Daily Media Links 1/20: President Obama May Require Federal Contractors to List Campaign Gifts, Hillary Clinton campaign chairman tells super PAC to ‘chill out’, and more…

January 20, 2016   •  By Brian Walsh   •  
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In the News

Time: Do We Really Need Campaign Finance Reform?

Brad Smith

This question presumes that we ought to mitigate the effects of “big money.” Is that right? What are the effects?

There is considerable evidence that higher spending in politics helps voters identify candidates, place them on an ideological scale, and connect them to stances on issues. Money is also used to fund voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Money can make races less equal, but it can also make them more equal. For example, it can balance out newspaper endorsements, name recognition unrelated to political achievement or acumen, and non-monetary support from special interest groups such as unions or trade associations. And while people often complain about the negativity of campaigns when they complain about money in politics, media coverage of candidates is often more negative than advertising.

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NBC News: What Is ‘Dark Money’ and Why Do So Many People Think It’s Bad?

Michael Beckel

Supporters of anonymity in politics frequently cite the fact that The Federalist Papers and Thomas Paine’s Common Sense were published anonymously during the country’s founding. Lawyers at the Wyoming Liberty Group, for instance, have argued that throughout American history “anonymous political speech has been the scorn of entrenched powers and the saving balm of emerging voices.” Meanwhile, officials at the Center for Competitive Politics have argued that dark money is a “pejorative term” and that its threat is “overblown.” The Center for Competitive Politics has further argued that “disclosure comes with a cost,” including the potential to chill speech and for donors to be harassed.

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Executive Action

New York Times: President Obama May Require Federal Contractors to List Campaign Gifts

Julie Hirschfield Davis

The directive, known as the “dark money” executive order, would mandate that government contractors publicly report their contributions to groups that spend money to influence campaigns. Advocates inside and outside the White House believe the executive order would prompt some companies to spend less, by exposing their donations to public scrutiny.

Mr. Obama has been considering the action for more than a year, but discussions have intensified in recent weeks, according to activists and administration officials, as the president moves to deliver on unfulfilled promises in his final year in office.

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Independent Groups

Los Angeles Times: Hillary Clinton campaign chairman tells super PAC to ‘chill out’

Evan Halper

Regardless, the dust-up highlighted the pitfalls of campaigning by proxy. Unlike the official campaigns of candidates, super PACS are free to raise unlimited amounts of money. But they also are not beholden to the messaging of the official campaign – in fact, the organizations typically are prohibited by law from coordinating their activities with official campaigns.

Whatever Correct the Record may or may not have plotted or whispered about, the dispute did manage to focus attention for a short while on Sanders’ age – and the Politico story made good fodder for a Sanders fundraising pitch.

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Politico: Nurses‘ union head claims ’massive misstep’ by Clinton

Carla Marinucci

RoseAnn DeMoro, head of the 185,000 member Oakland-based National Nurses United  — the nation’s largest female-dominated union — says Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has made a “massive misstep” by characterizing the union’s support of her Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders as “dark money.”

“I think Hillary is on a slippery slope, calling unions ‘SuperPACs’ and ‘dark money,'” DeMoro told POLITICO Monday. “She relies on labor as a partial funding base. … What it says is that they’re desperate.”

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Roll Call: What Jeb’s Donors Could Have Bought for $103M

Patricia Murphy

Of course, charity probably isn’t what the Right to Rise donors had on their minds when they got out their checkbooks. 

If they just wanted to make Bush look good, they could have held a news conference with 380 million bottles of water in Flint, Mich., (how much water they could have bought from Costco for $103 million), and said they were giving their money to the city for drinking water, instead of to Bush’s campaign, because that’s what he would really want…

But if winning the White House was their goal, they could have helped Bush win Iowa with a splash by anonymously buying every likely Republican Iowa caucus-goer a hoverboard and a puppy. Or a cow. Or an $800 Starbucks gift card.

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CBS News: Jeb Bush super PAC mails voters a documentary about Jeb

Rebecca Kaplan

The group, Right to Rise, is sending supporters in Iowa and New Hampshire (which holds is primary in three weeks) LCD displays that start playing a documentary called “The Jeb Story” when opened.

A spokesman said Right to Rise spent “four figures” on the mailers “to target a select universe in Iowa and New Hampshire with an innovative way to get eyes on Jeb’s story.”

“We’re pleased it got people talking,” the spokesman said.

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New York Times: ‘Super Pac’ Backing Jeb Bush Looks to Crowdfund an Ad for the Super Bowl

Ashley Parker

“Right to Rise USA will be running the first-ever crowdfunded television ad during the ‘Big Game’ on Sunday, February 7, 2016 – but we need your help,” Mr. Murphy wrote in the email, which was provided to The New York Times and confirmed by the super PAC.

He explained that a 30-second spot in the New Hampshire/Boston media market costs $300,000, and asked supporters to make a donation and tell their friends and family. The email included a link to the website, Tilt, which much like Kickstarter — a popular crowdfunding platform — will not charge until the goal (in this case $300,000) is met.

“This is just one way to let donors and supporters of Jeb take part in the process and know what their money is going towards,” said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for Right to Rise.

