In the News
By Bradley A. Smith
Republicans on Capitol Hill are outraged by the announcement that the Department of Justice would stick with the Obama administration decision not to prosecute Lois Lerner…
But congressional Republicans always set the bar both too high and too low when it came to the IRS’s actions. They set it too high in that they immediately declared that the scandal constituted criminal wrongdoing and too low by suggesting that the scandal hinged on a finding of criminal wrongdoing. The real problem was never one of a few rogue IRS employees engaging in criminality. Rather, the IRS scandal was about abuse of power by elected officials, who consciously sought to weaponize the IRS against their political adversaries…
In the end, Lerner is something of a sideshow. The real problems are first, the president and leaders in Congress should not use their power to pressure the bureaucracy to do their partisan bidding, and second, if you give government the tools to regulate political speech, the government will weaponize them for partisan gain by the party in power. No “criminal” behavior is necessary. That, and not the tea party, is what threatened democracy then and now. Too bad that’s not the IRS scandal Congress chose to focus on.
By Stephanie Slade
It’s not just coddled college kids and political “progressives” who espouse worrisome views about when it’s OK to shut down speech and expression they don’t like. Many conservatives admit to favoring policies that would proscribe the rights of Muslims, journalists, and those who “disrespect” the United States.
A new poll from the Cato Institute throws some discouraging light on the overall state of public opinion regarding the First Amendment.
According to the topline poll results (to which I received advance access), 72 percent of Republicans would support making it illegal for an American to burn or desecrate the flag…
Perhaps most troublingly, 50 percent of Republicans say the press in America has too much freedom to do what it wants. Just 31 percent of all respondents felt the same way. Republicans also appear to be following the president’s lead on a related question: By 63-35 percent, they say journalists are “an enemy of the American people.” Among everyone who took the survey, those numbers were flipped.
Public Policy Legal Institute: New TIGTA Report on “Inappropriate” Criteria for Evaluating Exemption Applications
By Barnaby Zall
[T]he new report actually makes things worse for the hard-working media in crucial ways. For example, by expanding, without a full explanation, the scope of its inquiry beyond the specific period of the out-of-control Lerner office scandal, the TIGTA report conflates two very different types of IRS scrutiny.
Although the new report mentions both the IRS’s “Touch-and-Go” (TAG) and “Be On the Look Out” (BOLO) programs, it doesn’t explain the differences between the programs and how one shows the scandal while the other may not…
So it’s a false equivalence to include them both without an explanation of the differences. It’s even worse to discuss them as though the TAGs were as bad as the BOLOs, as the new TIGTA report seems to do.
This has been a long explanation, but it still doesn’t cover most of what went wrong (and what was wrong) in the Lerner era. This was not a question of whether only conservative organizations were targeted; there’s really never been a question that liberal/progressive organizations were also investigated.
But the fact remains that a far larger number of conservative organizations were targeted under the lawless BOLO process. And the BOLOs were different from the TAGs. The media should not be conflating the two, nor should TIGTA.
New York Times: Google Finds Accounts Connected to Russia Bought Election Ads
By Daisuke Wakabayashi
Google has been called to testify at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Nov. 1. But it has so far escaped the intense scrutiny confronting Facebook after the social network admitted that it discovered 470 profiles and pages to the internet Research Agency, a Russian company with ties to the Kremlin.
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, said on Monday that it should not be surprising that Russians were using Google as well as Facebook and Twitter. The only thing that is surprising, he said, is that it took so long for Google to find the activity.
“It will take more time and length and breadth to know what Russia did on social media,” Mr. Schiff said. “But the themes are consistent across platforms: the desire to help Donald Trump, to hurt Hillary Clinton and the desire to set Americans against each other.”
In addition to the Senate committee hearing, Google and Facebook are expected to testify at another Nov. 1 hearing before the House Intelligence Committee. Twitter was also invited to the House committee hearing, but it was not clear on Monday whether officials from the company planned to attend.
New York Times: The ‘Resistance,’ Raising Big Money, Upends Liberal Politics
By Kenneth P. Vogel
It started as a scrappy grass-roots protest movement against President Trump, but now the so-called resistance is attracting six- and seven-figure checks from major liberal donors, posing an insurgent challenge to some of the left’s most venerable institutions – and the Democratic Party itself…
A Silicon Valley-like competition between start-ups might not be the best thing for the left right now, warned Rob Stein, a longtime Democratic strategist who helped create the Democracy Alliance to provide structure to the institutional left.
“Having a thousand flowers blooming at the beginning of a new era is generally a good thing,” Mr. Stein said. “But when you’ve got your back against the wall, too many new blooms can cause message and operational cacophony.”
