In the News
Wall Street Journal: The Unresolved IRS Scandal
By Bradley A. Smith
May 10 marks the fifth anniversary of the revelation that President Obama’s IRS targeted conservative groups for more than two years prior to the 2012 presidential election.
While some of the faces at the IRS have changed, the law that enabled their misuse of power has not. Congress’s failure to address the problem leaves the U.S. democratic process vulnerable to further abuses…
The easy fix here would be for Congress simply to scrap restrictions on political activity by social-welfare organizations, thereby stripping the IRS of authority to decide which groups are “political committees” and which aren’t. In a democracy, political activity is part of social welfare. Such a change would not affect federal revenue, as contributions to social-welfare organizations are not tax-deductible. There would be no “subsidizing political activity.”
The Federal Election Commission-a bipartisan agency staffed by experts and created to oversee election-related activities-is the proper authority to determine whether an organization should be subject to regulation under campaign-finance laws. The IRS-an agency under control of the president, with no bipartisan checks, subject to congressional pressure, and tasked with collecting revenue-is not.
There is a long history of presidents from both parties using the IRS to harass political opponents. Democrats and Republicans alike should recognize that, fix the law, and get the IRS out of politics.
Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star: Virginia ranked A+ for political free speech rights
By Joe Albanese
Imagine that you lived in a state where it was illegal to express too much support for a candidate. Such a law would be a blatant violation of the First Amendment. The ability to support causes and candidates of one’s choice is key to participation in a democratic society.
Yet many states place limits on one of the most impactful ways to do so: donating money to campaigns and political groups.
For those without the time to work or volunteer in politics, this outlet is especially important. As a new Index from the Institute for Free Speech shows, state laws that limit contributions to such groups effectively restrict Americans’ First Amendment rights.
The Institute’s Free Speech Index scores and ranks all 50 states on their laws governing political giving, grading them from A+ to F. Fortunately, Virginia is ranked as one of the top states in the country, earning an A+ grade.
This places it alongside 10 other states that earned an ‘A’ or higher.
One crucial trait these states have in common is that they don’t limit the freedom of individuals to give to candidates, parties and political committees, or the ability of parties and political committees to give to candidates…
Giving money is not just a show of support. It also enables candidates and groups to spread their message further.
Center for Public Integrity: Study: Most Americans want to kill ‘Citizens United’ with constitutional amendment
By Ashley Balcerzak
Liberals and conservatives overwhelmingly support a constitutional amendment that would effectively overturn the Supreme Court’s seminal campaign finance decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, according to a new study from the University of Maryland and nonpartisan research group Voice of the People.
Three-fourths of survey respondents – including 66 percent of Republicans and 85 percent of Democrats – back a constitutional amendment outlawing Citizens United….
Less than half of those surveyed consider an anti-Citizens United amendment to be an attack on free speech…
David Keating, president of the Institute for Free Speech, a conservative nonprofit, questioned the survey’s findings.
“If Americans knew that repealing Citizens United would allow Congress to censor critics and make it more difficult to defeat corrupt incumbents then they’d be less likely to support it going away,” Keating said. “It’s typical for academics to tout biased polls with questions that try to undermine support for free speech.”…
One campaign finance reform that most survey respondents dismissed? Funding presidential campaigns with public money using a federal system that’s largely fallen out of favor since the Citizens United decision.
Concurring Opinions: Ira Glasser responds – Who has the power to decide? That is the free speech question
By Ronald K.L. Collins
I write in brief response to your recent post entitled: “Abandoned? The Liberal Flight from the First Amendment.” …
Academics can make arguably justifiable analytic distinctions between good speech and bad, but those distinctions cannot hold in the real world where the power to decide how they are applied is often in the hands of one’s political enemies.
At the beginning of our nation, the prevailing view even among many civil libertarians of how the First Amendment should work included the belief that false speech did not deserve such protection. But as the Sedition Act of 1798, which made “false, scandalous and malicious” speech a crime, showed, the power to target disfavored political speech as “false, scandalous or malicious” (and at the very least put it on trial, and the way that law was used to prosecute and imprison political critics of John Adams), persuaded many that in order to protect true speech, false speech had to be protected as well. This was because in the world of politics and power, the ability to label disfavored speech as “false” or “malicious” would inevitably spill over onto precisely that speech the First Amendment was designed to protect, including their own.
It seems that many of today’s “progressives” have not yet learned that lesson. The ACLU has for nearly a century been the major organizational source of such learning; to the extent it transforms itself from such a source into just another “progressive” organization, the cause of free speech will be grievously diminished.
Internet Speech Regulation
By Alexis C. Madrigal
“Even without legislation, we’re already moving forward on our own to bring advertising on Facebook to an even higher standard of transparency than ads on TV or other media,” Zuckerberg told investors last year. He said similar things in a blog post announcing the effort, as well as before Congress.
This response has, in part, been designed to stave off Congressional action with teeth, even if Facebook publicly committed to supporting the Honest Ads Act, the only real piece of online-ad legislation to come out of the last 18 months…
According to a new report from Upturn, a progressive policy group focused on the tech industry, the early versions of some of the tools that Facebook has built don’t provide the depth of information or access necessary to hold advertisers accountable…
In response to questions about the new report, Steve Satterfield, Facebook’s director of public policy and privacy, revealed that the company will build in the kind of computerized access that will allow researchers to delve deeply into the thousands of ads from political and issue campaigners. “We will build an API that will allow groups to learn the kinds of things that they want about the ads in the political-ad archive,” Satterfield told me…
The big question is whether Facebook should be allowed to self-regulate, deciding what it considers meaningful transparency, or whether some other legislative or regulatory mechanisms should be put into place.
