In the News
Washington Examiner: Ten years later, Citizens United has boosted megadonors more than corporations
By Nihal Krishan
Democrats see Citizens United having led to an unequal increase in political participation, skewed toward those who already have power and privilege.
“It’s a victory for free speech for billionaires but not a victory for free speech for the rest of us,” said Weintraub…
The latest polling shows that a majority of the public opposes Citizens United. Two-thirds of Republicans favor a constitutional amendment undoing it.
Conservatives, though, argue that the ruling has been beneficial to voters.
“The question is, what do we get for it? Higher spending in elections has been shown to increase voter knowledge of candidates and issues,” said Bradley Smith, former chairman of the Federal Elections Commission…
“‘Dark money’ has never reached as much as 5% of spending since Citizens United,” said Smith. “Note that there was ‘dark money’ before C.U., too, though less.”…
“I disagree there hasn’t been a lot of dark money; a billion dollars isn’t a small amount. I don’t think it’s an insignificant amount, and all of it goes into the most important and tightly contested races,” said Weintraub.
By Sara Swann
The conventional wisdom after the [Citizens United] ruling was that the biggest corporations would suddenly play an overt and outsized role in elections because barriers to their spending had been dropped. But their direct contributions have remained relatively small.
Over the last four elections, corporations have accounted for just 6 percent of all contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The biggest spending year for businesses was 2016, but their $111 million total was still dwarfed by the $1.7 billion given by individuals, unions and nonprofits.
Instead, a new kind of political action committee became the spending behemoth. Known as super PACs…
“The emergence of super PACs,” says Scott Blackburn of The Institute for Free Speech, a [nonpartisan] organization that applauds the court’s ruling as a victory for free speech, “has been the largest and most significant innovation of the Citizens United decision.”
Los Angeles Times: L.A. is repealing requirements for would-be contractors to reveal NRA ties
By Emily Alpert Reyes
Los Angeles is rolling back a law that required companies seeking city contracts to reveal any ties with the National Rifle Assn., weeks after a federal judge blocked the city from enforcing those rules.
The City Council voted 12-0 without discussionTuesday to repeal the ordinance, which was passed less than a year ago at Los Angeles City Hall. Under the law, companies that were vying for city contracts had to disclose contracts or sponsorships between them or their subsidiaries and the NRA, although the ordinance included some exemptions…
The NRA responded with a lawsuit, arguing that the ordinance was unconstitutional and trampled on rights of free speech and association, as well as the right to equal protection under the law. Its California counsel Chuck Michel called it “modern day McCarthyism,” arguing that the city “blacklist” would pressure NRA supporters to drop their NRA affiliations.
In December, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson echoed those concerns, writing in his ruling that “even though the ordinance only forces disclosure of activity … the clear purpose of the disclosure is to undermine the NRA’s explicitly political speech.”
New York Daily News: Stop hating Citizens United: It isn’t the reason big money has flooded into politics
By Ira Glasser
Many liberals correctly claim that extreme wealth inequality tends to generate political oligarchy, which in turn is a threat to democracy. It’s an observation that has been made at least since Aristotle, and one with which I agree.
But the question is what causes such political oligarchy and how to remedy it. Most liberals attribute a significant part of the problem to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case, which turns 10 years old on Jan. 21, and some have even proposed a constitutional amendment to overturn it. Their assumption is that the Citizens United decision unleashed a torrent of big money on our election system.
But Citizens United did not decide the question of whether individuals could spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for the election or defeat of candidates for public office. That was a question not even raised by the case. The question of whether individuals like Mike Bloomberg, Sheldon Adelson, Tom Steyer, George Soros or Richard Uihlein, to name a few from both sides of the political spectrum, could legally spend huge amounts of their own money to advocate for or against the election of candidates they favor or oppose was already long-established.
You can argue that individuals shouldn’t have that right, but you can’t attribute it to Citizens United.
