system, City Council candidate Jon Grant, says this is just fine…

Grant is upfront about the fact that his campaign is almost entirely sustained by taxpayer money. This is a happy reversal of fortune for him, having failed to win donors and voters to his cause last time he ran. But his accomplishment shouldn’t be confused for a positive development for the political system as a whole. Frustrating as it might be for candidates to be outspent by an opponent due to an inability to attract voluntary support, this result certainly doesn’t entitle lawmakers to compel taxpayers to contribute to their campaigns. Tax dollars aren’t meant to “level the playing field” for politicians.  

Supreme Court

Chicago Tribune: The John Roberts court: Champion of free speech

By Steve Chapman

The legendary First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams has found that of the $2.76 billion raised in the 2016 presidential election, corporations and other businesses provided only $67 million – 2.4 percent…

The Citizens United decision has been portrayed by liberal critics as proof that under Chief Justice John Roberts, the court has become a captive of business interests and right-wing ideologues. But Brooklyn Law School professor Joel Gora, who has served the American Civil Liberties Union as a staff attorney and longtime member of its board of directors, says they are mistaken.

That ruling, he writes, is part of a commendable but unsung pattern. Over the past decade, Gora argues, “the Roberts Supreme Court may well have been the most speech-protective court in a generation, if not in our history.”…

Gora thinks that will be reinforced by the arrival of Neil Gorsuch, who shares the general approach of the court’s conservative wing. The new justice indicated in his confirmation hearings that unlike Donald Trump, he has no desire to make it easier for public figures to win libel suits.

The Courts

Albuquerque Journal: Rio Grande Foundation sues over Santa Fe campaign disclosure rule

By T.S. Last

Saying it was acting on behalf of other non-profit groups and free speech, the Rio Grande Foundation on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against Santa Fe city government, challenging an ordinance that requires 501(c)3 organizations to disclose donors if a non-profit spends more than $250 in support of or opposition to a ballot initiative…

Matt Miller, senior attorney with the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix policy group representing the foundation, said at a news conference in front of the Santa Fe federal courthouse that the lawsuit was aimed at preventing the names, addresses and occupations of donors from becoming public and potentially opening them up to harassment and intimidation from ideological opponents.

Miller said laws such as the one passed in Santa Fe in 2015 are spreading. Albuquerque and Las Cruces have similar laws, he said, and so do cities in Delaware, Missouri, Montana and South Dakota.

“These laws are different from traditional campaign finance regulations where you are required to submit disclosures when you support or oppose a candidate for office,” he said. “These laws involve support or opposition to a municipal ballot initiative, and the (U.S.) Supreme Court has held that the donors of 501(c)3s are protected by the First Amendment.”


Forum of Fargo-Moorhead: When will Heidi Heitkamp answer for her campaign finance hypocrisy?

By Rob Port

Earlier this year, End Citizens United, a left wing group hostile to unfettered political speech, gave North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp an award.

The recognition was for her work on federal legislation which would inhibit the ability of private citizens to voluntarily give money to private groups for expenditure on political activities.

Because it’s not like this is a free country.

Anyway, in a statement accepting the award, Heitkamp got a little sanctimonious about out of state money influencing North Dakota elections.

“Billionaires outside North Dakota who don’t know anything about our state shouldn’t be able to impact North Dakotans’ opinions or how they vote through secret organizations that don’t have to disclose their donors,” Heitkamp said in a release…

Heitkamp, per this statement, mislikes the idea of people who aren’t North Dakotans influencing elections in North Dakota. A defensible enough position, I suppose, though perhaps not one entirely in keeping with the First Amendment…

Yet her re-election campaign, an organization created for the express purpose of influencing opinions and votes, is funded almost exclusively by out-of- state interests.

Trump Administration

New York Times: New Ethics Chief Has Fought to Roll Back Restrictions

By Eric Lipton

David J. Apol, named by President Trump last week as the new head of the Office of Government Ethics, has repeatedly clashed with colleagues over his career at the agency as he sought to roll back or loosen ethics requirements on federal employees, including those in the White House, three former senior officials at the agency said.

Mr. Apol’s former colleagues praised his intelligence and his experience as a federal government ethics lawyer at a half-dozen different agencies, including the White House, over three decades.

But the tension has been building for at least a decade, during two stints Mr. Apol served at the Office of Government Ethics, his former colleagues said. Mr. Apol has argued that the agency is often too rigid in interpreting conflict-of-interest laws, they said…

Richard M. Thomas, who served as associate general counsel at the agency until 2011, said that Mr. Apol challenged him when he was preparing new limits on the kinds of jobs federal employees can take after they leave public service, the so-called revolving-door rules.

The States

St. Louis Public Radio: Missouri attorney general wants to reinstate ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers

By Jo Mannies

The Missouri attorney general’s office said late Tuesday that it wants a federal appeals court to reinstate a ban on political action committees transferring money to each other during campaigns.

In May, a district judge tossed out a number of campaign-finance restrictions that were part of November’s voter-approved constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 2.

One of those restrictions was the PAC-to-PAC transfer. Attorney General Josh Hawley said in his appeal that the ban is needed to prevent campaign committees from skirting the donation limit of $2,600 per statewide, legislative or some judgeship candidate per election…

Attorney Chuck Hatfield, who represented businesses challenging parts of the amendment, said his clients will oppose Hawley’s appeal.

The state will not appeal the part of the ruling that tossed out the amendment’s ban on donations by some banks and rural utility cooperatives.

American Conservative: Want to Drain the Swamp? Start With the Lobbyists

By Rep. James W. McConnell

The Real Reform Amendment passed by the New Hampshire House of Representatives in February by a bipartisan vote of 211 to 75, seeks a U.S. Constitutional Amendment which would restrict political contributions to those eligible to vote in that federal election. Political Action Committees, independent expenditures, and any funding other than contributions from those eligible to vote in that primary and general election would be disallowed. Just like at the voting booth, if you aren’t eligible to vote in that federal jurisdiction you can’t influence that election. Eligible voters would be limited to the contribution limits set in each election cycle by the Federal Election Commission…

Unlimited non-public communication and non-public endorsement would continue to be permitted between national organizations and their membership. Local affiliates of national organizations could publicly endorse and provide non-financial support to the candidate of their choice. An individual’s donated time would not be considered a contribution.

Finally, nothing in the Real Reform Amendment restricts the offering of opinions of the merits of individual candidates, political issues, or any other matter bearing on a campaign by any publicly accessible news organization or forum or restricts the offering of opinions by members of the general public.

The Nation: Imagine a Campaign-Finance System That’s the Opposite of Today’s Dark-Money Monster

By Jimmy Tobias

Since he kicked off his bid to fill an open City Council seat late last year, Grant has raised more than $200,000 in campaign contributions, much of it from Seattle’s homeless population, its affordable-housing denizens, its immigrant communities, and its working-class residents, among other constituencies that are too often ignored by mainstream politicians. Grant’s has been a lucrative, if unconventional, electoral effort. And it has been entirely enabled by a newfangled political instrument called the democracy voucher…

The popular and empowering nature of the democracy-voucher program-and its clear benefit for radical candidates like Grant-is not going unchallenged, however. A right-wing legal backlash is brewing against it.

On June 28 this year, the Pacific Legal Foundation, or PLF, a conservative law firm, sued the city in state court in an attempt to roll back the democracy-voucher program, arguing that it uses public money to sponsor politicians that taxpayers may not personally support and thereby infringes on their First Amendment rights.

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