Daily Media Links 10/10: ‘Dark Money’ Exercises Freedom of Speech and Religion, FEC votes to relax campaign finance rules, and more…

October 10, 2014   •  By Scott Blackburn   •  
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Bradley A. Smith’s Opening Remarks: AmericanForum: How we finance our political campaigns (Video) 
When I was at the Federal Elections Commission I used to keep a file of letters that we received from ordinary citizens who were caught up in our investigations. These people weren’t trying to corrupt anything they were just trying to do what they thought was their civic duty by participating in a political campaign. A CPA who was a volunteer campaign treasurer, and was facing over $7,000 in personal fines wrote: “No job I have ever undertaken caused me more stress than this one. I was frightened and concerned every day that I would do something wrong.” Another volunteer wrote: “We were just honest, hard working, tax paying Americans who wanted to make a difference . . . , we are so disillusioned with the [legal] difficulty of running for office that we wonder why anyone other than a professional would attempt to do so.” One volunteer summed up: “I will NEVER, all caps, be involved with a political campaign again.”
These are not isolated cases. In one study done a couple years ago 250 citizens were asked to fill out compulsory forms, forms you have to fill out under various state laws to participate in campaigns. Not a single one was able to get it right. In fact the average score correct was 41%. Had these people been trying to volunteer for an actual campaign, they would all have faced fines and jail time.
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FEC: FEC Approves Final Rules on Independent Expenditures and Electioneering Communications by Corporations and Labor Organizations, Interim Final Rule and ANPRM in Response to McCutcheon v. FEC, Approves Advisory Opinion and Discusses Two Advisory Opinion Requests 
WASHINGTON – The Federal Election Commission today approved final rules in response to the United States Supreme Court’s opinion in Citizens United v. FEC and approved an interim final rule and an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in response to the Supreme Court’s opinion in McCutcheon v. FEC. The Commission issued an advisory opinion permitting the two major political party committees to establish convention committees to raise funds under a separate contribution limit. The Commission also discussed draft advisory opinions based on requests from two federal candidates asking whether their employer may continue to pay its share of their fringe benefits while they are on unpaid leave in order to campaign.
Final Rules on Independent Expenditures and Electioneering Communications by Corporations and Labor Organizations. The Commission approved final rules regarding corporate and labor organization funding of independent expenditures and electioneering communications in response to a Petition for Rulemaking by the James Madison Center for Free Speech, which petitioned the Commission to amend its regulations in response to the decision of the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC. The Commission will transmit the rules to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate for a 30-legislative-day review period and the rules will be published in the Federal Register. Statements were issued by Vice Chair Ann M. Ravel, Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub, and Commissioner Steven T. Walther.
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Washington Times: FEC deletes unconstitutional campaign regulations, embraces Citizens United 

“Hopefully today is the beginning of our ability to sit down and have reasonable discussions regarding all of those subjects,” said Ann M. Ravel, the FEC’s vice chairman.