By Tom Udall and John Sarbanes
The [Citizens United] decision exponentially increased the amount of money in our politics and emboldened foreign actors to corrupt our elections. Our democracy has paid a heavy price…
The Citizens United decision ceded unparalleled power to wealthy and well-connected special interests and diminished the voice of regular Americans, leaving people feeling left out and locked out of their own democracy. With millionaires, billionaires and corporations calling the shots in Washington, the American people get short shrift.
Take, for example, the fact that nearly eight in 10 Americans believe climate change is caused by human activity, according to a Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Despite broad public support for climate action, Congress has failed to address the crisis, because the energy industry has spent, according to data from Center for Responsive Politics, more than $700 million in the 2010-2020 election cycles…
But in Congress, Democrats are taking direct aim at Citizens United and fighting back against the scourge of big money in our politics. Early last year, we introduced the For the People Act — a historic package of reforms to clean up corruption in Washington, expose secret foreign money in our politics, crack down on lobbyists, strengthen election security, protect the right to vote and return power back to the American people with clean, citizen-owned elections.
National Review: Happy Anniversary to Citizens United
By David Harsanyi
Today is the anniversary of one of the greatest free-speech decisions in American history. Ten years ago, the Supreme Court overturned portions of a federal law that empowered government to dictate how Americans who were not connected to any candidates and political parties could practice their inherent right of free expression…
Or, in other words, the law, written by politicians who function without restrictions on speech – and applauded by much of a mass media that functions without any restrictions on speech – prohibited Americans from pooling their resources and engaging in the most vital form of expression at the most important time, in the days leading up to an election.
“By taking the right to speak from some and giving it to others,” Justice Anthony Kennedy would write for the majority, “the Government deprives the disadvantaged person or class of the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing, and respect for the speaker’s voice.”
Right after the decision, President Barack Obama famously rebuked the Justices during his State of the Union for upholding the First Amendment, arguing that the Supreme Court had “reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections.”
Not a word of what he said was true.
By David N. Bossie
The origins of the case begin with Citizens United’s ability to produce a film and run advertisements for a film critical of Hillary Clinton. At that time, the McCain-Feingold campaign finance regime would have jailed me for doing just that – a fact that the left purposefully omits from their flawed arguments against the Supreme Court’s opinion.
In 2004, I recognized that liberal activist and filmmaker Michael Moore had produced a documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a film highly critical of then- President George W. Bush. While the film had a huge impact on the campaign, it was Moore’s television trailers supporting the film – produced with corporate Hollywood money – that truly affected the Bush reelection effort.
I simply asked the Federal Election Commission if I could do what Michael Moore was doing. The FEC told me “no.” If I moved forward anyway, I could face five years in jail for each count, as well as tens of thousands in fines…
Hollywood had one set of rules and I had a different set of rules, but I wanted to be treated equally under the law, so four years later, Citizens United sued the FEC. As former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson reflected in our new film about the case, what could be closer to the heart of the First Amendment than an explanation of a point of view as to whether someone who was running for president was qualified for that job?
New York Times Book Review: 40 of America’s Greatest Writers on Key Supreme Court Decisions
By Monica Youn
FIGHT OF THE CENTURY
Writers Reflect on 100 Years of Landmark ACLU Cases
Edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman
[T]his civil libertarian approach can yield problematic results given entrenched structural inequalities. This may be particularly true of the A.C.L.U.’s most controversial current position (at least among liberals): its insistence that corporations are entitled to the same political speech rights as individual citizens, and that spending money in elections is a protected form of speech. I was disappointed not to see Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission – possibly the most notorious Supreme Court case of the millennium – among the cases selected for discussion here, particularly since, in recent years, it’s been increasingly difficult to find mention of the A.C.L.U.’s role in Citizens United or its continuing opposition to campaign finance reform efforts. (A disclaimer here: At the Brennan Center for Justice, where I directed the Money in Politics project, I often litigated and advocated against the A.C.L.U. in its challenges to campaign finance laws, including in Citizens United, where I was counsel of record on a Supreme Court amicus brief supporting the F.E.C.) But I still count myself as a supporter of the A.C.L.U., as does Scott Turow, even though his essay on Buckley v. Valeo (the progenitor to the Citizens United line of cases) excoriates the A.C.L.U. for its position on campaign finance reform and even suggests that the A.C.L.U. “hides from its own actions out of apparent fear of diminishing its contributor base.” Given that this book so often lauds the A.C.L.U. for its defense of unpopular causes, it’s troubling that the A.C.L.U.’s own most unpopular recent case gets such short shrift.
