In the News
By Akela Lacy
Opponents of a national public campaign finance system argue that individuals shouldn’t be forced to pay for the campaigns of politicians they don’t support. Or that people who don’t want to put their money into a failing political system should not have to. Local pilot programs have been criticized for not actually keeping money out of politics, and instead making it easier for financially and politically connected incumbents and otherwise already well-established figures to win re-election, crushing newcomers who don’t have as much financial support out of the gate. Some say that the idea creates unintended pressures that encourage fraud and misuse of public funds, instead of enhancing the overall integrity of the system…
Democrats should also be wary, David Keating said, of creating a mechanism for public campaign finance that could be weaponized by one party against the other. He is the president of the Institute for Free Speech, a conservative, pro-deregulation nonprofit, previously known as the Center for Competitive Politics. Ostensibly, Trump would be the one to appoint people to any committee tasked with auditing potentially corrupt campaigns, Keating explained. “Why would they want to trust someone like Trump to appoint a majority of the people who are on the enforcement commission to audit these campaigns? Basically you would have Trump allies who could go through and audit all the Democratic candidates across the country and make announcements during the campaign, that ‘Oh, look here. This is something that was not done right. We’re going to slap this candidate with a fine and announce he’s broken the law.'”
KRMS Radio Missouri: Appeal Expected in Court Ruling on Lobbyist Rules
Attorneys representing a Missouri political activist say they expect to appeal a federal court ruling that requires him to register as a lobbyist. A three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a state rule that says even unpaid activists have to follow the same rules as professional lobbyists if they’re trying to influence lawmakers…
Dave Roland is with the Freedom Institute of Missouri, which is one of the agencies representing Ron Calzone. The panel vote was 2-1 which Roland says makes them optimistic that they can get the court as a whole to hear the case. They’ll be filing that request within the next two weeks.
New from the Institute for Free Speech
The Institute for Free Speech is pleased to welcome attorney Ryan Morrison to its legal team. Ryan’s addition to the staff will enable the Institute to litigate more cases in defense of the First Amendment.
“Ryan is an experienced trial attorney with a pedigree of distinguished legal service,” said Institute for Free Speech Legal Director Allen Dickerson. “With Ryan on board, the Institute expands its capacity to help clients whose First Amendment rights have been violated. We are delighted to welcome him to the team.”
Ryan has considerable experience both in and out of government. He served in the George W. Bush administration in numerous roles, including as an Associate General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Defense. Ryan also clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, was an associate at Dinsmore & Shohl LLP, and most recently served in the administration of Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin.
“Over the past few years, the Institute has been doing exceptional legal advocacy work,” Ryan said. “I am honored to join IFS and expand their efforts to protect and defend the First Amendment.”
Ryan’s addition marks the second expansion of the Institute for Free Speech legal team in 2018. Senior Attorney Parker Douglas previously joined IFS in September.
Election Law Blog: Supreme Court Will Consider Whether to Take Major Montana Campaign Contributions Case at Its January 4 Conference, A Case Which Could Pave the Way for Killing Federal Campaign Contribution Limits
By Rick Hasen
It could also be when the Court considers whether to take the Austin campaign finance case.
Anchorage Daily News: The attack on Alaska’s campaign finance law
By Sharman Haley
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that Alaska’s campaign finance law limiting out-of-state contributions to candidates violates the First Amendment. This was based on the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, narrowing the reasons states can limit campaign contributions to preventing “quid pro quo corruption.” This is too narrow…
To defend our law, we need to pass a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution saying the court majority was wrong: Money is not protected speech, corporations are not people with constitutional rights, and our elected officials have the authority and responsibility to regulate campaign finance broadly in the interests of good government, equal representation and citizen trust.
A resolution in support of such an amendment will be introduced in the Anchorage Assembly in short order. A similar resolution will be introduced in the Alaska Legislature this session.
