By Luke Wachob
Taking cues from New York City and Los Angeles, also beset by government corruption, a D.C. Council committee has unanimously approved a bill that would inject taxpayer money directly into partisan politics. At a rate of 5:1, taxpayers will be on the hook to “match” (government-speak for quintuple) contributions to politicians, no matter how loathsome they find the candidate…
The organization I work for, the Institute for Free Speech, has conducted numerous studies of the effects of these programs in cities and states across the nation. Repeatedly, we find that they are dogged by corruption and fail to achieve their goals. Adding to our skepticism is the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office, which found that tax-financing programs in Arizona and Maine failed to encourage new candidates or aid challengers running against incumbents…
Once tax financing programs are in place, they are very hard to remove. When benefits fail to materialize, supporters simply demand more money. In fact, both New York City and Los Angeles initially matched contributions at a rate of 1:1. Today, that ratio has escalated to 6:1 in New York and 4:1 in L.A. general elections.
Washington Examiner: New York City and Los Angeles offer cautionary tales for DC’s ‘Fair Elections Act’ (In the News)
By Luke Wachob
By David Keating and Thomas Wheatley
The so-called Fair Elections Act of 2017, a measure that would provide a five-to-one tax financing match to small-dollar donations to D.C. candidates, cleared committee this month. The sponsor markets the proposal as “giving more people a bigger voice.”
That’s nonsense. The bill proposes a grand experiment with unpredictable impact. There’s a good chance that it will turbocharge the power of special-interest groups in D.C. campaigns, giving fewer interests a dominant voice. It also could incentivize fraud, which could lead to a collapse of public confidence.
The proposal is biased in favor of a new form of special PAC. The fine print allows for allocations from labor unions to count as contributions from individuals, and thus may be considered small-dollar donations. The provision not-so-subtly prohibits similar contributions from partnerships and small-business owners. The D.C. ACLU noted “labor unions do not have greater First Amendment rights than other kinds of organizations.” But the potential constitutional defect remains.
Washington Examiner: More campaign finance regulation means less political free speech (In the News)
By Joe Albanese
If Feingold thinks it’s unfair that some people are able to spend more money on elections, is it also unfair that some people can get more attention without spending money at all?
When ordinary people want to express their opinions alongside those of the powerful, they have to raise and spend money to do it. This doesn’t just mean buying advertising time on TV – even posting an internet video or printing fliers requires buying the right materials and equipment. Pooling resources can be an effective way to enhance the voices of ordinary Americans, but these expenses trigger government regulations when they add up.
Yet, campaign finance law only targets certain types of political participation. Before Citizens United, the Obama administration argued in court (at least for a time) that an organization could be forbidden from screening a movie criticizing a presidential candidate. A celebrity or politician can go on TV to criticize that same candidate, however, and face no such legal obstacles. Luckily, the Supreme Court recognized that 501(c) organizations could be an important way for citizens to join together and speak about politics without needing to hire campaign finance attorneys every step of the way. The rich can hire all the help they need – grassroots activists can’t.
By Thomas Wheatley
Investigators from the state Department of Justice called the “previously unknown and secret investigation into a broad range of Wisconsin Republicans” John Doe III. The scheme secretly collected hundreds of thousands of Republicans’ personal emails…
The scope of John Doe III was shocking – in fact, DOJ officials could not “discern any limit” to it. More egregiously, the sleazy scheme seemed motived by partisanship…
Americans are led to believe that more government regulation of election campaign speech is key to ensuring fairness. John Doe III says otherwise.
Law-abiding citizens were exercising their free-speech rights. But that was enough for Big Brother thugs to compile a secret dossier on all aspects of their lives.
A vague and complex campaign finance law enabled these abuses. Wisconsinites learned this lesson via an especially terrifying abuse of power and reformed their laws accordingly. Other states would do well to learn from them.
LifeZette: Did Lisa Bloom Break Campaign Finance Laws by Arranging Pay for Trump Accusers? (In the News)
By Kathryn Blackhurst
Former FEC Chairman Brad Smith pointed to specific requirements of what campaign regulation refers to as “express advocacy” as likely not met by the Bloom effort.
“An independent expenditure has to include express advocacy, per statute. So if the accusers specifically said something like ‘I hope that voters will reject Trump’ that might do it. But it might still be hard to show that that is what the payment was for,” said Smith, who is chairman and founder of the Institute for Free Speech.
“The payment, they would argue, was just to go public with their stories, not to specifically oppose the election of Trump. That was a voluntary comment by the speaker, on her own. No money spent, no violation,” he said.