Ms. Ravel was the key to the vote on the commission, which is divided between three Democratic-backed members and three GOP-backed commissioners, which means there must be some bipartisanship for the FEC to act. Ms. Ravel joined all three GOP-backed members, and braved criticism from her two fellow Democratic-backed members, to vote for the changes.
The vote has the immediate effect of deleting about five pages of regulations from the books. Those regulations had prohibited corporations and labor unions from spending on advocacy in political campaigns. But they conflicted with the latestSupreme Court jurisprudence, which holds that corporations and unions have rights to political speech under the First Amendment.
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Politico: FEC votes suggest gridlock is easing 
By Byron Tau and Kyle Cheney
The deep freeze at the Federal Election Commission may be thawing.
After some five years of ties and gridlock, the commission approved several measures Thursday as part of a compromise brokered between its two newest members: Republican Chairman Lee Goodman and Democratic Vice Chairwoman Ann Ravel.
In a 4-2 vote, the commissioners passed a package of changes that enshrined the controversial 2010 case Citizens United into the organization’s rules. On a separate 6-0 vote, they approved a similar rules change concerning the 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC decision. The compromise also involves opening a public-comment period on all manner of issues.
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Wall Street Journal: Federal Election Commission Allows New Funding Stream for Political Conventions 
By Rebecca Ballhaus
WASHINGTON—The Federal Election Commission voted 4-2 Thursday to allow party committees to create new units to raise money for party conventions, permitting the committees to close the funding gap caused by a new law that ends taxpayer funding for conventions.
Advocates of campaign-finance reform criticized the decision, saying it effectively allows individuals to double their contributions to the committees.
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The Hill: FEC votes to relax campaign finance rules 
By Benjamin Goad
“It’s a rare time in Washington for government agencies to remove regulations from the books,” said Republican Commissioner Caroline Hunter. 
Ravel joined Hunter and the other Republican commissioners in supporting the measure, over the objections of Democratic Commissioners Ellen Weintraub and Steven Walther. 
Weintraub and Walther blasted the new rules for not including additional disclosure requirements for independent expenditures on federal political races, arguing that a majority of justices on the Supreme Court called for transparency. 
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CPI: FEC’s top Democrat takes show on road  
By Dave Levinthal
Average people don’t seem to care about the Federal Election Commission, and the FEC, in its insularity, doesn’t seem to care much about such people.
That’s Vice Chairwoman Ann Ravel’s dour assessment about her often bedraggled agency’s state of affairs — a state she’s bent on changing through a one-woman public relations gambit that will criss-cross the country and begins tonight in Denver.
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Independent Groups
NY Times: How ActBlue Became a Powerful Force in Fund-Raising 
By Derek Willis
ActBlue lets campaigns create web pages and emails with fund-raising solicitations that include simple forms to make the process of donating faster and easier. By storing contributors’ credit card information, ActBlue reduces the friction involved in filling out donation forms to a single click.
More than 445 federal committees representing candidates, parties and super PACs use the platform to raise money. The committees pay transaction fees to use ActBlue, sometimes totaling in the tens of thousands of dollars over the course of an election cycle, but in return they benefit from a system in which ActBlue regularly runs randomized experiments to increase the efficiency of its donation forms.
Among its findings: Women are more likely than men to be recurring donors. It also conducts experiments in fund-raising techniques, much in the way that the Obama campaign did. For example, the firm noticed that many of its donors labeled themselves as retired or unemployed on contribution forms. So it changed the form to allow users to check a box for these options rather than type them in, which increased completed donation forms by 4.7 percent.
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The Morning Sun: Walker: ‘Dark Money’ Exercises Freedom of Speech and Religion  
By Bruce Walker
Those screened voting booths are analogous in this instance to laws permitting campaign and charitable donations by companies, unions, individuals and political action committees. Not only does the law permit the aforementioned donations, they also (to a degree) allow these contributions be made privately. Despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth (mostly from the left, but increasingly from the right desperate to play catch-up in the high-stakes outrage charade), every single entity listed above is entitled (for the time being and despite many recent challenges determined unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court) to privately donate to public campaigns.
Alas, this exercise of free speech is too much for the overly squeamish who have attached the pejorative phrase “dark money” to the – again – perfectly legal practice. Not only is it legal but as well preferable to an alternate reality wherein people lose their jobs and companies are boycotted for supporting causes and candidates anathema to one side of either the public policy or social spectrum. For example, Mozilla co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Brendan Eich resigned last April due to a perceived misstep by the progressive Guardians of All Things Acceptable in a Utopian Society. Eich’s crime against humanity was his $1,000 donation to a 2008 campaign to defeat legalization of same-sex marriages in California. As it turns out, California stringently requires transparency of campaign contributions, a lever activist Mozilla employees eagerly pulled less than a month into Eich’s tenure. Just exactly what the creator of JavaScript and fallen CEO’s private opinion on homosexual marriage has to do with his ability to run a company boggles the imagination.
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Huffington Post: How Will Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS Stay Within The Law In 2014? 
By Paul Blumenthal
What is unclear is how Crossroads GPS can reach its spending goals without coming into conflict with the tax laws that provide it with tax-exempt status on the one hand, and anonymity for its big-money donors on the other. The group’s exempt status is already highly controversial, as both the Federal Election Commission and Internal Revenue Service have investigated its activities to determine whether it should register as a political committee and identify its funders.
Since Crossroads GPS is organized as a social welfare nonprofit under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, it must spend less than 50 percent of its time and money on electoral campaign activity. Ordinarily, groups like Crossroads GPS take advantage of a loophole in campaign finance law that allows them to count issue-based attack ads against candidates as part of their tax-exempt activity. This loophole enables such nonprofits to function almost entirely as political advertisers while keeping their donors hidden from the public.
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Watchdog.org: Conservatives to appeals court: ‘You don’t know Doe’  
By M.D. Kittle 
In short, Easterbrook worried that the federal court involved itself in state business, and that the Wisconsin judicial system was capable of resolving the controversies arising out of the complaints.
In their court filing, O’Keefe and the club note the panel’s decision holds that conservatives targeted for “retaliatory investigation” by state law enforcement officers on the basis of political beliefs can obtain no relief in federal court.
“That decision breaks with the 50-year line of jurisprudence,” the conservatives’ attorneys assert in the motion.
Scott Blackburn

Scott Blackburn