Daily Media Links 1/16: The Last Rites of Public Campaign Financing?, Conspiracy Theories of Influence, The Rube Goldberg Approach to Campaign Transparency, and more…

January 16, 2014   •  By Matthew McIntyre   •  
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In the News

Nebraska Law Review: The Last Rites of Public Campaign Financing?

By James J. Sample

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 5–4 decision in Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett, this Article asserts the current predicament of public campaign financing is such that options that are still on the table under the Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence are, with only rare and idiosyncratic exceptions, fiscal and political non-starters. Conversely, options that would be, and indeed previously had been, fiscally and politically viable, are now, even after years of their routine practice in varied jurisdictions, no longer constitutional. It is, in short, simultaneously a legal and practical dilemma.

Short of highly unlikely swings of the Supreme Court pendulum, and absent an even more unlikely constitutional amendment, cities, states, and federal government actors, who might otherwise consider allowing candidates for office to opt for voluntary public financing, now find themselves between a legal rock and a fiscal hard place: unless a jurisdiction adopts, via extraordinarily high initial lump sum funding that grossly overspends the people’s money to the point of fiscal ruin, any candidate opting in is effectively volunteering only to play the role of a sitting duck.

On the more promising side, this Article asserts that systems that operate based on offering funding as a multiple for small-donor donations offer one potential solution to the dilemma. However, the Article ultimately contends that such systems are particularly vulnerable in jurisdictions with small populations insofar as moneyed interest groups from outside the jurisdiction can easily overwhelm, for example, even the multiplied donations of the citizens of largely rural states or jurisdictions.

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Conspiracy Theories of Influence

By Luke Wachob

Gurri’s explanation for the activity of wealthy donors and political groups seems more reasonable than the conspiracy theory forwarded by The Times and The Post, but it isn’t as catchy. The media needs heroes and villains to make campaign finance stories tangible and important to readers, so when it can’t find them, it creates them. One of the easiest ways to do this is to mention a large sum of money getting larger, without any context, like The New York Times did when it wrote “From 2006 to 2010, the volume of campaign cash flowing from Beltway-based groups to state parties and candidates almost doubled, to $139 million from $79 million, according to an analysis by The New York Times of data collected by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.” Presented by itself, that $79 million growing to $139 million looks like a ton of money, but with a little knowledge about election spending, our bogeyman isn’t so daunting. Consider that $7.3 billion was spent on federal races in 2012, according to the FEC. The $139 million going from beltway groups to state parties and candidates would have paid for just 1.9% of that spending.

Media coverage of campaign finance gives the readers what they want, and that’s a story about a small group of wealthy donors secretly manipulating politics to their personal advantage, not the more accurate story about a difficult-to-model relationship between multiple variables such as donor control, institutions’ sway over policy outcomes, and uncertainty which naturally produces complex networks of like-minded organizations whose actions cannot be fully understood.

It’s nice to imagine that the popular story is true and we can untangle the web of American politics by watching the richest players in the game, but that just isn’t the case. Disclosure can tell you who spent what, but it can’t tell you why. That’s one big reason why a world with increased disclosure might be less a supposed utopia of sunlight and more a shouting match over whose donors are worse.

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Independent Groups

Bloomberg: Camp: Pause IRS Regs on NonProfits


Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan proposed a bill that would prevent the IRS from issuing regulations that clarify or change whether groups qualify for tax exemption under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code. The moratorium would last for one year.

The IRS proposed regulations last year as part of its response to the controversy surrounding its treatment of Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status. The rules, which aren’t expected to affect the 2014 election cycle, would set a clearer definition for political activity, including campaign ads, voter registration drives and events featuring candidates.

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Roll Call: Super PAC, Outside Spending Chiefs Make Big Bucks

By Eliza Newlin Carney

Recently released tax forms shed light on the big salaries that an elite corps of political organizers earned during the 2012 elections — and those who made the most often boasted the fewest wins.

