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 Hill: A lesson on abuse of power by Obama and his Senate allies (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.

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

Washington Examiner: The Left again tries to prohibit corporate giving to nonprofits and think tanks (In the News)

By Bradley A. Smith
Although the CPA-Zicklin Index attracts a steady stream of media attention, it does not take seriously the potential value of corporate engagement in public policy discussions. Its authors claim merely to want corporations to disclose their giving to nonprofits and advocacy groups, but they are just as happy (and perhaps happier) if that giving dries up altogether.
Don’t take it from me: The 2017 edition of the Index released last week uses the words “prohibition,” “prohibit,” “prohibiting,” and “prohibited” more than 50 times. It celebrates that, among companies it has tracked since 2015, “the number that fully disclose or prohibit political contributions from corporate funds has increased.”
There are a lot of problems with the CPA-Zicklin report, starting with the basic fact that all corporations are already required by law to disclose their political contributions to candidates, parties, and PACs. What, then, is CPA-Zicklin even talking about? In fact, what it calls “political contributions” are actually contributions to charities, think tanks, nonprofit civic organizations, and trade associations that engage in civic discourse about public policy. Corporations that give to the “wrong” organizations (ones with a conservative tilt or message) are then targeted by the Left for harassment and boycotts.

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

NMPolitics.net: New Mexicans should be suspicious of secretary of state’s anti-privacy rulemaking (In the News)

By Bradley Smith and Paul Gessing
Doug Nickle’s recent column (“Campaign reporting proposal creates necessary, nation-leading disclosure in NM”) is an example of Orwellian doublespeak at its best…
Even as Nickle urges support for rules reducing citizen privacy, he avers that the organization he lobbies for, Take Back Our Republic, “believe[s] in the individual’s right to both privacy and free speech” and “[t]hat’s why we support New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s proposed rules and regulations.” When the stated purpose of rules is to reduce personal privacy, yet a person tells you he supports them because he believes in privacy, perhaps it is time to be suspicious.
Noting that supporters of privacy have argued that “transparency is for government; privacy is for people,” Nickle also claims, “We couldn’t agree more – which is why we point out that the privacy of any individual or group who gives within the legally prescribed threshold is fully protected; their personal information remains undisclosed.” In other words, your privacy is protected, but only until it crosses a “legally prescribed threshold,” at which point your information will be posted online by government order. 

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

Washington Examiner: How government enables online outrage mobs (In the News)

Bloomberg columnist Megan McArdle recently noted that “we live in fear of online mobs.”…
McArdle argues that the rise of the Internet and online mobs may require us to rethink “the hard, bright line that classical liberalism drew between state coercion and private versions.”
But what about when government coercion enables the actions of mobs? Such is the case with campaign finance law, in which the government requires individuals who donate to political campaigns to report the candidates they support, the amount of their donations, their addresses, and their employment information, and then publicizes that information…
Today, forced disclosure of political donations is used less to inform voters than to provide information to silence speakers through threats and shunning.
Perhaps it is time to rethink our attitude toward disclosure. At a minimum, we should substantially raise the thresholds at which public disclosure of donors becomes mandatory – currently $200 at the federal level, and much less in most states. We should certainly not expand forced disclosure beyond contributions to candidate campaigns – disclosure laws should not be broadened to encompass membership in and dues and contributions to trade and professional associations, nonprofit organizations, and think tanks.

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

Santa Fe New Mexican: A secretary of state power grab on nonprofit privacy (In the News)

By Bradley A. Smith and Paul Gessing
Bureaucratic rule-makings can serve an important function. They help to implement and clarify laws that are passed by the Legislature. But here, instead of implementing the law, the Secretary of State’s Office is enacting rules that were rejected in the constitutional lawmaking process. Although pitched as “political disclosure,” as Martinez wrote in her veto message in April, “the broad language in the bill could lead to unintended consequences that would force groups like charities to disclose the names and addresses of their contributors in certain circumstances.”…
Nonprofit speech about candidates allows voters to hear the varied perspectives of groups that do valuable work in our communities. For a variety of religious, civic and political reasons, many donors to these organizations do not want to have their names and home addresses published online for their boss and nosy neighbors to see. Rest assured, many groups will choose silence over exposing their supporters’ private information.

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

Carlsbad Current-Argus: Secretary of State’s power grab on nonprofit privacy (In the News)

By Bradley Smith and Paul Gessing
This spring, the New Mexico Legislature considered imposing new donor disclosure rules on nonprofit organizations. The measure was vetoed by Governor Martinez over privacy concerns. Now Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is attempting to impose those rules by bureaucratic fiat, using a regulation to enact what couldn’t be done through the normal lawmaking process.
Bureaucratic rules can serve an important function. They help to implement and clarify laws that are passed by the legislature.
But here, instead of implementing the law, the Secretary of State’s Office is enacting rules that were rejected in the constitutional lawmaking process. Although pitched as “political disclosure,” as Governor Martinez wrote in her veto message in April, “the broad language in the bill could lead to unintended consequences that would force groups like charities to disclose the names and addresses of their contributors in certain circumstances.”
Furthermore, the rules, if adopted, will almost certainly be challenged in court…
Governor Martinez wisely chose to avoid this course of action for New Mexico. We should be cautious when considering proposals that restrict or chill charitable giving. We should especially not impose such policies through a subversion of the democratic process. 

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

Time for Weintraub to Step Down?

Federal Election Commissioner Ellen Weintraub’s actions in recent months cast serious doubt on whether she can continue to credibly carry on her duties as a Commissioner. She should recognize this predicament and do the honorable thing, which is to resign. Back in February, Commissioner Weintraub created a bit of a stir when she issued a […]

Filed Under: Blog, Don McGahn, ellen weintraub, FEC, federal election commission, Kris Kobach

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