By Brendan Fischer
[Lev]Parnas is an unlikely insider…
But Parnas and an associate, Igor Fruman, managed to buy insider status by laundering $325,000 to Trump’s super PAC-and then leveraged that status to advance the private personal and political interests that are now central to the Ukraine scandal.
Such access-buying would’ve been difficult 10 years ago. Before Citizens United, there was no such thing as a super PAC.
The Supreme Court in Citizens United paved the way for those corporate-backed big money political groups, but did so with the promise that they would be “independent” of the candidates they support. That independence, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, guarded against any risk of “corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
It hasn’t worked out that way. Thanks to porous rules and little enforcement by the Federal Election Commission, super PACs now regularly operate as shadow campaigns, offering the wealthiest Americans opportunities to buy political influence that are not available to the average citizen.
Just ask Lev. He had little connection to Trumpworld until promising a six-figure donation to Trump’s super PAC, America First Action.
By Andrew Kerr
A Democratic super PAC founded by Clinton operative David Brock that has received $17 million in dark money called on Congress Thursday to “get dark money out of our elections.”
“Billions of dollars have flowed into federal, state, and local races from billionaires and special interests who are spending unlimited and untraceable money in our elections,” American Bridge 21st Century (AB PAC) wrote in an email to its supporters Thursday. “We must put an end to Citizens United and end the corrupting influence of dark money in our elections.”
But AB PAC relies heavily on dark money.
The super PAC’s largest single donor since its inception has been American Bridge 21st Century Foundation (AB Foundation), its sister 501(c)(4) nonprofit group that, unlike a super PAC, is not required to publicly disclose the identities of its contributors.
The dark money group has pumped $17 million into AB PAC since 2010, according to Federal Election Commission records. AB Foundation does not disclose the identities of its contributors due to its 501(c)(4) status…
AB Foundation says the millions it gives to Brock’s super PAC is meant to cover its portion of resources the two organizations share, such as employees and office space, but the American Bridge entities have had no formal cost-sharing agreement in place since at least 2015.
New York Times: Glenn Greenwald Charged With Cybercrimes in Brazil
By Ernesto Londoño and Letícia Casado
Federal prosecutors in Brazil on Tuesday charged the American journalist Glenn Greenwald with cybercrimes for his role in bringing to light cellphone messages that have embarrassed prosecutors and tarnished the image of an anti-corruption task force.
In a criminal complaint made public on Tuesday, prosecutors in the capital, Brasília, accused Mr. Greenwald of being part of a “criminal organization” that hacked into the cellphones of several prosecutors and other public officials last year.
Mr. Greenwald, an ardent critic of Brazil’s far right president, Jair Bolsonaro, is a deeply polarizing figure in Brazil, where his work is lionized by leftists and condemned as partisan and heavy handed by officials in the Bolsonaro administration…
The articles cast doubt on the impartiality of a former judge, Sérgio Moro, and of some of the prosecutors who worked on a corruption investigation that landed several powerful political and business figures in prison. Among them was a former president, a popular leftist whose conviction paved the way for the election of Mr. Bolsonaro. Mr. Moro was the judge who handled that case. He is now Mr. Bolsonaro’s minister of justice.
By Robby Soave
On the weekend of January 18, 2019, a short video appeared on Twitter that purported to show a group of Catholic high school boys-one young man, Nicholas Sandmann, in particular-harassing a Native American elder…
One year later, the media’s reckless mishandling of the story stands as an important warning against the kind of agenda-driven, outrage-mongering clickbait that unfortunately thrives in the world of online journalism.
