Daily Media Links 11/27: Lois Lerner Doesn’t Trust You, Campaign finance laws changed in new budget, and more…

November 27, 2017   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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In the News

Deseret News: FEC opposes dismissing civil case against ex Utah A.G. John Swallow

By Dennis Romboy

Government lawyers have asked a judge not to dismiss the Federal Election Commission complaint against former Utah Attorney General John Swallow.

The government says in a new court filing that it has a “more-than-plausible” case that Swallow violated the FEC’s ban on making campaign contributions in the name of another person…

Swallow’s new lawyers from the Virginia-based Institute for Free Speech, including a former FEC chairman, want Judge Dee Benson to dismiss the complaint.

Swallow broke no law, and the regulation cited in the complaint is illegal and violates the First Amendment, according to his lawyers.

Congress never created secondary liability – the practice of holding one party legally responsible for helping another – for the type of campaign finance violation Swallow is alleged to have committed, they say.

Not only is the FEC going after Swallow for something he did not do, it is pursuing him for violating a law that does not exist, his lawyer argued. 

NBC News: Should Washington begin regulating Facebook? Some lawmakers say yes.

By Suzy Khimm

The Klobuchar-Warner bill has elicited criticism from some free-speech advocates, including a former Republican FEC commissioner, who argue that the legislation would have an adverse impact on political speech by ordinary Americans, subjecting small grass-roots groups to burdensome reporting requirements and legal liability.

Policy experts also question how the bill would actually work. Daphne Keller of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society pointed to the challenges of determining whether an ad buyer is a foreign entity, particularly if buyers rely on outside vendors to purchase ads.

“Nobody knows how to figure out who counts as Russian,” she said. “It seems extremely easy to hide your identity.”

But supporters say that the bill’s narrow focus – and the coming 2018 and 2020 elections – could give it a shot at passage…

In late October, shortly before testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Facebook officials unveiled new changes that would require political advertisers to verify their identity and include new disclosures in election ads. On Wednesday, the company announced a new tool that would let users see if they had engaged with content created by certain Russian propagandists.

Internet Speech Regulation

Washington Post: After Russia’s election interference, pulling back the curtain on online ads

By Editorial Board

Facebook and Twitter have both pledged to increase the transparency of advertisements on their platforms, providing users with more information about which posts are ads and who’s behind the funding. But as both companies seem to recognize, self-regulation isn’t enough…

In the wake of the Kremlin’s meddling, the big technology companies are now cautiously supportive of the FEC’s opening the door to further regulation. To be sure, one rule won’t solve everything. The disclaimer requirement applies only to advertisements funded by a political committee or endorsing a particular candidate – so Russian ads stirring up anger over Black Lives Matter, say, would have been exempt anyway. For that reason, Congress also has a role to play in crafting a legislative solution. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have introduced a bill to apply the same disclosure requirements used for television and radio ads to Internet ads as well.

Having broken its deadlock, the FEC should now close this loophole and craft a rule requiring some form of disclaimer for online advertisements. The committee’s vote is just one step, but it’s an important marker of progress toward increased transparency for political ads online.

CBS News: Facebook users will soon be able to see if they interacted with Russian trolls

By Graham Kates

Facebook plans to introduce a new tool that will allow users to see if they were among the millions who interacted with certain pages created by a Russian troll farm associated with fake campaign ads, the company announced Wednesday.

“A few weeks ago, we shared our plans to increase the transparency of advertising on Facebook. This is part of our ongoing effort to protect our platforms and the people who use them from bad actors who try to undermine our democracy,” the company said in a statement…

“We will soon be creating a portal to enable people on Facebook to learn which of the Internet Research Agency Facebook Pages or Instagram accounts they may have liked or followed between January 2015 and August 2017,” Facebook said in its statement. “This tool will be available for use by the end of the year in the Facebook Help Center.”

A Facebook spokesperson was not able to tell CBS News if the company has an exact release date planned for the portal. Facebook did not say if it plans to update the portal in the future if it discovers more Internet Research Agency accounts or similar schemes run by other organizations.


Wall Street Journal: Lois Lerner Doesn’t Trust You

By William McGurn

Here’s how lawyers for Ms. Lerner and her former IRS deputy, Holly Paz, put it in a filing aimed at persuading a judge to keep their testimony from becoming public: “Public dissemination of their deposition testimony would expose them and their families to harassment and a credible risk of violence and physical harm.” …

That’s quite an argument. So enraged would the American public become upon learning what Ms. Lerner and Ms. Paz said that they and those around them would be in physical peril. Which probably makes most people wonder what the heck must the two have said that would get everyone so agitated? …

[T]his latest request to federal Judge Michael Barrett is a follow-up to one she made back in May. At the time, Judge Barrett said he saw good reason to limit access to the attorneys during discovery. But he also said that the parties could eventually ask that it be made public-the Cincinnati Enquirer has also asked for the seal to be lifted-and the burden would be on Ms. Lerner and Ms. Paz to prove why it shouldn’t…

[I]n this case the plaintiffs, the government and a newspaper all say they are for disclosure. Is a judge really going to buy Ms. Lerner’s argument that the American people can’t handle the truth?


Politico: FEC probes discrepancies at former Zinke PAC

By Ben Lefebvre

The Federal Election Commission is asking a leadership PAC previously affiliated with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to provide more details about its direct mail spending and to account for a $200,000 discrepancy in its account, among other issues in its most recent campaign finance report.

