By Eric Wang
China censors any agitators, foreign or domestic, on social media. Politically sensitive topics like Tibetan self-determination, the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, or resistance against the Communist Party are off-limits. Of course, the Great Firewall also completely blocks access to Facebook, Twitter, and thousands of other websites. Through these measures, Chinese citizens can rest assured that they are free from foreign interference…
Emulating China’s disregard for free speech may seem like mere satire for Americans. But is it? There is always risk for overstatement when resorting to “slippery slope” arguments. But recent calls to regulate online political speech by foreign interests directed at Americans seem to articulate no bounds. There is a real risk that a rush to regulate will threaten basic civil liberties…
Recent debates show the difficulty in blocking foreign nationals from speaking without also compromising Americans values. For example, consider immigration. Many of those publicly voicing support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy have been undocumented immigrants. Some of the most vociferous opponents of the Trump administration’s “travel ban” have been citizens of affected countries. Could we prevent these foreign nationals from speaking to American voters about these issues during election season, and would that not end up stifling part of the debate?
By Eric Wang
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit: Public Confidence in the Election Process (Video)
Legal challenges involving political campaigns or elections present some of the most difficult, high-profile, and time-sensitive matters to come before federal courts. They also may test the bounds of judicial independence and the appearance of impartiality. Their consequences are often far-reaching. A panel of three distinguished election law experts will participate in a conversation to help navigate through this thicket. They will discuss perennial issues arising in election law, such as the Voting Rights Act, redistricting, and the regulation of money in politics. They also will tackle several more recent hot topics, including voter fraud, voter suppression and protection, the regulation of micro-targeting, the Purcell principle (relating to court-ordered changes shortly before an election), the Electoral College, faithless electors, and foreign interference with U.S. elections.
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.
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.
By Jena McGregor
The report released Tuesday, by the nonpartisan Center for Political Accountability and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research, creates an index that ranks companies based on the disclosure, oversight and policies about their election-related spending…
The study ranks companies based on the information they provide on their web sites about factors such as payments to super PACs and tax-exempt organizations like 501(c)(4)s, whether or not senior managers or board members oversee political spending and activities, and what kind of policies they outline for how and where money can be spent…
One critic of the index is the Center for Competitive Politics’ Brad Smith, a former Federal Election Commission chair who says much political spending by corporations is already disclosed and that the index is a “one-size-fits-all” model that does not necessarily have corporations’ best interests at heart. He suggests those behind the index “tend to think corporate involvement is a bad thing — they want to get corporations not to participate. But most Americans, I think, believe corporations do have a role to play in terms of politics.”
CT Viewpoints: Finally, taxpayers might be off the hook for funding election campaigns (In the News)
By Alex Cordell
So, after almost $75 million in taxpayer dollars, what have voters received from their “clean elections” program? Not much.
An analysis by the Center for Competitive Politics found no change in the voting behavior of legislators who used tax dollars for their re-election campaigns. The program didn’t change their tendency to side with organized interests when bills came to the floor. Another study released in 2010 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) looked at similar tax-financing programs in Arizona and Maine, which have existed since 2000. The GAO analyzed five goals set by each state after the creation of their tax-financing programs, but couldn’t find any evidence they had been achieved. The program also shamefully forces Connecticut residents to subsidize candidacies they may disagree with.
Advocates of the Citizens’ Election Program, and tax-financing schemes more broadly, ignore the reality that these programs have failed to solve the corruption problem in government…
In fact, in the years since Connecticut adopted its tax-financing system, several instances of corruption from “clean election” candidates have surfaced. Many have been investigated or even convicted for the same crimes that spurred calls for tax-financing in the first place.
By Edward Graham
Bradley Smith, a former Republican FEC chairman and the current chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, cautioned against a rush to impose new disclosure requirements that might limit First Amendment rights before understanding the extend of foreign involvement in the presidential election.
Smith added that current federal law already requires disclaimers for paid ads supporting or opposing candidates, including those online – although he said there are exemptions for smaller campaign items, like bumper stickers and small internet ads like Google search advertisements.
“I think we need to be careful about what the response should be, making changes that we can make that are effective,” Smith said in a Wednesday phone interview. “But we should realize that, if this is really a case of the Russian government involved, this is something in which the FEC and campaign finance disclosures have a really small role to play. It’s really something for counterintelligence operations or the Department of Justice.”
An FEC spokesperson would not comment on Klobuchar and Warner’s legislative efforts, but pointed to the commission’s vote at its Sept. 14 open meeting to reopen the comment period on proposed rulemaking on internet disclaimers for an additional 30 days.
By Bradley Smith and Eric Wang
This latest allegation of foreign interference with our elections inevitably will be used as fodder to support the newest iteration of the so-called “Disclose Act.” Over the summer, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) introduced a tweaked version of this perennial bill to include features he claimed would “head off foreign election interference.” Upon closer inspection, the legislation turns out to be an exercise in distraction rather than disclosure. The bill’s foreign spending provisions are poorly disguised ploys for clamping down on public debate and dissent…
Aside from its foreign national provisions, the latest Disclose Act also contains numerous purported disclosure requirements (hence its name). But those disclosure provisions are also ploys to shut down political speech. For example, the bill would require any corporation (even one that has no foreign owners at all) making a “campaign-related disbursement” to disclose all of its “beneficial owners,” a term which likely includes any shareholder…
Whitehouse’s latest Disclose Act also would expand the existing “electioneering communications” law to regulate ads that merely mention a congressional candidate or a member of Congress up for reelection beginning on the first day of an election year through Election Day.
By Michelle Casady
Trainor has previously represented conservative group Empower Texans, which has fought the Texas Ethics Commission on the disclosure of political donors.
But David Keating, president of the nonprofit group Center for Competitive Politics, an organization whose stated mission is to “promote and defend First Amendment rights” said there is a big difference between being a lawyer, paid to advocate for your client, and being a commissioner on the FEC. Naysayers may be conflating the two, he said.
Keating, who said he has met Trainor on a few occasions while in Austin testifying before the Texas Ethics Commission, said Trainer is “very knowledgeable” on election law.
“There are groups that don’t like him, so they’re trying to dig up what they can to make it controversial,” he said. “Trey clearly is someone who believes in free speech. I think he’s going to apply the law as it’s written and not come up with a hair-brained interpretation of what the law is.”
Keating said that although it is historically not common, senators have been able to block some “highly qualified” candidates for the post in the past, such as one put forward by Obama who had to withdraw his nomination, he said. He said he doesn’t think that will happen in Trainor’s case.
By Joe Albanese
It may shock you to learn that the multimillionaire co-founder of a global ice-cream empire has been meeting with elected officials in the hopes of fundamentally altering our Constitution. This individual proposes amending the Bill of Rights for the first time to give Congress nearly unlimited power to limit political speech.
That’s right – Big Ice Cream is trying to undermine our democracy. Or at least that’s how it would be put if the wealthy founder of some other, less progressive company tried the same tactics.
In late August, Ben Cohen – the “Ben” in Ben & Jerry’s – appeared at a Philadelphia rally hosted by American Promise, an organization that effectively wants to rewrite the First Amendment…
There is certainly nothing wrong with Cohen’s expressing his views on a political issue. In the past, he has argued that “corporations can serve the needs of society,” in keeping with the increasing demands of the left for progressive corporate activism. The problem is that Cohen’s campaign-finance platform would curtail for others the right that he so proudly exercises – namely, the ability to dedicate resources to causes he cares about.