By Paul Blumenthal
The story of how the bill came to life shows how Democrats have long prepared for this moment to push a new set of reforms to change the way Washington works.
The details of the proposal are still being worked out, and the bill has yet to be named, but Democrats previewed a short list of what it will include on Friday: the creation of a system of publicly financed elections for congressional campaigns, automatic voter registration, ethics reforms for the executive branch and Congress, the application of judicial ethics laws to the Supreme Court, an end to partisan gerrymandering, laws on disclosure of dark money and a reinstatement of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which had required certain states to get preclearance before making changes that affect voting.
The last time the party controlled Congress, it failed to pass a campaign finance reform bill or new voting rights reforms. This time around, however, they can count on years of preparatory work by a dedicated group of lawmakers who had been empowered by Pelosi since 2011 to gather reform ideas, build support for them within the party and then mold them into a legislative package.
That process has been led by Rep. John Sarbanes, a six-term congressman from Maryland who became a fierce advocate of campaign finance reform after growing frustrated with the way political candidates are pressured to raise money from big donors.
Roll Call: Democrats Go Into 2019 With Ethics Blazing
By Kate Ackley
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes offered a sneak peak Friday of what will likely be christened HR 1 in the 116th Congress. Instead of starting from scratch, the bill will draw from numerous existing proposals – including some that have languished for years during GOP control…
Advocacy groups that focus on campaign finance and ethics matters said they were buoyed by the new details Friday and House Democrats’ continued pledge to make it a top priority in the next Congress…
The eventual measure is likely to include a bill (HR 6239) that would require more disclosures for political spending by corporations, labor unions and super PACs, among others – as well as a Sarbanes’ bill (HR 20) that would establish tax credits for Americans who make small-dollar campaign contributions.
The overhaul package will also include measures to “strengthen oversight of lobbyists and foreign agents,” according to a two-page summary provided to reporters…
“The question then becomes: That’s Act 1; what’s Act 2?” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, a bipartisan group that advocates for campaign finance overhauls.
McGehee added that she believes there are supporters in both parties to do something to limit the influence of big donors and to alleviate the burden on lawmakers to raise ever more campaign arsenals. In the 2018 midterm elections, for example, a record amount, at least $5.2 billion, was spent on political campaigns, according to a preliminary estimate from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Candidates and Campaigns
By Michael Hiltzik
You may not have noticed this, but since last month’s midterm elections the Republican party has been speaking out strongly for campaign finance reform.
Well, not exactly. GOP leaders have been grousing about the unfairness of having been outspent by Democrats, especially in Congressional races, leading to the loss of 40 seats in the House of Representatives. In other words, they’re not lobbying for less money in politics, just lamenting that not all of it flowed their way…
All these numbers – the totals raised by donors and the sums spent on Congressional races on both sides – are appalling in their magnitude. They just add to the mound of evidence that our entire electoral system is open for sale or, to put it another way, the target of a financial arms race with no end in sight. Traditionally, it’s Democrats who complain about campaign finance and the influence of billionaires and industry. But as they’ve approached parity with GOP fundraising, their interest in reform has accordingly ebbed, too.
What’s most remarkable about the Republicans’ complaints this time around is that they’re glossing over two solutions that should be blindingly obvious. One is to reform campaign finance to wipe out contributions and spending on this scale. The other is to realign the party platform so it conforms to what voters plainly are looking for. Republicans in California didn’t lose because they couldn’t pay for enough TV ads to make their sales pitch, but because the voters didn’t buy what they were selling.
Tampa Bay Times: Ross Spano acknowledges possible ‘violation’ of campaign finance law
By William March
Newly elected congressman Ross Spano has acknowledged that his campaign financing “may have been in violation” of federal law.
In a filing with the Federal Elections Commission which Spano released publicly Saturday afternoon, he acknowledged borrowing $180,000 from two people he has described as personal friends from June through October this year, and then lending his campaign $167,000 in roughly the same time period.