Smith cautioned, however, that “you wouldn’t need express advocacy to violate the ‘electioneering communication’ rule, but that would require using the statements in paid tv/radio ads of at least $10,000, which I gather is clearly inapplicable here. If coordinated with the campaign, payments would be a contribution to the campaign.”
Cato: Staring at the Sun: An Inquiry into Compulsory Campaign Finance Donor Disclosure Laws (In the News)
By Eric Wang
Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, proponents of stricter campaign finance regulation have increasingly prescribed “disclosure” as an antidote to “dark money” in politics. Advocates of more extensive donor disclosure laws typically invoke Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’s famous maxim that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” but they seldom acknowledge the harm of excessive sunlight.
This paper urges a more critical and balanced look at the issue, especially concerning disclosure requirements for independent political speech (i.e., speech that is not coordinated with candidates). Of primary focus is the Court’s jurisprudence in this area, which is often invoked to support additional compulsory donor disclosure laws but lacks coherence, especially as it applies to independent speech. Even assuming that the Court’s jurisprudence in this area remains sound, many arguments being advanced for compulsory donor disclosure laws are untethered from the justifications the Court has articulated, rendering them especially susceptible to challenge in litigation. This paper concludes with recommendations on how, and how not, to enact disclosure laws.
By Jeff Brindle
Laura Holmes and Paul Jost, a married couple from Florida, challenged a provision in the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) that limits contributions by individuals to $2,700 in the primary and $2,700 in the general election…
Holmes and Jost, while not challenging contribution limits per se, maintain that it is a violation of their First Amendment rights to bar them from contributing $5,200, or two times $2,600, to a candidate in the general election…
Bradley Smith, a former FEC member and free speech advocate, said the election-cycle contribution split clearly favors incumbents, who often face little primary opposition and simply roll their primary contributions into their general election campaign kitties.
“Campaign finance laws often raise difficult questions about the intersection of free speech and elections, but not every case is a tough one. Some laws are just plain dumb and unfair, no matter what your views on campaign finance,” said Smith in an April 10, 2017, op-ed column in the Washington Examiner. His group, Institute for Free Speech, represents Holmes and Jost.
By David Keating and Paul Jossey
Various interests have seized on Russian chicanery to push “reforms” lacking priority in less neurotic times. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) sent a “Dear Colleague” letter seeking new rules for online ads. The resulting bill would burden internet speech with suffocating rules, even possibly banning some forms of online speech. Instead of hitting the Russians, the bill instead targets American speech, press and assembly rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. In short, despite the dearth of candidate references in the Russian ads, there is already a rush to chill the world’s most dynamic speech forum…
In the rush to respond, we have to remember the most important values, which are our rights to freely speak, publish, listen, read and watch. That’s the real risk of an irrational response, whether the threats come from new laws or more speech cops at Facebook…
The government should focus on ensuring that our voting machinery is safe from foreign hackers. Protection is also needed to prevent foreign agents from stealing internal candidate campaign communications. But when the issue is speech, we must exercise great caution lest zeal to curb foreign influence instead damages our own free speech rights.
Georgetown Public Policy Review: Do Taxpayer-Funded Campaigns Increase Political Competitiveness? (In the News)
By Joe Albanese
Advocates of taxpayer-funded political campaigns often claim that such systems improve the political process by exposing incumbent politicians to more competition and increasing the chance that challengers will defeat them in elections. One such advocate, the Brennan Center for Justice, has argued that tax-financed campaigns “improve competition, and help challengers.” Lower incumbent re-election rates in states that offer tax-financed campaigns would result, as competition rises.
Evidence shows no such result. The evidence available indicates that, despite claims that this policy increases electoral competition, taxpayer financing of political campaigns does not produce statistically significantly lower re-election rates for incumbent state legislators. A comparison between states with and without such laws suggests that the system of funding campaigns has no effect on re-election rates. Many factors contribute to high incumbent re-election rates across states, such as name recognition, the platform provided by elected office, and voter satisfaction with their representatives. Tax-financing of campaigns is not one of those factors.
The Steve Gruber Show: Zac Morgan: No “reasonable expectation of privacy” from your phone’s location data (In the News)
Zac Morgan, is a staff attorney at the Institute for Free Speech and an Opinion contributor to USA Today. The government says you have no “reasonable expectation of privacy” from your phone’s location data. And the government believes that it should be able to get your location history from your phone provider on, more-or-less, its own say-so.