In the News Washington Examiner: Baltimore has bigger needs than taxpayer money for political campaigns By Eric Peterson Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh signed two charter amendments, cementing their appearance on the November ballot. One of these measures would provide politicians with tax dollars for their political campaigns… The specifics of the program are still undefined… But […]
Archives for August 2018
Washington Examiner: Baltimore has bigger needs than taxpayer money for political campaigns (In the News)
By Eric Peterson
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh signed two charter amendments, cementing their appearance on the November ballot. One of these measures would provide politicians with tax dollars for their political campaigns…
The specifics of the program are still undefined…
But even without the details, every council member and the mayor are for some reason certain this is a great idea…
All involved seemed unfazed by the only speaker opposing the bill, the Baltimore City Department of Finance. The department’s representative warned that the city is projecting a shortfall of revenue, has massive unfunded liabilities, and the highest taxes in Maryland. In light of this situation, the department suggested that there was little public money to put aside to fund political campaigns.
This advice was summarily ignored.
Perhaps ignoring the department’s recommendation would be worthwhile if proponents’ claims about the program were based on evidence instead of rhetoric. Solving issues from corruption to dirty water surely would be worth the hefty price tag. But the results from other cities with tax-funded campaign programs provides no evidence supporters’ claims are true.
New York City has one of the oldest, and most expensive, public financing programs in the country, and little to show for it, other than a large tax bill.
Take, for example, the most recent mayoral general election, where Bill de Blasio cruised to his second term as mayor, winning more than 66 percent of the vote. Still, de Blasio convinced the City’s Campaign Finance Board that he was facing more than “minimal opposition” and qualified for 6-to-1 matching funds despite the program failing to produce a worthwhile challenger. De Blasio received more than $2 million from the city’s coffers in the primary alone.
Fox News: Michael Cohen and Trump did NOT violate campaign finance law – despite Cohen’s guilty plea (In the News)
By Hans A. von Spakovsky
[Y]ou have to wonder about the legal advice Cohen received when he pleaded guilty on the same day to two violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act – the law that governs the financing of federal elections campaigns. Many election law experts, including former commissioners on the Federal Election Commission (FEC), say his conduct, however sleazy, didn’t violate the law.
I’m one of those former commissioners and I’m also a former Justice Department attorney…
Here’s how the Federal Election Campaign Act works: For the rules, contribution limits, and reporting requirements of law to apply to an expenditure, it has to be made “for the purpose of influencing” a federal election. But such a broad definition could cover anything on which a candidate spends money.
As former FEC Chairman Bradley Smith says, that could include “buying a good watch to make sure he gets to places on time, to getting a massage so that he feels fit for the campaign trail, to buying a new suit so that he looks good on a debate stage.”
So the campaign finance law specifies that such personal expenses are not considered campaign-related expenses even though they might “influence” the election outcome…
It is illegal under the Federal Election Campaign Act to use campaign funds to pay the personal expenses of a candidate. As former FEC chairman Smith points out, if Trump had used campaign funds to pay off Daniels and McDougal, does anyone doubt that “the same people now after Trump for using corporate funds, and not reporting them as campaign expenditures, would then be claiming that Trump had illegally diverted campaign funds to ‘personal use’?” …
Smith says that “at the very least, the law is murky about whether paying hush money to a mistress is a ‘campaign expense’ or a personal expense.”
By Jacob Sullum
Trump’s reimbursement, [Trevor] Potter explained, “would just make Cohen’s payment a loan to the Trump campaign,” and “federal law treats a loan to a campaign as a contribution, subject to contribution limits and disclosure requirements.”
Trump’s confusion on this point suggests he did not deliberately flout the rules, which is the difference between a civil and a criminal violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). Nor is it clear that Trump needed to handle the Clifford payment the way he did to keep it hidden from voters: Another former FEC chairman, Brad Smith, suggests Trump could have reported the payment as a campaign expenditure under the boring heading of “legal services.”
