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.
Washington Examiner: The Left again tries to prohibit corporate giving to nonprofits and think tanks (In the News)
By Bradley A. Smith
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.”
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.
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.
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.
By Sarah Kleiner
Seizing on the specter of Russian election influence, they’ve ramped up their quixotic effort – with minimal effect – to blunt Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the controversial 2010 Supreme Court decision that unleashed a torrent of special interest spending on U.S. elections.
In doing so, they’ve introduced two dozen bills related to money in politics…
Bradley A. Smith, a former Republican chairman of the FEC, said campaign finance deregulation, in general, makes sense.
Smith, founder and chairman of pro-deregulation nonprofit Center for Competitive Politics, sees many of the Democratic proposals on the table now as efforts to rig the system in their favor.
The FEC, for example, isn’t as divided as some people make it out to be; the vast majority of money raised and spent in U.S. elections is already disclosed; and government probably shouldn’t be in the business of financing campaigns, he said.
There’s strong reason to believe people such as Sens. Chuck Schumer and Sheldon Whitehouse want reform because “they think it will stifle speech that opposes their agenda,” Smith said.
By Anders Gyllenhaal
After a century of building free speech rights into our laws and culture, Americans are backing away from one of the country’s defining principles.
Set off by the nation’s increasingly short fuse, students, politicians, teachers and parents are not just refusing to hear each other out, we’re coming up with all sorts of ways of blocking ideas we don’t agree with…
“When people quit listening to each other, there’s that lack of discussion and a lack of understanding,” said Bradley A. Smith, the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and professor at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio. “That’s when there’s a growing tendency to think the other side shouldn’t be able to say what they think.”…
Today’s conflicts are the most complicated yet and show no sign of easing. But as more than one scholar has pointed out, free speech is the starting place for all our other rights. We shouldn’t lose sight of what’s at stake: Without the free flow of ideas, the American experiment cannot succeed.
By Bob Egelko
The Electoral College is good for democracy and regulation of political campaign financing is generally bad, one expert on election laws told a judicial conference in San Francisco on Tuesday…
Organizers of the panel on law and politics at the annual conference of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals were evidently looking for a diversity of viewpoints, and got what they were looking for…
As for regulation, Smith – author of the 2001 book “Unfree Speech: The Folly of Campaign Finance Reform” – said laws requiring disclosure of campaign contributions provide little useful information to the public. He endorsed the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that allowed corporations and unions, as a matter of free speech, to make unlimited political donations…
Ravel, also former chairwoman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, said she was particularly concerned with high-tech “micro-targeting” of voting populations, aimed at lowering their turnout with fabricated campaign ads and “fake news spread by bots.”
But Smith said voter participation was suffering because “campaigns are now centralized, in part because you have so many laws.”
Courthouse News Service: Voter Fraud Extremely Rare, Conference Panel Agrees By Matthew Renda Professor Richard Hasen, co-editor of the Election Law Journal, Ann Ravel, a law professor and former chair of the Federal Elections Commission and Bradley Smith, a professor who also formerly chaired the FEC, discussed some of the most pressing issues regarding voter […]