By Allen Dickerson
As the Supreme Court noted in 1976, when the government demands to know “the giving and spending of money” our freedoms are threatened, “for financial transactions can reveal much about a person’s activities, associations, and beliefs.” It was not for nothing that the IRS was one of Richard Nixon’s favorite tools to harass critics and rivals.
So when the IRS announced it would stop requiring that some nonprofit groups, including labor unions, report the names and addresses of their major donors, everyone should have breathed a sigh of relief. If it doesn’t have this information, the Trump administration cannot misuse it for political gain, or to promote the harassment of donors to left-wing causes.
But Bullock disagrees. His complaint, filed July 24 in federal court, argues that the IRS did not have the statutory power to cease collecting donor information. He’s wrong.
Congress expressly gave the IRS wide discretion to determine the information it needs from nonprofit groups. And federal regulations allow the IRS commissioner to “relieve any … class of organizations … from filing” information when “he determines that such returns are not necessary for the efficient administration of the internal revenue laws.”
Here, the commissioner determined that because contributions to these non-profits (as opposed to 501c(3) non-profits) are not tax-deductible, there is no need to collect donor information to ensure people aren’t improperly claiming deductions. And given the obvious privacy concerns, it was unwise to keep a list of sensitive financial transactions lying around on the IRS’ servers.
Despite all this, Gov. Bullock sued because he would very much like access to private donor information – but without the inconvenience of having to set up his own procedures for getting it.
Washington Examiner: Gov. Steve Bullock’s nosy lawsuit to make the IRS collect more of your data (In the News)
By Allen Dickerson
Americans for Prosperity: Prosperity Podcast #80: Honest Ads Act is a Threat to Free Speech (In the News)
After the 2016 elections, it was revealed that foreign agents bought around $100,000 in social media ads. In response, some members of the House and Senate are seeking stricter regulations on political speech on social media. Is this a necessary step to preserve the integrity of American elections or another example of the erosion of free speech? In this episode, Ed is joined by Allen Dickerson, the legal director for the Institute for Free Speech, who highlights the dangers to speech of regulating online speech.
By Emma Leathley
Representatives from Twitter, Facebook and Google are expected to testify this week at three congressional hearings on the influence of social media in the 2016 election…
Last week, current and former representatives of print, online and broadcast media as well as two nonprofits testified on the House bill before the House Subcommittee on Information Technology.
Allen Dickerson, the legal director for the Institute for Free Speech, said he opposed adding online political ads to existing regulations on electioneering communications on the pretext of preventing foreign intervention, which Congress can regulate separately.
The Institute for Free Speech (IFS) – known as the Center for Competitive Politics until last week – generally opposes campaign finance transparency on First Amendment grounds. The organization represented the plaintiffs in SpeechNow.org v. FEC, which helped give rise to super PACs.
By Nick Budnick
Written by the county’s charter review committee with input from local activists, the measure was designed to conflict with Supreme Court rulings on both the state and federal level, giving activists a path to revive campaign contribution limits in Oregon and the entire country through the appeals process.
In April, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners started that process, voting to forward the measure to a judge for constitutional validation. County attorneys filed a brief supporting the campaign reforms.
In August, Multnomah Circuit Judge Eric Bloch heard arguments over the measure. Business groups including the Portland Business Alliance argued against it, citing past court rulings, and so did the Taxpayers Association of Oregon – the latter in conjunction with a Virginia-based group called the Center for Competitive Politics…
“The plain fact is that these very regulations have been tried before, these same arguments routinely made, and both have been repeatedly rejected by the highest courts. This court has no discretion to revisit those decisions,” contended two attorneys for the Virginia center, Owen Yeates and Allen Dickerson.
Republican National Lawyers Association: Testimony to House Oversight Committee on Threat to Free Speech from Online Ad Regulation (In the News)
By Lisa Dixon
Yesterday, Allen Dickerson of the Center for Competitive Politics (as of today, now called the Institute for Free Speech) testified to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Information Technology on the dangers posed to free speech by proposals to regulate internet advertisements…
Mr. Dickerson points out the current proposals are impractical and would expand the definition of electioneering communications to include genuine issue speech…
In the end, Mr. Dickerson cautions against a broad regulatory approach that may or may not actually prevent foreign advertising (some of which already prohibited by law) but would certainly infringe on Americans’ important rights of political speech online…
Mr. Dickerson’s entire testimony is well worth reading. A point that he makes throughout is worth remembering: the internet allows small, grassroots organizations and individuals to speak (i.e., advertise their message) in a way that is unprecedented.