By Jessica Guynn, Elizabeth Weise and Erin Kelly
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released thousands of Russian Facebook ads on Thursday, offering the public its first in-depth look at the troubling messages used to heighten tensions among Americans during and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The release of the ads, which Facebook says were purchased by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency to sway public sentiment, comes as the giant social network races to tighten restrictions on political ads to head off manipulation of upcoming elections, including this fall’s hotly contested midterms…
Pressured by lawmakers, Zuckerberg promised last year to take steps to deter foreign governments from using Facebook to manipulate elections and to increase disclosure in political ads. Zuckerberg now says he supports a bipartisan Senate bill, the Honest Ads Act, which would bring political advertising on social media more in line with what is required on television and radio.
Since the 2012 presidential election, political campaigns are increasingly using Facebook to target particular voters in a more precise, cost-effective way. Yet the social network is not currently required to follow any of the campaign finance laws that apply to other media.
By Eric Garcia
The Federal Election Commission ruled Thursday that a candidate can use campaign funds to pay for child care.
The FEC ruled in favor of Liuba Grechen Shirley, who is running in New York’s 2nd District and requested an advisory opinion last month on her requesting to use her campaign funds to pay for child care for her young children while she was involved in campaign activities…
“The Commission concludes that your authorized campaign committee may use campaign funds to pay for the childcare expenses described in your request because such expenses would not exist irrespective of your candidacy,” the FEC ruled.
The decision came after 24 members of Congress, led by Alabama Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell, urged the commission to approve Shirley’s request…
The commission said the expenses could be considered part of “ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with duties of the individual as a holder of Federal office.”
Candidates and Campaigns
By Fredreka Schouten
The number of women donating to political campaigns is climbing to new heights ahead of this year’s midterm elections as women swarm to politics and run in record numbers for Congress and other elected posts around the country.
Women account for 31% of the money going to House candidates, their highest share of the donor pool in any election cycle, according to a tally by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics…
“These are record numbers, and it’s consistent with the sense that there’s rising momentum for women on a number of fronts in this election cycle,” said Sheila Krumholz, who runs the center.
Nowhere is that more evident than in House races, where a record 391 female candidates, most of them Democrats, are competing…
At the state level, 43 women have filed as candidates in governors’ races, breaking a record set in 1994 when 34 women ran, according to Rutgers’ tally.
By Tarini Parti
At least two of President Donald Trump’s close allies made use of a relatively new way of influence peddling that’s arguably swampier than traditional lobbying, with little to no disclosures and regulations – and watchdog groups believe others in his orbit could be operating under the radar using similar tactics.
Trump’s allies are advising clients on the administration in exchange for lucrative contracts using limited liability corporations, without ever registering as lobbyists…
Brendan Fischer, who works on ethics and campaign finance laws for Campaign Legal Center, said it’s hard to know how many of these LLCs exist because of lack of disclosures and to assess the kind of work Cohen was doing without the companies disclosing the contracts.
“In some ways this is a snapshot into a dark area of influence peddling,” Fischer said…
A government watchdog group, Public Citizen, is now calling on the companies who have confirmed payments to Cohen’s LLC to disclose the details of the services they received and asking congressional committees to investigate.
AZ Central: You versus the (dark money) cockroaches
By EJ Montini
I don’t know who they are. You don’t know who they are.
And yet they run the state.
At the very least we should know their names.
The only way to do that is to support the Outlaw Dirty Money group’s plan to force the non-anonymous big spenders to step into the light. It would create a constitutional amendment in Arizona requiring it…
If passed, the Outlaw Dirty Money law would reveal the names of the people who continue to pump millions of dollars into political campaigns, propping up the politicians they have squeezed into their pockets…
The Outlaw Dark Money group is bipartisan. It’s leadership includes former attorneys general Terry Goddard, a Democrat, along with Grant Woods and Tom Horne, Republicans.
That’s because dark money cockroaches infest the houses of Republicans as well as Democrats.
The insecticide doesn’t come in a spray bottle.
It comes in a ballot box.
New Jersey Globe: Murphy-aligned group to disclose donors at end of year
By Nikita Biryukov
Independent non-profit advocacy groups are something of a long-standing tradition in New Jersey. Former Gov. Chris Christie agenda saw support from a similar group, named Reform Jersey Now, in 2010, and a group of Democratic operatives retaliated in 2011 by starting a similar group, called One New Jersey.
At this time, there are a number of bills, with Republican and Democratic sponsors, that would strengthen disclosure requirements for these groups working their way through the legislature. But all of those bills have just been introduced. They have yet to come before their respective committees and are a long way from a vote before either chamber of the legislature.
So while stricter disclosure requirements may come in the future, they won’t be here for some time.
Montgomery County Sentinel: Rally urges county council to pass fair elections bill
By Rachel Cain
Approximately 50 individuals gathered with signs outside the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro on April 19 to listen to speakers, chant slogans and advocate county council members to support a “fair elections” bill, which is currently in committee.
Councilwomen Mary Lehman and Deni Taveras and Councilmen Mel Franklin and Obie Patterson introduced CB-004 on Jan. 30, which would establish a Fair Election Fund to “provide public campaign financing for a candidate” for elected office in the county…
A small group of people participating in the rally entered the building to request a meeting with Glaros to discuss the bill and present a petition with signatures from community members requesting the council pass the bill. They were told the councilwoman was unavailable and received an email address so they could arrange an appointment with her.
The organizers did not previously arrange an appointment for that day with any of the councilmembers…
Some of the people who joined in the rally were from locations outside the county. They were participating in a training program where they could learn about citizen activism, so they could return to their home areas and continue their work there.