Daily Media Links 12/13: The War on Free Speech Escalates, Unlimited political spending plan looms over lame duck, and more…

In the News

New York Times: In Donald McGahn, Donald Trump Gets a Combative White House Counsel

By Eric Lichtblau

Mr. McGahn, Donald J. Trump’s pick for White House counsel, fought for years to strip away limits on big money in politics long before the Supreme Court blessed the idea…

“Don is very smart, he’s very combative, and he’s very dogged,” said Robert Bauer, a former White House counsel under Mr. Obama.

Those qualities worry some Democrats who have tangled with him over the years, particularly during his time, from 2008 to 2013, as a commissioner at the Federal Election Commission…

Mr. McGahn’s admirers, however, chafe at the suggestion that he might become a rubber stamp for Mr. Trump.

“I don’t see any way that Don McGahn is going to be a yes man,” said Bradley A. Smith, a professor in election law at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, who has worked with Mr. McGahn on election issues. “I’m not sure there are too many good Republican campaign finance lawyers who could have handled Mr. Trump, and Don was able to do that.”

Roll Call: Activists Brace for Fight Over Campaign Finance Law

By Alex Roarty

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina said last month that they will introduce legislation next year that would let a single donor contribute as much as he or she wanted to the candidate of their choice…

“A lot of people who may like the idea of contribution limits are saying, ‘What the heck is the point?'” said David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, a group that opposes most restrictions on how candidates and parties raise and spend money. “A lot of people don’t see much difference between making a contribution to a super PAC backing one candidate and making a contribution to a candidate directly.”…

Keating said he doubts the Meadows-Cruz legislation will get past a Democratic-led filibuster in the Senate. But he is hopeful that smaller changes – such as raising the contribution limits, pegging them to inflation, or increasing the amount of “coordinated money” that parties and candidates can spend together – could make it through.

The system itself needs an overhaul, he argued.

“There’s years’ worth of crap that needs to be removed,” he said. “Because it’s just a lot of nonsense that’s in the law.”         

Free Speech

Reason: The War on Free Speech Escalates

By A. Barton Hinkle

Last week the French National Assembly approved a plan by the Socialist government to outlaw pro-life websites. The proposal goes far beyond consumer-protection efforts; it prohibits sites based on point of view…  

European limits on speech often are imposed in the name of social harmony. If you ban hate speech, you will stem the growth of racist hate, goes the idea. But that premise seems to be false…

A similar set of warped priorities drives many advocates of campaign-finance reform who excoriate the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United protecting political advertising. Those advocates are not merely willing but eager to subjugate an intrinsic and crucial human right for the sake of avoiding hypothetical and contingent threats to a synthetic political order. Some go so far as to complain that the First Amendment is a “straitjacket for our institutions of democratic governance,” instead of what they think it should be-their handmaiden.    

Townhall: War on ‘Fake News’ Part of a War on Free Speech

By Ron Paul

One of the most common assaults on the First Amendment is the attempt to force public policy organizations to disclose their donors. Regardless of the intent of these laws, the effect is to subject supporters of controversial causes to harassment, or worse. This harassment makes other potential donors afraid to support organizations opposing a popular war or defending the rights of an unpopular group.

Many free speech opponents support laws and regulations forbidding activist or educational organizations from distributing factual information regarding a candidate’s positions for several months before an election… These laws would result in the only sources of information on the candidate’s views being the campaigns and the media.

Recently the Federal Election Commission (FEC) rejected a proposal to add language exempting books, movies, and streaming videos from its regulations…

The latest, and potentially most dangerous, threat to the First Amendment is the war on “fake news.” Those leading the war are using a few “viral” Internet hoaxes to justify increased government regulation – and even outright censorship – of Internet news sites.  

Washington Times: First Amendment works – and will – if we still have it

By Gene Policinski

The First Amendment is predicated on the notion that citizens who are able to freely debate – without government censorship or direction – will exchange views, sometimes strongly and on controversial subjects, but eventually find common ground.

Of course, that kind of vigorous and robust exchange in the marketplace only can happen if there is a “marketplace” – freedom for all to speak – and a willingness to join with others in serious discussion, debate and discourse that has a goal of improving life for us all…

We have thrived as a nation with a social order and a government structure in which the exchange of views is a key to solving problems. The nation’s architects had a confidence and optimism that such exchanges in the so-called “marketplace of ideas” would ultimately work for the public good.

What would those founders think of a society in which so many seem to favor the electronic versions of divided “marketplaces” that permit only that speech of which you already approve or that confirms your existing views?

The Media 

Daily Caller: Why I’m Filing An FEC Complaint Against CNN (And So Should Trump)

By William J. Kelly

For decades, conservatives have complained about media bias to deaf ears. The 2016 presidential election marks the first time voters had actual evidence of direct collusion between reporters at CNN, The New York Times, CNBC, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

That’s why the liberal media are traumatized by this election. Hillary Clinton’s defeat was also a rejection of the mainstream media as “fake news.” The Fourth Estate, as an institution, has been tarnished and discredited…

The evidence of collusion between CNN, Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and the DNC is the tip of the iceberg. WikiLeaks revealed only a small part of the larger picture.

Corporate contributions to political campaigns are prohibited – whether they are in-kind or otherwise – and CNN is a corporation. Even if CNN’s in-kind donations to Hillary Clinton’s campaign were legal, the value of the broadcast airtime gifted to Hillary Clinton’s campaign would be far in excess of legal contribution limits.

