Daily Media Links 2/9: Senate Intelligence Committee Writing Report on Election Vulnerabilities Ahead of Midterms, One Conservative Activist Is Flooding State Enforcement Agencies With Questionable Complaints, and more…


Wall Street Journal: Senate Intelligence Committee Writing Report on Election Vulnerabilities Ahead of Midterms

By Byron Tau

The Senate Intelligence Committee is drafting a report on vulnerabilities in the U.S. election system that is expected to be released in the coming weeks, according to lawmakers and aides, in what will be the first product of a yearlong investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee said they hope to have it completed by March…

The report is aimed at making recommendations to state, county and local governments about how best to protect their election infrastructures in advance of the 2018 midterm elections…

Lawmakers are hoping the election-infrastructure report will draw bipartisan support and be the first in a series of reports that the Senate committee will issue on the topic of Russian meddling, including reports on what occurred on social media and the politically fraught question about what, if any, help Moscow received during the 2016 campaign.

The House Intelligence Committee is conducting a similar investigation, but its probe has been nearly derailed multiple times by intense partisan infighting.

Independent Groups

Medium: Now we are moving against Super PACs

By Lawrence Lessig

As you may know, the Supreme Court has never ruled on whether super PACs are required by the Constitution. The case that created these disasters for democracy was a lower court case, decided shortly after Citizens United – a case called SpeechNow.

But as many have argued, Citizens United does not require super PACs. And in particular, for the conservatives on the Supreme Court – if they interpreted the Constitution to give Congress the power to protect against the kind of corruption the Framers were most concerned about, then they would conclude that Congress should have the power to limit super PACs.

Working with citizens in Alaska, today we have filed three citizen complaints challenging the failure of Alaska officials to enforce their anti-super PAC law. No doubt, the Alaska Attorney General will defend that decision based on SpeechNow. When she does, we want to take that excuse to the United States Supreme Court, and ask the justices –  what would the Framers say about super PACs? Because we believe that any honest read of the Framers’ views would yield one clear conclusion: super PACs are not required by the First Amendment.


Los Angeles Times: President Trump plans to nominate Beverly Hills tax attorney for IRS commissioner

By Saleha Mohsin and Justin Sink

President Trump plans to nominate California tax attorney Charles “Chuck” Rettig to head the Internal Revenue Service as it implements the nation’s tax code revamp, according to a person familiar with the deliberations…

Rettig, who has been with Beverly Hills-based Hochman, Salkin, Rettig, Toscher & Perez for 35 years, would succeed former IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. David Kautter, the assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy, was appointed as the interim replacement after Koskinen’s term ended in November. Koskinen had an acrimonious relationship with House Republicans, who alleged that he misled Congress…

Unlike the last several IRS heads, Rettig has a tax background, rather than business management expertise. In his law practice, Rettig has represented clients before the IRS, the Justice Department’s Tax Division, state tax authorities and in federal and state courts, according to a biography on his law firm’s website…

In 2010, Rettig was appointed by the IRS to serve as chairman of its Advisory Council, after having been an active and contributing member since 2008.

Internet Speech Regulation

Slate: Who’s Afraid of Online Speech? A Future Tense Event Recap.

By Tonya Riley

On Jan. 30, Future Tense brought together politicians, technologists, and researchers to discuss the challenges presented by online speech, a driving influence of modern life. The problems aren’t simple-and neither are the solutions.

One big question of the event was whether the government should step in to regulate private platforms, especially given concern over the influence sites like Twitter and Facebook had on the 2016 election. This is particularly true in the case of paid political ads, which aren’t currently regulated like their print, television, and radio counterparts.

That’s something Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is currently trying to fix. She is a co-sponsor of the Honest Ads Act, an amendment to the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform act that, if it passes, will require large-scale digital platforms to maintain public records of all election-related content purchased by a group or person who spends more than $500.00 on a platform…

Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., said that he too supports disclosure when it comes to political speech. But he emphasized that he wouldn’t want the government to “regulate” tech companies at large on matters of free speech. Instead, he said, he prefers a “light touch,” using existing laws.

The Media

Washington Post: ‘A slow-motion disaster’: Journalism museum in talks about possible building sale

By Peggy McGlone and Manuel Roig-Franzia

The previously undisclosed talks with officials from the international firm Eastdil Secured – which were confirmed by museum management after it was contacted by The Washington Post – are the latest sign of uncertainty at an institution that has been swamped in debt and roiled by leadership shake-ups…

The Newseum is billed as a monument to the First Amendment and an exploration of media in the United States…

To its supporters, pondering the museum’s future is nothing short of an existential exercise with ramifications far beyond a mere building.