But no less noteworthy was the news cycle that followed the initial flawed coverage, which featured a host of ideologically-motivated partisans doubling down on their initial assumption, digging for new information to justify it…
The news stories, at least, were edited; Twitter is not. Thus the reaction on social media was even more unhinged. Reza Aslan, a scholar and television pundit on CNN, tweeted that Sandmann had a “punchable” face. His CNN colleague Bakari Sellers agreed. BuzzFeed’s Anne Petersen tweeted that Sandmann’s face reminded her of Brett Kavanaugh’s-and this wasn’t intended as a compliment.Vulture writer Erik Abriss tweeted that he wanted the kids and their parents to die. Kathy Griffin said the high schoolers ought to be doxxed. As a USA Today retrospective noted, “comedian Patton Oswalt called the students in the video ‘bland, frightened, forgettable kids who’ll grow up to be bland, frightened, forgotten adult wastes.’…Writer Michael Green, referring to Sandmann’sapparent smirking at the Native American man, wrote: ‘A face like that never changes. This image will define his life. No one need ever forgive him.’…Huffington Post reporter Christopher Mathias explicitly compared the students to violent segregationists.”
Within 48 hours, the truth had emerged…
But less well remembered than the mainstream media’s belated mea culpa was the absurd effort to re-legitimize the initial narrative.
By Sasha Pezenik
Mark Green, Bloomberg’s Democratic opponent in the 2001 NYC mayoral race, is announcing that this week, he will file an official complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Bloomberg News for “illegal corporate in-kind contributions” to [Mike Bloomberg]’s presidential campaign…
Green’s complaint now alleges that Bloomberg News is proffering biased coverage of the 2020 primary – putting out negative stories on Bloomberg’s opponents while avoiding scrutiny of their eponymous candidate.
Green alleges in the complaint he will file that Bloomberg News’ coverage is a “coordinated contribution by a corporation to a candidate.”
Green points to the memo that went out to the Newsroom staff after Bloomberg announced his bid for the Democratic nomination – saying that the outlet would maintain its “tradition” of not investigating Bloomberg, his family or foundation, and that in the interest of fairness it would “extend the same policy to his rivals in the Democratic primaries.”…
The subjective nature of Green’s complaint may blunt the impact it could have: news coverage is not the typical kind of corporate in-kind contribution investigated by the FEC; it looks more primarily at campaign finance violations, issuing fines and guidance to campaigns about adhering to election law. Moreover — the FEC does not currently have a quorum…
[M]ost candidates don’t own media companies. Thus what might be considered as an “in-kind” “coordinated contribution” takes on fresh nuance.
Ballotpedia News: Hunter becomes chair of Federal Election Commission
By Ballotpedia Staff
On January 1, 2020, FEC commissioner Caroline C. Hunter (R) assumed the role of Federal Election Commission (FEC) chairwoman. Hunter is serving her second non-consecutive one year term as FEC Chairwoman and 12th year on the commission…
After Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen (R) resigned on August 31, the FEC has three members. The minimum number of members that must be present to make the agency’s decisions valid-known as a quorum-is four…
All of the FEC’s current members are holdover members of the board, meaning they have served longer than their original six-year term. President Donald J. Trump nominated James E. Trainor III to the commission in 2017 but the nomination was returned to the president at the conclusion of the 115th Congress. There have been no new appointments to the FEC since Trainor’s appointment and no Senate confirmations of new FEC members since Lee E. Goodman and Ann Ravel were confirmed as new FEC members in October 2013.
Before serving as the FEC Chairwoman, Hunter served as the vice-chair of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, and in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Before working within the government, Hunter served as deputy counsel of the Republican National Committee.
By Sarah Pulliam Bailey
Some activists have used public filings to identify and harass donors to organizations, especially when those organizations advocate for limiting LGBT adoptions or for other socially conservative causes. [Warren Cole Smith of MinistryWatch] pointed to how the chief executive of Mozilla resigned in 2014 after it was made public that he had made a donation to a group pushing for a ban on same-sex marriage in California.
