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.
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 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.
By Luke Wachob
Thanks to the Supreme Court, the government isn’t able to shut down dissenting views today. But private companies? That’s a totally different story. Private entities are not bound by the First Amendment, so when they join forces with government, our speech rights become muddled.
For power-hungry politicians, outsourcing censorship is a means to an end. Pressuring an industry into censoring itself, often with the threat of new laws in the background, can achieve in practice what the government is forbidden from doing directly. The result is the enforcement of conventional values to the exclusion of new or dissenting ideas…
Proponents of further regulating internet speech say they seek only increased transparency in online advertising. That doesn’t square with the Senate’s actions. Fierce condemnations of social media companies, fearmongering about “misinformation” and “fake news,” and misleading legislation titled the “Honest Ads Act” speak to much larger ambitions. They suggest an interest in dramatically curtailing freedom of speech online.
Our response to Russian dissemination of propaganda should punish Russia, not Americans. Rewriting the rules for political speech on the internet – or pressuring social media companies to regulate with a heavy hand – will threaten the future of legitimate, homegrown political movements in the United States.
USA Today: Listen up Supreme Court: Warrantless tracking of smartphones violates our rights (In the News)
By Zac Morgan
On Nov. 29, the Supreme Court will review whether the government can get this information without a warrant. The case, Carpenter v. United States, will decide if the Fourth Amendment protects your information.
But the case also raises serious First Amendment issues about the right to free and private association.
Consider what happened during the 1950s when pro-segregation Southern states tried to get the NAACP’s membership list. Those states justified that effort using a range of governmental powers, including corporate registration, legislative investigations, and tax laws. Each time, no matter the excuse, the Supreme Court said no…
If the government can get location data of attendance at private gatherings, there’s little need to demand a membership list…
The Institute for Free Speech filed a brief in Timothy Carpenter’s case raising these concerns. Two left-leaning racial justice organizations, Color of Change and the Center for Media Justice, joined the brief. So did Americans for Prosperity Foundation and Tea Party Patriots, right-leaning organizations which advocate for limited government. Our brief warned that the “chilling effects from this invasive form of government oversight will do grave damage to the First Amendment.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch: Scott Blackburn column: Wave election possible because of Virginia’s campaign finance laws (In the News)
By Scott Blackburn
That wave elections happen is welcome news for democracy. Incumbent legislators have many advantages over challengers, particularly those without a political pedigree. The only way many new faces get a chance in politics is on the back of a political groundswell.
But how many newcomers get to “ride the wave” depends greatly on how easy or hard it is to run a campaign. Luckily for candidates in Virginia, the state has some of the most pro-free speech campaign laws in the country.
Like just 10 other states, Virginia has no limit on how much individuals may donate to a candidate’s campaign…
In every seat that flipped parties in the election, the candidate who won received a contribution that would have been prohibited as too large under federal campaign finance rules…
Ironically, now the wave of newcomers becomes the incumbents…
More importantly, they will have the ability to reshape campaign rules for the future.
Let’s hope that they don’t tilt those rules in their own favor. That they are good stewards of democracy. That they remember that campaigning is hard, that campaigns are expensive, and that the goal of the law should be to make it as easy as possible for the future outsider to get into politics.