“Arguably in 2018 the notion of free press and the First Amendment and other elements of the Bill of Rights are perhaps more important to remember and understand than they have ever been,” said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute. “I think in many ways it’s an extraordinarily good time to rethink what this means to us.”

The States

Seattle Magazine: One Conservative Activist Is Flooding State Enforcement Agencies With Questionable Complaints

By Erica C. Barnett

Dmitri Iglitzen, a partner at the firm that is defending many of the Democratic groups Morgan is accusing of violations, says the PDC’s “unbelievably buggy, ancient computer system,” combined with a complicated filing calendar and byzantine rules, makes mistakes by party treasurers (most of whom are volunteers with no professional accounting or campaign experience) inevitable…

“It’s an immediate crisis, because these [party officers] are volunteers, and they are scared,” Iglitzin says. “They feel responsible. They don’t know what to do. They don’t have enough money to pay for lawyers.” The end result, he says, is not just that Democratic groups will stop financing Democratic candidates-it’s that ordinary people will stop getting involved in politics at the local level. “This ends one of two ways. One is, it drives volunteers out of the world of political committees.” The other, he says, is a legislative fix.

Legislators are aware of the problem. House Bill 2398, sponsored by 11th District state Rep. Zack Hudgins, a Democrat, would prohibit activists like Morgan from filing complaints with the attorney general for violations involving less than $25,000. It would also give the PDC an opportunity to weigh in before a case is escalated to the attorney general’s desk, and provide more opportunities for groups to fix accidental violations. At the same time, it would increase the amount the PDC can fine a candidate or committee to $50,000. 

Richmond Times-Dispatch: Major Democratic donor in Virginia aims to counter Dominion donations with his own money

By Graham Moomaw

A major Democratic donor is planning to counter what he calls “legalized corruption” at the Virginia General Assembly by putting up his own money to fund candidates who swear off donations from Dominion Energy.

Michael D. Bills, a Charlottesville investor who was one of the top donors to Gov. Ralph Northam’s campaign in the 2017 cycle, says he’ll offer thousands of dollars to sitting delegates and state senators who sign a pledge to refuse any money or gifts from Dominion and divest any personal investments in the company.

The Clean Virginia Project, housed in a new political action committee run by former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Perriello, will offer $5,000 per election cycle to participating delegates and $20,000 per cycle to senators, according to a news release…

“Democrats and Republicans should represent their constituents and not powerful corporate interests, and Clean Virginia will be holding them accountable if they don’t,” Bills said in a prepared statement.

Arizona Republic: Arizona legislators protecting dark money donors (again, that is)

By Laurie Roberts

Arizona’s leaders are one pull closer to sealing off any remaining gaps in that blackout curtain they’ve hung around elections, to prevent us from getting a peek at who is trying to influence our vote.

This time it’s House Bill 2153, a bill aimed at stopping cities from requiring dark money campaigns to disclose the source of their funding in city elections. The House is expected to vote on the bill on Monday.

It’s a clear slap at Tempe, where voters in March will consider a proposed charter amendment to turn on the lights. The Sunshine Ordinance would require non-profit groups making independent expenditures over $1,000 to disclose their organization’s name and source of their campaign funding in Tempe elections…

Goldwater’s Tim Sandefur told the panel that what cities like Tempe are doing amounts to an “anti-privacy mandate”, one that discourages people from exercising their constitutional right to free speech.

“People are less likely to give to charity or to express their opinions if they think their name will be put on a government list and spread all over the internet,” he said.

Wyoming Tribune Eagle: Wyoming Promise initiative won’t be on 2018 ballot

By Joel Funk

Efforts to call for a constitutional amendment that would move toward changing the role of money in politics through a statewide ballot initiative have fallen short for the 2018 election. But its proponents are confident they will have the petition signatures they need for the 2020 ballot.

The efforts were spearheaded by Wyoming Promise, an affiliate organization of American Promise, though it’s not funded or controlled by the national entity. Their proponents are calling for a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would effectively overturn the Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, the conservative organization Citizens United successfully argued that law prohibiting corporations and unions from using their money in political speech violated the First Amendment.

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