Smith is not convinced the hush payment should have been treated as a campaign expenditure. While Cohen said he paid Clifford “for the principal purpose of influencing the election,” Smith notes that FECA prohibits the use of campaign funds “to fulfill any commitment, obligation, or expense of a person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s election campaign.”
Even if paying Clifford helped Trump win the election, then, treating it as campaign expense would have been illegal unless it happened only because he was running for president. “At a minimum,” Smith wrote in a Reason essay, “it is unclear whether paying blackmail to a mistress is ‘for the purpose of influencing an election,’ and so must be paid with campaign funds, or a ‘personal use,’ and so prohibited from being paid with campaign funds.”
As the disagreement between Potter and Smith suggests, campaign finance law is complicated. Since even experts argue about what FECA requires, it is plausible that Trump, who shows little interest in fine points of law or policy, did not know.
By Bill Allison
If prosecutors want to explore criminal charges against Trump for accepting illegal campaign contributions in the payoff of two women who say they had sexual encounters with him, he may be able to fend them off by saying he has a history of making hush-money payments…
The president could argue — if true — that his associates made the same kind of payments when he wasn’t a candidate as a way to protect his image, said Larry Noble, a former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission, who has been a critic of Trump. “If they can show three or four instances over the past five years that follow the same pattern, then I think they have an argument,” Noble said…
Bradley Smith, a former Republican FEC commissioner, says the agency has adopted narrow criteria for determining if campaign funds should be used for making a payment. “The more objective approach that the FEC has adopted is, does this expense exist solely because of the election, like renting office space for the campaign or buying TV ads,” he said. But prosecutors have taken a broader view of the law in at least one case.
In 2011, John Edwards was indicted on election law charges stemming from the 2008 presidential race similar to those that Cohen faced. . . The Justice Department dropped charges in 2012 after a jury deadlocked on most of the charges.
Earlier this month, the Berkeley Police Department published on Twitter the names, photos, ages, and cities of residence of protesters arrested at a “No to Marxism” rally that took place in the city. According to reports, the photos were of “Antifa” (short for anti-fascist) counter-protesters who were at the rally to oppose the message of […]
National Review: On Hush Money, the President’s Best Defense Is Lack of Criminal Intent (In the News)
By Andrew C. McCarthy
There is a superficial appeal to the notion that if Cohen is guilty, Trump must be guilty. But of course, such logic must work reciprocally, too. That is, if Trump is innocent, Cohen must have pled guilty to a non-crime.
This theory is championed by some whip-smart lawyers, such as my friend Mark Levin and the eminent Bradley Smith, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, who wrote a fine Washington Post op-ed on the subject this week. They argue that, despite his guilty plea, Cohen did not violate the campaign-finance laws. The idea is that paying hush money is not an “in-kind” campaign contribution even though the concealment of embarrassing conduct may have been intended, at least in part, to influence an election. Smith explains that paying for silence is more in the nature of a “personal use” expenditure – defined in the law as an obligation or expense that would exist even if the person for whom it is paid were not a candidate in an election campaign.
A candidate is not permitted to divert campaign funds to his personal use. Given that, Smith posits a deft “they get you coming or going” argument. Sure, Donald Trump’s political opponents are now saying he violated campaign-finance laws by failing to disclose the election-eve hush-money payments as campaign expenses. Yet what would have happened if Trump had regarded these payments as campaign expenses and used campaign funds to pay them? Does anyone doubt that many of these same opponents would insist that he violated campaign-finance laws by diverting campaign funds to his personal use?
I am persuaded by Smith’s and Levin’s reasoning. In a perfect world, it would carry the day. But far from a perfect world, ours is one in which this solid interpretation is not accepted by everyone who matters.
C-Span (Washington Journal): Bradley Smith on Michael Cohen’s Plea Deal and Campaign Finance Laws (Video) (In the News)
Hosted by John McArdle
Former Federal Elections Commission Chair Bradley Smith talked about his op-ed in the Washington Post that questions if payments made to women by President Trump’s attorney are in violation of campaign finance laws. He spoke via video link from Columbus, Ohio.