When he made the loans to his campaign, Spano said on campaign finance reports that the money came from his “personal funds.”
But under federal campaign finance law, a loan made to a candidate with the intent of providing money for a campaign must be considered a campaign contribution, not the candidate’s personal funds.
Any such loan must adhere to campaign contribution limits – $2,700 each for the primary and general elections, far less than the loans Spano acknowledges having received…
At the time of the loans, Spano “believed he was acting in full compliance with the law” as did the two lenders, “based on the consultations they had at the time,” stated a letter to the Commission that was released Saturday afternoon.
But the letter, written by attorney Elliott Berke of Washington, said Spano and the lenders “now recognize that some of the proceeds from the personal loans … may have been in violation of the Federal Campaign Finance Act.” …
Spano’s Democratic opponent in the congressional District 15 election, Kristen Carlson, has asked for a federal investigation of whether Spano illegally funded his campaign.
By Alex Pasternack
In a unanimous vote, the state’s three-member Public Disclosure Commission reaffirmed a “final rule” on political ad disclosure that requires digital advertisers to disclose a set of details about each political ad they run. Those details include the name and address of the ad’s purchaser, the ad’s cost, and the total number of impressions that an ad received as well as demographic information about the audiences an ad reached…
In June, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson also sued Facebook and Google over the disclosure issue, following the companies’ failure to provide details on ads to The Stranger and others. The case is ongoing…
Google said it would no longer sell political ads in Washington state since it could not comply with state rules. Still, as The Stranger reported, the company has sold more than $6,000 in political ads to state candidates in recent months. In August, the company launched its own political ads archive, but it still does not meet all of the state’s requirements.
In September, the Internet Association argued that “it is technologically impossible” for its members to know whether every ad that runs on their platforms is political or not. “Google serves tens of billions of ads every day,” Google wrote in a letter to Washington State lawmakers, “including ads by state and local candidates who use self-service Google Ads without ever interacting with anyone at Google.” …
And in October, a lawyer for Facebook told the PDC that Facebook believes it’s immune from Washington State’s political ad rules. The company argued that Washington’s law is preempted by a federal rule, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which is often used by tech companies as a shield against legal liability for content on their platforms.
By Editorial Board
The state constitution guarantees Ohioans the right to “assemble together, in a peaceable manner, to consult for their common good.” The common good includes a clean, healthy environment.
But if an Ohioan protests potential environmental perils involving, say, a natural gas pipeline, a pending state Senate bill could be used to limit his or her rights of assembly and free speech by escalating criminal trespass charges to felony crimes and increasing organizational fines tenfold. That’s flat-out wrong.
At issue is Senate Bill 250, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Frank Hoagland, of southeast Ohio. The bill was voted out of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee Wednesday, largely along party lines, after amendments modified some of its more objectionably vague language and downgraded potential first-degree felony charges for criminal trespass to third-degree felonies, but failed to cure its core First Amendment threats…
It’s unclear why Hoagland and others supporting SB 250 feel Ohio’s current trespassing laws are inadequate — but if they are, turning misdemeanors into felonies and deterring organizational involvement in protests through punitive fines simply to stamp out such protests is unacceptable.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio’s Gary Daniels told the Judiciary Committee that SB 250 and its related bills across the country “are meant to end and severely limit criticism, exposure of … corporate wrongdoing, or anything that merely inconveniences” the builders or operators of “critical” infrastructure.
Michigan Radio: Legislature weighing campaign finance bills
By Ben Thorp
One bill, currently in the House, would prohibit any public agency from requiring nonprofits to disclose their financial supporters…
Bill supporters say the bill would protect donors to nonprofit groups like Planned Parenthood, who don’t want to get harassed.
Other Republican-supported bills would put a five-year statute of limitations on campaign finance violations and create a bipartisan commission to oversee campaign finance; taking those powers away from the incoming Democratic Secretary of State.