Nextgov: Online Political Ad Bill Could Burden Small Publishers, Experts Tell House Panel (In the News)
By Jack Corrigan
The Honest Ads Act, introduced last week by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Mark Warner, D-Va., would expand the Federal Election Campaign Act’s definition of “electioneering communication” to include paid political ads online…
Interactive Advertising Bureau President and CEO Randall Rothenberg raised concerns about a section of the bill that requires web platforms to keep a public registry of advertisers-in a machine-readable format-who have spent more than $500 cumulatively on online ads.
While this wouldn’t be an issue for large platforms like Facebook and Twitter, he argued it could place an undue burden on smaller publishers. Rosenberg also suggested that self-regulation by the platforms could make a larger impact than federal legislation.
Some panelists also expressed concern that the legislation could stifle free speech.
FECA already prohibits foreign nationals from making any contribution to any federal, state or local U.S. election, and provides the tools needed to combat interference by Russia or any other country, said Allen Dickerson, legal director of the Center for Competitive Politics. He also said the Honest Ads Act could infringe on citizens’ first amendment right to political free speech by tacking on additional compliance rules to small, cash-strapped grassroots campaigns.
San Antonio Express-News: Hearing reveals rocky path to regulating online political ads (In the News)
By Bill Lambrecht
With the specter of Russians manipulating American public opinion hanging over Capitol Hill, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd convened a panel of experts Tuesday whose testimony pointed to a rocky path for legislation aimed at preventing foreign interference in future elections…
Newly introduced legislation in both the Senate and House would make significant changes by requiring Facebook, Twitter and other large tech companies to gather information on the sponsor of ads and make it publicly available along with the ads themselves…
“I think some of the things they’re talking about already are being done in existing law,” said Hurd, who suggested that a better approach might be tightening the Foreign Agent Registration Act and existing federal rules…
Allen Dickerson, of the Center for Competitive Politics – an advocacy group that says its mission is protecting the First Amendment – told committee members that legislation “will drive out the poorest and least-sophisticated online speakers.”
“The blossoming of online speech is delicate and great caution must be taken in burdening the rights of American speakers,” he said.
Deseret News: New John Swallow defense team asks judge to toss FEC complaint against him (In the News)
By Dennis Romboy
Former Utah Attorney General John Swallow has mobilized a free-speech rights group and a former Federal Election Commission chairman to defend him against alleged election law violations.
Lawyers for the Center for Competitive Politics and ex-FEC Chairman Scott Thomas, all based in Washington, D.C., have asked a federal judge to dismiss the complaint against Swallow.
“The FEC’s pursuit of Mr. Swallow is a clear overreach of the agency’s constitutional authority, made especially dangerous by the fact that it concerns his speech rather than his actions,” Allen Dickerson, the center’s legal director, said in a statement.
Swallow broke no law, and the regulation cited in the complaint is illegal and violates the First Amendment, according to the filing in U.S. District Court.
By Joe Uchill
The House will host the first hearing specifically on the need to disclose the sources of political adds online.
Oversight subcommittee on information technology chairman Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) scheduled the hearing for Tuesday of next week…
The hearing will feature David Chavern, president and chief executive of the newspaper trade association the News Media Alliance; Allen Dickerson, legal director of the campaign free speech rights group Center for Competitive Politics; communications attorney Jack Goodman; Randall Rothenberg, president and chief executive of the advertising trade group the Interactive Advertising Bureau; and Ian Vandewalker, senior counsel of the Brennen Center for Justice.
By Kenneth P. Doyle
A constitutional challenge to per-election limits on campaign contributions faced skeptical questioning from nearly all the judges of the federal appeals court in Washington during a March 29 hearing.
Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit repeatedly asked attorney Allen Dickerson whether a decision in favor of the challengers in the case, known as Holmes v. Federal Election Commission (D.C. Cir., No. 14-05281, argued 3/29/17), could threaten the whole structure of campaign contribution limits, which has been in place for decades at the federal level and in most states…
Defending the current structure of contribution limits was FEC attorney Erin Chlopak, who faced fewer questions than Dickerson from the appellate judges. Chlopak argued that the existing contribution- limit system should be easy for the court to uphold because a series of Supreme Court decisions, including the landmark 1976 case Buckley v. Valeo and other rulings, have consistently upheld the constitutionality of contribution limits.