Daily Media Links 8/10: ACLU sues Metro for rejecting controversial ads, saying its policy violates the First Amendment, No Political Big Spenders, and more…


CCP Job Opening: Attorney, First Amendment Litigation

The Center for Competitive Politics is expanding its litigation team. We are looking for an experienced attorney to take a leading, independent role in First Amendment cases brought in federal and state courts.

[Please click on the link above for a detailed description of job responsibilities, requirements, and instructions on how to apply.]

When Gridlock is Good

By Alex Cordell

On August 1, Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly announced companion legislation in the Senate that would revamp the FEC, which he believes has been “undermined by gridlock.” Among other changes, one of the key provisions of the bill would reduce the number of FEC commissioners from six to five.

The architects of the FEC designed the Commission with fresh memories of the attempts made by former President Nixon’s Department of Justice to silence critics through campaign finance regulations. To that end, the Commission was purposefully structured with six commissioners (with no more than three from any one political party) to ensure that one party was not able to impose new regulations or open investigations on its opponents without some bipartisan support.

Since its inception, the danger of allowing the Commission to become a partisan tool for manipulating campaign finance law and silencing political opponents has been recognized, but sadly some are willing to ditch the protections of a six-member Commission as a means of bypassing Congress and ramming new political speech regulations through the agency.

Donor Privacy

Public Policy Legal Institute: “In Defense of ‘Dark Money'”

Nan Aron and Abby Levine, both from the invaluable Alliance for Justice, have an important article in American Prospect making a progressive defense of the use of 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations to oppose the Trump agenda, even though c4s do not disclose their donors (“dark money”)…

AFJ is very big on “tools.” It created and continues to sponsor the Bolder Advocacy website, with its “toolkits” for advocates. It’s probably that experience with helping advocates effectively convey their messages that helps AFJ cut through the political undercurrents, and understand the true value of allowing freedom to advocate. Indeed, it is, in fact, “bolder” to challenge the thinking that “dark money” is inherently bad…

Progressive groups have used c4s extensively in recent years. In fact, in the 2016 elections, according to Carney, almost 40% of all undisclosed campaign expenditures (itself a tiny percentage of all campaign spending, by the way) came from progressive groups.

So it is refreshing to see Aron and Levine come out so strongly in favor of allowing Americans of all ideologies band together to advocate their causes.

The Courts

Washington Post: ACLU sues Metro for rejecting controversial ads, saying its policy violates the First Amendment

By Martine Powers

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Metro, alleging the transit agency’s ad restrictions violate the First Amendment…

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, centers on four ads: a PETA ad that encouraged riders to “Go Vegan,” an advertisement for an FDA-approved abortion pill, a promo for a book by Yiannopoulos, and an ACLU campaign that highlighted a quote from the First Amendment.

All were either rejected outright by Metro – based on its advertising guidelines that prohibit ads that are “issues-oriented” or “intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions” – or were retroactively pulled from stations, trains and buses after riders complained.

“This case highlights the consequences of the government’s attempt to suppress all controversial speech on public transit property,” Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU-DC and lead counsel in the case, said in a statement. “The First Amendment protects the speech of everyone from discriminatory government censorship, whether you agree with the message or not.”

Citizens United

U.S. News & World Report: No Political Big Spenders

By Robert Kueppers , Nathan Rosenberg and Jane Sherburne

In the 2018 election cycle, corporations don’t appear likely to spend big – or at least not to the extent that many might think. As a sign, look to some new data revealing that, in the 2016 and 2014 elections, corporations largely sat on the sidelines.
Corporate America’s passivity flies in the face of conventional wisdom and expectations following the landmark Supreme Court decision, Citizens United… 

Instead of the expected avalanche of money from corporate America, individual donors remain the primary contributors to Super PACs. In 2016, their donations accounted for 68 percent of total receipts, according to recently released data by the Committee for Economic Development. Corporations made up just six percent of Super PAC donations. Also surprising, so did labor unions – about six percent. The rest came from small amounts by trade associations and other interest groups…

In the 2016 cycle, no major corporation or publicly held company financed independent political expenditures in support of a candidate. Trade associations and privately held companies did spend, but their donations, when combined, made up less than five percent of the independent spending reported.


The Hill: Watchdog files complaint alleging DNC worked with Ukraine

By Jonathan Easley

The conservative group Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust (FACT), launched in 2014 by former U.S. attorney Matthew Whitaker, will allege that political operative Alexandra Chalupa, in her capacity as a DNC consultant, improperly sought intelligence on President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, from Ukrainian officials…

Ironically, the FACT complaint cites several reports from liberal media outlets, including ThinkProgress, in which experts claimed that Trump Jr. violated campaign laws by seeking an in-kind contribution from a foreign national in the form of opposition research.

FACT is now turning that allegation on the DNC.

“Federal law and commission regulations prohibit any person from knowingly soliciting, accepting, or receiving contributions or donations of money or other things of value from a foreign national,” the complaint says. 

Candidates and Campaigns

CNN: FBI raided Manafort home as part of Russia probe

By Daniel Diaz and Evan Perez

FBI agents raided a home of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort last month, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.

The agents seized materials in Manafort’s home as part of the ongoing Russia investigation led by Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the source said…

The so-called no-knock warrant, which was first reported by The Washington Post, was served at Manafort’s home in Washington’s northern Virginia suburbs on July 26, the day after Manafort met with Senate intelligence committee investigators.

The tactic appears unusual for a case that has been under investigation for months and for which Manafort has already turned over hundreds of pages of documents to Senate investigators. The source told CNN the documents seized included financial and tax records and at least some of the information had already been provided to Senate investigators.

The States

Sacramento Bee: Campaign watchdog met Democratic lawyer before changing rule

By Jonathan J. Cooper, Associated Press

A member of California’s independent political watchdog commission coordinated behind the scenes with a lawyer for state Senate Democrats before voting to overturn a longstanding precedent that would have limited fundraising by a Democratic lawmaker facing a recall, records show.

The Fair Political Practices Commission approved the change at a meeting last month, rejecting its own lawyers’ legal analysis and accepting the interpretation put forward by the Democratic attorney, Richard Rios.

At issue is whether Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman of Fullerton can accept unlimited donations from fellow lawmakers in his fight to fend off a recall election.

Longstanding commission guidelines say he can only accept $4,400 from each of his colleagues’ campaign accounts. But at Rios’s request, the commission voted 3-1 on July 27 to lift that restriction. The decision is subject to a final vote at this month’s meeting…

Records provided by other commissioners do not show any private communications with Rios. Republican commissioners Maria Audero and Allison Hayward also voted in favor of the change. 

New York Daily News: Why I’m leaving the N.Y. Senate

By Daniel Squadron

I believed in state government’s potential.

I still do. But over the years I have seen it thwarted by a sliver of heavily invested special interests… 

I have many truly exceptional colleagues, in the Senate Democratic Conference and across the Legislature. But rank-and-file legislators face structural barriers, including “three men in a room” decisionmaking, loophole-riddled campaign finance rules and a governor-controlled budget process…

Of course, while New York is a particularly seedy example, ours is not the only state where a combination of political dealmaking, big money and public distraction have allowed corruption to fester…

In the coming months, along with entrepreneur Adam Pritzker and Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, I will launch a national effort focused on addressing this crisis – joining others already doing important work toward 2018 and beyond.

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