Trump Administration

Washington Post: The swamp is deep, and here are five bipartisan ways to drain it

By Norman Eisen and Peter Schweizer

As founders of two leading government watchdog groups that come from very different perspectives, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the Government Accountability Institute, we welcome President-elect Donald Trump’s commitment to “drain the swamp.” We here offer, in our personal capacities, five joint recommendations that the president-elect should pursue to implement that critically important campaign promise…

4. Campaign finance. Campaign cash is the bilge that waters the D.C. swamp. The problem of unregulated, undisclosed donations is one on which a supermajority of the American public agrees. The danger of big money in politics extends beyond campaigns and includes fundraising for inaugural events as well. Candidate Trump was correct to condemn the corrupting influence of donor dollars on our system. There is a variety of proposed solutions on the right and left, and though there is some room for honest disagreement, there is more consensus than one might think. Why not appoint an independent, bipartisan Simpson-Bowles type of commission to come up with recommendations?

Bloomberg: Trump Says No Deals While in Office; Sons Will Run Company

By Kevin Cirilli, Caleb Melby, and Ben Brody

President-elect Donald Trump gave his first clues as to how he’ll step away from his businesses, saying he would put his two sons Don and Eric in charge by Inauguration Day Jan. 20 but offering no information about his own role. 

In a series of tweets late Monday night, Trump said he would make no new business deals during his time in the White House. The tweets came on the same day Bloomberg first reported he was postponing a Dec. 15 news conference to announce his business plan. He will instead make an announcement sometime next month before his inauguration, according to transition officials familiar with the deliberations…

The president-elect has consulted various legal specialists as well as Don McGahn, his pick for White House counsel, about how to deal with his organization, the officials said. A new date for the announcement hasn’t been set, but it will be before his inauguration on Jan. 20, they said.

American Prospect: Trump’s Other Ethics Quagmire: His Foundation

By Caroline Preston

To be sure, the Trump Foundation’s future is a mere ethical sideshow compared with the potential corruption circus that Trump’s business holdings produce…

Nevertheless, the foundation could present serious if less glaring opportunities for abuse, say tax experts and good governance groups…

“The message would be clearly sent that one of the ways of ingratiating yourself with the most powerful person on the planet would be to give to the foundation,” says Meredith McGehee, strategic adviser at the Campaign Legal Center, an electoral watchdog. “This is a combustible cocktail that can be easily avoided if you just sever those ties or don’t go down that path.”…

“If the foundation operating at a low scale was suddenly scaled up just at the moment that the namesake became president, there would be every reason in the world to worry,” says Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. Of course, as he notes, that’s a big “if,” especially given the foundation’s current legal and tax challenges. But Weissman says the foundation should take a proactive step to dissolve: “It would have to be shut down or at least be dormant.”

Huffington Post: John Bolton’s Super PAC Spent Millions On Senators Who Might Vote To Confirm Him

By Paul Blumenthal

President-elect Donald Trump is reportedly close to announcing that he has selected former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton for the No. 2 job at the Department of State…

Bolton launched the John Bolton Super PAC in 2013, which some speculated was a way to promote himself ahead of a potential 2016 president run. That run never materialized, but the PAC, which could raise an unlimited amount of money, enabled Bolton to bring in huge contributions from wealthy benefactors while lending his hawkish credentials to congressional candidates. In the 2014 and 2016 election cycles, Bolton raised $11.3 million and spent $5.6 million on independent expenditures in support of Republican candidates.

Three of the candidates whom Bolton’s super PAC boosted – Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) – could now be in a position to vote for his confirmation as deputy secretary of State. That would create an unprecedented situation: The director of a super PAC would be seeking votes to secure a prominent government position from the very same senators he helped elect.

The States

Wisconsin State Journal: State ethics commissioner resigns, citing dysfunction in new watchdog agency

By Mark Sommerhauser and Molly Beck

A Democratic appointee to the state Ethics Commission announced Monday he was resigning from the fledgling watchdog agency, criticizing what he described as improper secrecy and a failure to enforce ethics requirements for lobbyists and public officials…

Kinney’s statement describes the commission as paralyzed by gridlock and by rules that require it to hide much of its operations from the public.

It says the agency isn’t following its stated mission: enforcing ethics, campaign finance and lobbying laws that apply to public officials and lobbyists…

Kinney, one of three Democratic appointees to the commission, said that “at a time when public confidence in elected officials has been deeply eroded,” Wisconsin should ramp up enforcement of ethics requirements for public officials. 

Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Jackley breaks with GOP, endorses ethics commission

By Dana Ferguson

One of the state’s top Republicans on Monday endorsed a major piece of an embattled campaign finance and ethics law, breaking with GOP members who’ve launched a lawsuit and drafted plans to repeal it.

Attorney General Marty Jackley encouraged Sioux Falls Rotary Club members to support a proposed ethics commission, a provision of a ballot measure narrowly approved last month by voters.

GOP leaders have vocally opposed the measure with Gov. Dennis Daugaard refusing to fund a $5 million taxpayer-funded “democracy credit” program and a group of two dozen Republican lawmakers challenging the measure in court. Republican leaders in the state House and Senate have said they hope to repeal whatever pieces of the measure remain early next year.

A Hughes County circuit court judge last week issued a preliminary injunction, delaying the law’s implementation. Jackley, who is one of the attorneys defending the law against that challenge, went a step further in backing it Monday, suggesting that he’d like to see an ethics commission created in the state.

Detroit News: Unlimited political spending plan looms over lame duck

By Jonathan Oosting

Michigan legislators would be allowed to raise unlimited amounts of money for super political action committees that support them under legislation that foes and advocates alike are closely watching during the final three days of the legislative session…

Supporters say the legislation would codify the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, which held that independent political spending by corporations or labor organizations is a form of free speech that cannot be prohibited by the government.

Republican President-elect Donald Trump is unlikely to appoint Supreme Court justices intent on overturning the ruling, but “there’s no reason” the state shouldn’t update its statutes to clarify legal giving, said Steve Linder, a longtime GOP consultant and political fundraiser.

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