He warned that the combination of ideological and structural divisions, along with a national party weakened by changes in campaign finance laws, could “make it very, very difficult for progressives and Democrats to drive a coherent message in 2018, and to align behind a single candidate in 2020.”
Candidates and Campaigns
Associated Press: Twitter shuts down Blackburn campaign announcement video
By Erik Schelzig
Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s Senate campaign announcement ad has been blocked by Twitter over a statement the abortion rights opponent makes about the sale of fetal tissue for medical research.
Blackburn, who is running for the seat being opened by the retirement of Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, boasts in the ad that she “stopped the sale of baby body parts.” A Twitter representative told the candidate’s vendors on Monday that the statement was “deemed an inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction:
Twitter said the Blackburn campaign would be allowed to run the rest of the video if the flagged statement is omitted. While the decision keeps Blackburn from paying to promote the video on Twitter, it doesn’t keep it from being linked from YouTube and other platforms.
Blackburn took to Twitter to urge supporters to re-post her video and join her in “standing up to Silicon Valley.”
By John Myers
A sweeping effort designed to give Californians more information about the biggest donors to ballot measure campaigns was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday…
The law will simplify the wording on political advertisements that discloses the top three donors of $50,000 or more to a campaign. It also changes existing state regulations on when and how to disclose “earmarked” donations in campaign finance reports – donations that are bundled together by a group such as a labor union or other membership organization…
The governor’s decision to sign Assembly Bill 249 comes just weeks after the chairwoman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission raised concerns about the earmarking provisions, suggesting the bill would make it harder for investigators to track funds that were illegally gathered by a single organization.
Versions of the proposal, known as the California Disclose Act, were debated but ultimately defeated the past seven years in Sacramento.
By Mitch Perry
The measure is a direct rebuke to the 2010 SpeechNow.org v. FEC case from, which opened the door to super PACs by holding that the federal law limiting contributions to political committees to $5,000 per person each year did not apply to a political committee that promised to make only “independent expenditures.”
While some federal appellate circuits have followed the SpeechNow ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit – which has jurisdiction over federal cases in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia – has yet to rule on this question, nor has the U.S. Supreme Court or the Florida Supreme Court.
Attorneys for the city advised against the council approving the measure, arguing that the case will likely be challenged in court on First Amendment grounds and could lead up to $2 million or more in legal fees. But Rice said Saturday that the city’s taxpayers shouldn’t be fearful.
“We are setting up a foundation to raise the $2 million for potential prevailing party costs to offset this,” she said at a candidates forum held by the South St. Petersburg Democratic Club at the Sanderlin Center. “We have arranged to make some of the country’s top constitutional lawyers who have offered pro bono to work with us.”
By Ross Wolfe
Under the bill, to qualify for public campaign funds, a mayoral candidate would have to raise $50,000, and candidates for other city offices $15,000, from city residents who contribute $150 or less. At the very least, a mayoral candidate must obtain 334 such contributions, and all other offices must receive 100.
These figures might seem achievable, even for outsiders, but anyone who has raised money for a campaign knows that this is not easily accomplished. Republicans, non-establishment Democrats, and independents lack the political infrastructure to ensure these benchmarks would be reached. I’ve seen this while working on Republican campaigns in the city.
It’s a different story for Democratic insiders. For example, if you’re Mayor Kenney or Councilman Bobby Henon, it is easy for a local union leader to arrange for hundreds of members to contribute $150 to a campaign. With just one event, members of the Democratic establishment could qualify to receive public campaign funds. And under the bill, each $150 contribution would become $900 courtesy of the taxpayers.
Baltimore Sun: Local campaign finance back in the spotlight at panel event
By Ross Wolfe
The event, Oct. 15 at 6 p.m. at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center in Columbia, will include discussion of the county’s new public campaign financing law, which was passed in June. The legislation allows those who turn down large donations to accept money gathered from government appropriations; it will take effect in 2022.
Speakers at Sunday’s event include Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland’s 3rd District as well as local activists from Progressive Maryland, Get Money Out Maryland, Maryland PIRG and Common Cause Maryland.
Sarbanes introduced the bill “Government by the People Act” in January to establish a federal program for small individual donations to campaigns, including a matching program and tax credit for small contributions…
Scarr said the system will need proper funding and oversight to ensure its success, and encouraged residents, both those who attend Sunday’s event and others, to stay informed of the county’s budget process in the coming years to make sure it’s fully funded. PIRG has estimated it will cost under $3 million over the next four years to fund the system.