“That sent chills throughout the ministry world, that donor lists could be weaponized,” he said. “I’m not saying the concern is not legitimate. I’m saying don’t hide behind a church status.”
Paul Batura, a spokesman for Focus on the Family, said in a statement that the organization changed its status to “church” with the IRS “primarily to protect the confidentiality of our donors.”
“In recent years there have been several occasions on which non-profit organizations – on both the right and the left – were targeted for information, including the names and personal details of their donors,” he wrote in an email.
Focus on the Family still voluntarily releases its 990s, however, with donor information redacted.
New York Times: The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It
By Kashmir Hill
[Hoan Ton-That] invented a tool that could end your ability to walk down the street anonymously, and provided it to hundreds of law enforcement agencies, ranging from local cops in Florida to the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security.
His tiny company, Clearview AI, devised a groundbreaking facial recognition app. You take a picture of a person, upload it and get to see public photos of that person, along with links to where those photos appeared. The system – whose backbone is a database of more than three billion images that Clearview claims to have scraped from Facebook, YouTube, Venmo and millions of other websites – goes far beyond anything ever constructed by the United States government or Silicon Valley giants…
But without public scrutiny, more than 600 law enforcement agencies have started using Clearview in the past year, according to the company…
One of the odder pitches, in late 2017, was to Paul Nehlen – an anti-Semite and self-described “pro-white” Republican running for Congress in Wisconsin – to use “unconventional databases” for “extreme opposition research,” according to a document provided to Mr. Nehlen and later posted online. Mr. Ton-That said the company never actually offered such services…
Searching someone by face could become as easy as Googling a name. Strangers would be able to listen in on sensitive conversations, take photos of the participants and know personal secrets. Someone walking down the street would be immediately identifiable – and his or her home address would be only a few clicks away. It would herald the end of public anonymity.
Online Speech Platforms
By Chris Mills Rodrigo
Facebook’s program to hire third-party fact-checkers to crack down on misinformation on the platform has been ramping up, with partners adding staff and expanding their work.
But the program still faces skepticism from activists and tech industry critics who say the company and its partners are still not providing the resources needed to address the scope of the problem on a platform with more than 2 billion users.
Launched in December 2016 after intense criticism of how Facebook handled false or misleading content in the last presidential election, the third-party fact-checker program shifts responsibility for verifying the accuracy or truthfulness of content from Facebook to independent, verified outside organizations.
Facebook does not fact-check content itself. However, it does send posts that its algorithm flags as potentially false to its partners. The partners can review the content flagged by Facebook or search for and identify false content themselves…
[Editor of PolitiFact]Angie Holan, when asked how much content flagged by Facebook Politifact reviewed in a day, described the flow of posts as “almost like a never ending list.”
Candidates and Campaigns
By Maya King
On average in markets around the country, prices for political TV ads have risen by 20 percent since Bloomberg began his campaign. Meanwhile, some local politicians have already found difficulty trying to reach their own constituencies.
“I think we might have been one of the first campaigns to experience the ‘Bloomberg Effect’ on prices, but we certainly won’t be the last,” said Eric Jaye, a California-based media buyer who purchased ads for Sylvester Turner, the just-reelected Democratic mayor of Houston…
And media buyers say that Bloomberg is not solely responsible for the sharp uptick in recent ad prices. As early primary states start voting in the next few weeks, markets from the Midwest to the Northeast to the Deep South are getting more and more crowded with content from presidential, House and Senate candidates.
“It’s never gonna be just one candidate,” said one media buyer POLITICO spoke to. “Multiple candidates and multiple issue groups are competing for the same sets of eyeballs.”
But despite the natural crowding that occurs in battleground states during election season, some strategists are still concerned that a big jump in ad prices could make it difficult for downballot politicians to execute the advertising strategies they planned out earlier.