The new disclosures reveal fresh specifics about the six- and seven-figure salaries reaped by the political consultants, lawyers, fundraisers and media buyers who ran the top super PACs and politically active nonprofits in 2012. Such groups spent more than $1 billion in the first presidential contest since the Supreme Court deregulated independent campaign spending, shattering all previous records, and political professionals cashed in.

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NY Times: The Rube Goldberg Approach to Campaign Transparency


House and Presidential candidates have been filing electronically for years, but senators prefer a slow and cumbersome foolscap approach: A retro paper trail worthy of grandees laboring in spats. For a while, the omnibus appropriations measure did include an explicit requirement that the Senate go electronic, according to Ms. Rosenberg. But the mandate disappeared in the final push, fast as a picked wallet on a rush-hour express. Whether by Republican or Democratic hand is not yet clear. 

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Candidates, Politicians, Campaigns, and Parties

TPM: NJ Lawmaker: Christie Role In Sandy Ads Could Violate Campaign Law

By Caitlin MacNeal

New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D), the lawmaker leading the state probe into the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge last year, on Tuesday alleged that Gov. Chris Christie may have broken campaign finance laws by starring in tourism ads paid for with federal Sandy relief funds.  

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CPI: Spending bill: FEC budget still below 2010 levels

By Dave Levinthal

The Federal Election Commission gets a small year-over-year raise in Congress’ new 2014 spending bill, but funding for the beleaguered agency still falls short of what it received four years ago, according to federal budget records.  

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State and Local

Maryland –– Maryland Reporter: Elections chief ruled on governor’s race fundraising without board approval and with little legal advice

By Glynis Kazanjian

The Maryland State Board of Elections never approved an official ruling that allows Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, running for lieutenant governor with current Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, to raise money during the legislative session even though Attorney General Douglas Gansler and his running mate Del. Jolene Ivey cannot.

Under state election law, the state board is charged with managing and supervising “the conduct of elections in the state,” including preparing summaries of election law that relate to campaign finance activity.

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Missouri –– AP: Mo. Democrats outline campaign finance plan

By Jordan Shapiro

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Secretary of State Jason Kander announced an ambitious proposal Tuesday to cap campaign contributions, ban lawmakers from accepting gifts and institute a cooling off period before lawmakers can become lobbyists, the latest in a string of attempts to rein in Missouri’s ethics laws.

Kander, who serves as Missouri’s chief election officer, said it’s time for the state to update its loose ethics laws. Missouri is the only state that has no limits on campaign donations or lobbyist gifts, and the state also doesn’t have a revolving door policy restricting lawmakers from becoming lobbyists the day they leave office.

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Pennsylvania –– CBS: Philadelphia Councilman’s Ex-Aide Sentenced For Stealing Campaign Funds

By Tony Hanson

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A former campaign aide to Philadelphia city councilman Bobby Henon pleaded guilty today to stealing from the councilman’s campaign funds.

This morning, defendant Richard North III was sentenced to three years’ probation.   He has already paid restitution of more than $62,000.

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Utah –– Utah Political Capitol: Flagged Bill: HB 237 – Campaign Contribution Limits, Rep. Powell

By Curtis Haring

As a sort of compromise, Utah policy states that candidates can bring in unlimited funds so long as they report where the funds come from – the idea being that a member of the public or the media could access someone’s financial records and make it an issue. The voters, ultimately, would decide if a lawmaker was representing them or a special interest.

Representative Kraig Powell (Republican – Heber City) appears to think that some limits are required in order maintain balance in the system. HB 237 – Campaign Contribution Limits. Quite simply, under Powell’s proposal, a $9,999 cap would be placed on individual campaign contributions for candidates running for statewide, legislative, school board, or judgeship positions.

Donate $10,000 and you have violated campaign fiance law, and your punishment will be… well, the bill doesn’t say. Powell’s bill simply has no teeth behind the requirement that donations be capped.

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Matthew McIntyre

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