SEAL PAC, which Zinke launched after winning his first congressional race in 2014, has until Dec. 26 to address the issues identified by the FEC, according to a request sent Monday. The FEC also asks about incomplete information related to some donors, excess contributions and potentially misclassified spending, some of which occurred after Zinke’s affiliation with the leadership PAC ended when he joined President Donald Trump’s Cabinet in March.


American Prospect: Blowing Up Democracy and Charities in One Fell Swoop

By Eliza Newlin Carney

By essentially repealing the so-called Johnson Amendment, a tax provision that bars charities from engaging in partisan politics, the House legislation frees up big donors to funnel even more unlimited, undisclosed money into campaigns, and, for the first time, to deduct that money from their taxes…

The repeal’s backers say it protects free speech and religious liberty, but these are red herrings. Churches and charities are perfectly free to endorse candidates, they just can’t do it with tax-free money. The government’s bargain with such groups is: We will exempt you from taxes and let you raise tax-deductible contributions, if you stay out of partisan politics. This protects charities from government meddling, and ensures that taxpayers aren’t forced to subsidize endorsements of candidates they oppose.

Campaign-finance watchdogs hate the repeal because it would create incentives for all political money to flow into unrestricted, secret channels. Right now, super PACs may raise unlimited money, but they at least must disclose its sources. Social-welfare and trade groups may raise limitless contributions, which they need not disclose, and they spend hundreds of millions on campaigns under the guise of promoting issues-but at least that money is not tax-deductible.  

The Media

Washington Examiner: Fusion GPS paid journalists, court papers confirm

By Todd Shepherd

Newly filed court documents confirm that Fusion GPS, the company mostly responsible for the controversial “Trump dossier” on presidential candidate Donald Trump, made payments to three journalists between June 2016 until February 2017.

The revelation could be a breakthrough for House Republicans, who are exploring whether Fusion GPS used the dossier, which was later criticized for having inaccurate information on Trump, to feed anti-Trump stories to the press during and after the presidential campaign. The three journalists who were paid by Fusion GPS are known to have reported on “Russia issues relevant to [the committee’s] investigation,” the House Intelligence Committee said in a court filing…

Fusion has asked the court to issue a restraining order against the House committee, which is demanding documents from the company that, among other things, explain the payments it made to reporters. Most of the documents sought are banking records.

Candidates and Campaigns

The Hill: Celebrities on Black Friday: ‘Black political leadership’ is better than a new watch

By John Bowden

Celebrities are calling for a black political revolution to galvanize African-American participation in local government in a new video backed by a political action committee.

“Instead of splurging on stuff, let’s spend our money on progress by boosting black politics,” actress Meagan Good says in a three-minute video posted Thursday on the website “Funny or Die.” …

The assembled Hollywood stars tell viewers that rather than retail spending, investing in local politics and politicians can have a greater effect on communities and national politics.
Twitter users are encouraged to tweet #ReclaimBlackFriday to boost the campaign, and interested viewers can text 48484 for more information. The video is the first post from “The Collective PAC,” a new video channel on Funny Or Die’s website. No other information was available on the channel’s page, but according to the FEC the political action committee has been active since 2016. The group is aiming to “recruit, train, fund and elect 45 progressive black candidates from around the country” in 2018, according to its website.

Daily Beast: FBI Investigates Congressman for His Campaign Paying Opponent to Quit

By Katie Zavadski and Andrew Desiderio

The FBI said it is investigating Rep. Bob Brady (D-PA) for an alleged scheme to pay his primary opponent to drop out of a 2012 race against him and for allegedly lying to investigators.

The revelation came from a search warrant application unsealed in a Pennsylvania federal court on Monday, which was first reported by Seamus Hughes. An FBI agent asked a judge to authorize access to Brady’s personal email account on the belief it holds evidence contradicting an anticipated defense about the campaign payments. The judge approved the warrant and the FBI said it got one CD worth of data from the email account…

The FBI affidavit lists Brady, Moore, and three others as having likely been “involved in the commission of several crimes, including conspiracy, false statements, producing false records, false campaign contribution reports, and violating limits on campaign contributions and expenditures.”

The States

CT Post: Campaign finance laws changed in new budget

By Ken Dixon

Common Cause Connecticut, the election watchdogs, and the League of Women Voters have joined in an effort to overturn the new laws, which raise individual contributions for legislative and top-of-the-ticket candidates to $250, instead of the $100 limit approved in the state’s landmark 2005 campaign-finance law.

Both groups are also asking incumbents and prospective General Assembly candidates to abide by the $100 limit during the 2018 elections.

Another new change puts the one-year limit on State Election Enforcement Commission investigations. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday signed the budget revisions.

Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause Connecticut, said the hike to $250 while retaining eligibility for the state’s voluntary public-financing program, means candidates in higher-income districts will be able to raise money quicker than those running in lower-income areas, such as the big cities of Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford and Waterbury…

Earlier this year, Republican lawmakers offered budgets that eliminated the Citizens’ Election Fund, which can provide state Senate candidates up to $95,710 after they raise $15,000 in individual contributions. 

Washington Post: What Virginia’s Governor-elect Ralph Northam (D) promised during his campaign

By Fenit Nirappil

Facing pressure during his primary campaign over taking campaign contributions from the energy giant Dominion, Northam offered to push for a ban on all corporate political giving, as well as capping campaign donations at $10,000.

Few campaign finance reform advocates see this as feasible, given how Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike benefit from corporate and large contributions.

Alex Baiocco

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