Wall Street Journal: Stormy Weather for Campaign-Finance Laws (In the News)

By Bradley A. Smith
Not everything that might benefit a candidate is a campaign expense.
Campaign-finance law aims to prevent corruption. For this reason, the FEC has a longstanding ban on “personal use” of campaign funds. Such use would give campaign contributions a material value beyond helping to elect the candidate-the essence of a bribe.
FEC regulations explain that the campaign cannot pay expenses that would exist “irrespective” of the campaign, even if it might help win election. At the same time, obligations that would not exist “but for” the campaign must be paid from campaign funds.
If paying hush money is a campaign expense, a candidate would be required to make that payment with campaign funds. How ironic, given that using campaign funds as hush money was one of the articles of impeachment in the Watergate scandal, which gave rise to modern campaign-finance law.
When the FEC adopted these regulations, it specifically rejected a rule under which campaign contributions could fund an expenditure “related to” a candidacy. The FEC was concerned that would make it too easy for candidates to use campaign funds for personal benefit.

Filed Under: Brad Smith, In the News, Published Articles, WSJ

Washington Examiner: The Founders didn’t limit political contributions, and neither should we (In the News)

By Bradley A. Smith
When they signed the Declaration of Independence, the Founders pledged their “lives … fortunes, and … sacred honor” to the political cause they were fighting for. They didn’t pledge their “lives, sacred honor, and fortunes up to an amount to be determined by Parliament and signed into law by the King.” And we shouldn’t so limit ourselves, either.
The ability to contribute financially to elect or defeat a candidate for office has long been recognized as a core First Amendment right. It is part of both our freedom of association – to join together with others to voice our views and accomplish our political goals – and our right to speak – to pool our resources to deliver a message to other voters. In the landmark 1976 case of Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court noted that limits on political giving “operate in an area of the most fundamental First Amendment activities.”
Nonetheless, the Supreme Court has tolerated, and the states and federal government have regularly enacted, restrictions on this right. This month, the Institute for Free Speech, of which I am chairman, released the first installment of the Free Speech Index, measuring and ranking which states score best and worst when it comes to respecting the rights of their citizens to participate in political discussion and debate. This first installment ranks states on the basic right of citizens to contribute financially to electing or defeating the candidates of their choice.

Filed Under: Brad Smith, In the News, Published Articles

Washington Examiner: Don’t give the IRS personal information it doesn’t need (In the News)

By Bradley A. Smith
For many years now, the IRS has required nonprofits to report their major donors to the IRS on what is known as Form 990, Schedule B. Recognizing the sensitive nature of this information, however, charitable organizations are not required to make this information public, and the IRS is prohibited by law from making it public.
Unfortunately, the IRS is not always successful at keeping the information secret…
Moreover, this information can be used improperly within the IRS. Certainly, most IRS employees are fair and responsible, but it only takes a handful of bad apples to use this information to harass citizens for the views and causes supported by their charitable giving.
The form is also an administrative burden for charities. The Institute for Free Speech estimates that Schedule B repeal would save charities and other nonprofits an estimated $63 million in costs spent complying with the dictates of the form…
Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., has taken a first step to ending abuses of privacy by introducing H.R. 4916, the Preventing IRS Abuse and Protecting Free Speech Act, which would reverse current law and prohibit the IRS from collecting this information. This legislation passed the House in the last Congress, but was not taken up in the Senate. Its best chance to pass this year will be through its inclusion in the omnibus budget bill currently being negotiated in both chambers.

Filed Under: Brad Smith, Newsroom, Published Articles

Can Clinton Campaign Be Indicted?

Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians for various violations of U.S. law pertaining to elections is drawing a lot of quick and often uninformed comment about campaign finance and lobbying laws. Today let’s start with this piece, which seems to be making the rounds: Does Mueller Indictment Mean Clinton Campaign Can Be Indicted for […]

Filed Under: Uncategorized, campaign finance, Christopher Steele, DNC, Foreign Agents Registration Act, FusionGPS, Hillary Clinton, indictments, Perkins Coie, Robert Mueller, Russians, Trump

Can the Clinton Campaign Be Indicted?

Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians for various violations of U.S. law pertaining to elections is drawing a lot of quick and often uninformed comment about campaign finance and lobbying laws. Today, let’s start with this piece, which seems to be making the rounds: Does Mueller Indictment Mean Clinton Campaign Can Be Indicted […]

Filed Under: Blog, Christopher Steele, DNC, FARA, Foreign Agents Registration Act, Foreign Influence, Fusion GPS, Hillary Clinton, indictments, Perkins Coie, Robert Mueller, Russians, Trump

Washington Examiner: If $1,000 is crumbs, as Nancy Pelosi says, then campaign disclosure laws are out of date (In the News)

By Bradley A. Smith
If Nancy Pelosi thinks that $1,000 is “crumbs,” why does she support a law that requires every American who contributes more than $200 (and as little as $10 in some states) to a candidate, political party, or PAC, to be reported to the government, with their names, addresses, and employment information published for the world to see?
You might think of it this way: Federal campaign finance reporting is a vast government database, stretching back literally decades, of the political views and activity of millions of ordinary Americans. This database is not only available to government bureaucrats, it is made public where it can be accessed by potential or actual employers, financial institutions, college admissions officers, or any nosy neighbor. In this era of Twitter mobs, social media bullying, and politically-inspired vandalism and boycotts, is this really necessary, or even a good idea? …
The threshold at which contributor information must be publicly disclosed should be substantially higher than it currently is. That would simplify the reporting system, make harassment of small donors less likely, and encourage small donor participation. That would be one campaign finance reform both Left and Right could get behind. And it wouldn’t be “crumbs.”

Filed Under: Brad Smith, In the News, Published Articles

On Trolls, Tweets, and Free Speech

Lately, it seems to have become a sophomoric sport among some who regularly oppose our efforts to protect and expand free speech to try to hijack our resources for their own partisan purposes. A couple of recent examples come from the anonymous tweeter at alt_fec, and from law professor Richard Hasen. Alt_fec demands, “you guys […]

Filed Under: Blog, @alt_fec, Bernie Sanders, ellen weintraub, free speech, John McCain, Republican Party, Rick Hasen, sheldon whitehouse, trolls, Trump Administration, Twitter

Washington Examiner: Remember the IRS targeting scandal? No one ever got punished for it (In the News)

By Bradley A. Smith
As the original report by TIGTA made clear, the IRS “developed and used inappropriate criteria to identify applications from organizations with the words Tea Party in their names … Subsequently the [IRS] expanded the criteria to inappropriately include organizations with other specific names (Patriots and 9/12) or policy positions.”
The IRS itself eventually conceded that of 199 cases analyzed under this “Be On the Look Out,” or “BOLO” program, approximately 75 percent [150] “appear to be conservative leaning, while fewer than 10 appear to be liberal/progressive leaning groups.” In other words, the fact that the terms the IRS used to pull applications for extra scrutiny – terms such as “Tea Party” and “patriot” – snagged a few liberal groups doesn’t mean that the purpose and effect was not to target conservative organizations.
As the basis for whitewashing the IRS scandal, Newsweek, the Washington Post, and others have turned to a new TIGTA report concerning a different IRS program altogether. That program, called “Touch and Go,” swept up a mix of conservative and progressive groups. But that is precisely because it didn’t target groups based on politics, which was the problem with BOLO. Nothing in the latest TIGTA report contradicts TIGTA’s 2013 report revealing the IRS targeting, and TIGTA doesn’t claim that it does.

Filed Under: Brad Smith, In the News, Published Articles

Wall Street Journal: A ‘Teachable Moment’ on Free Speech (In the News)

By Bradley A. Smith
Sen. Tom Udall (D., N.M.) tweeted back that “POTUS is again openly suggesting an abuse of power.” Yet Mr. Udall has repeatedly sponsored a constitutional amendment that would give Congress the power to regulate political speech. He reintroduced it this year, making clear he wanted to regulate speech by “Wall Street” and “corporations.” …
So why not revoke the licenses of stations that are unfair or inaccurate in their coverage? Many Trump critics are demanding that Facebook and Twitter act to eliminate “fake news” online. Why then tolerate biased reporting from broadcasters?
The answer is that government can’t be trusted to decide which reporting counts as fake news. After all, one man’s “distortion” is another’s “straight talk.” While Mr. Udall thinks corporations are too powerful, others might say labor unions. The temptation will be to silence opponents. What the government is most likely to crack down on is news that’s critical of the government.
That’s why we have a First Amendment. Those who pine for more regulation of campaign speech should take this “teachable moment” to ponder two questions: Does free speech apply to all Americans, or only to the favored few calling themselves “the press?” And are political opponents the only ones who cannot be trusted with the power to censor critics?

Filed Under: Brad Smith, In the News, Published Articles

Is Money Speech?

Sometimes people ask why the Institute for Free Speech should be so concerned with protecting the rights of individuals to make expenditures and contributions to political campaigns. “Money isn’t speech,” they say. They are often surprised to learn that I agree with them – to a point. Of course, money isn’t speech – it’s money. […]

Filed Under: Blog, Buckley v. Valeo, Institute for Free Speech, Money and Speech, Political Spending

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