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The Media

South Carolina Post and Courier: Republican lawmaker says journalists should face a registry to work in South Carolina

Gavin Jackson and Schuyler Kropf

The bill would create requirements for people wanting to work as a journalist for a media outlet, and also before that outlet could hire anyone for a reporting position.

The measure is at least the second bill filed in the Statehouse this year with virtually no chance of advancing but is meant to reflect a lawmaker’s personal political statement…

Pitts told The Post and Courier his bill is not a reaction to any news story featuring him and that he is “not a press hater.” Rather, it’s to stimulate discussion over how he sees Second Amendment rights being treated by the printed press and television news. He added that the bill is modeled directly after the “concealed weapons permitting law.”

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Supreme Court

Salon: Does the First Amendment Protect What Looks Like Political Speech?

Dahlia Lithwick

The problem in Heffernan isn’t just that the police officer was demoted from detective to beat cop after he was seen hefting around a yard sign for the rival mayoral candidate. The problem is that everyone agrees that he was mistakenly busted for favoring challenger Lawrence Spagnola over the incumbent Mayor Jose Torres. Heffernan was in fact only picking up the yard sign for his bedridden mother—whose prior sign had been stolen. So although he was ostensibly demoted for what looked like political activity, Heffernan was actually demoted for a mistake.

The law generally prohibits a government employer from retaliating against an employee for supporting a candidate. But the extra-meta question for the court is whether the First Amendment protects public employees from retaliation for conduct that merely looks like support of a disfavored political candidate, even though he is actually mainly just supporting his sick mom.

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Washington Post: Suddenly, swearing off fundraising is the thing to do in Congress

Amber Phillips

Real campaign finance reform is and likely will remain a very difficult goal for Congress to achieve. That’s in large part because Republicans remain in charge of Congress and tend to believe in fewer, not more, limits. But it’s also in large part because incumbents have the advantage when it comes to fundraising — and restricting members from raising money would diminish one of the chief advantages of incumbency.

Still, in the super PAC, post-Citizens United era, it’s perhaps no surprise that lawmakers would suddenly see their fundraising efforts as less-than-fruitful uses of their time.

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Washington Free Beacon: Architecture Firm Paid $34K Fine for Improper Donations to Harry Reid

Joe Schoffstall

An architecture firm paid a $34,800 fine in 2010 to settle allegations of illegal campaign contributions involving Sen. Harry Reid (D., Nev.), according to documents recently made public by the Federal Election Commission…

The employee alleged that partners at the firm had “organized an enterprise to make illegal campaign contributions to Senator Harry Reid’s senatorial campaign” and that he had “resisted the coercive effort to contribute” by telling them that he could not afford to make the recommended $1,000 contribution.

The employee, who feared he would lose his job, stated that he did not have the recommended amount in his bank account. According to the complaint, the company forwarded him the money disguised as reimbursements for business expenses.

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Candidates and Campaigns

Wall Street Journal: Harry Reid’s Campaign Gift to Himself

Editorial Board

Federal Election Commission regulations allow former Members of Congress to use leftover campaign funds for things like organizing their congressional papers, but spending campaign cash for personal use has long been prohibited. Mr. Reid, who isn’t running for re-election this year, argues that his long career in public service will create expenses in retirement that also require a personal assistant…

Two Democratic-leaning FEC Commissioners had to recuse themselves because of conflicts, and Mr. Reid may have decided his request didn’t stand a chance without them. Last week Mr. Reid’s counsel, Marc Elias, wrote a letter to the FEC withdrawing Mr. Reid’s request for approval and announcing that Mr. Reid would use the $600,000 anyway based on his own reading of the Kerrey opinion.

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CNN: Trump and Sanders using anger against big money to build their movements

Tom LoBianco

Good government crusaders who have long sought champions for getting big money out of campaigns may have found them in the billionaire whose opponents have dubbed a fascist and a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist…

“That is the way it is. Somebody gives them money, not anything wrong, just psychologically, when they go to that person, they’re going to do it,” Trump told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday. “They owe them. And by the way, they may therefore vote negatively toward the country. That’s not going to happen with me.”

Trump went a step further Sunday and said he would consider campaign finance reform, something long anathema for many within a Republican Party that largely supported removing campaign finance limits.

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The States

Delaware Public Media: More reporting, new donation limits in campaign finance bill

James Dawson

A bill combining two prior pieces of legislation would allow political parties to give House candidates an extra $2,000 per race over current law while increasing how much the parties can raise.

Under the proposal, people could donate up to $30,000 to a party during an election cycle – $10,000 more than currently allowed…

The bill also increases how often politicians have to file campaign finance reports each year. Right now, they only have to file disclosure forms eight and 30 days before an election and an end of the year report.

This proposal would better mirror federal reporting requirements, which appear quarterly.

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Event Reminder: CCP-Cato Institute Conference on January 26, 2015: The Past and Future of Buckley v. Valeo

On January 30, 1976, the United States Supreme Court handed down Buckley v. Valeo, still its most important decision at the intersection of campaign finance and the First Amendment. The Court brought forth a per curiam opinion that invalidated significant parts of the 1974 amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act. The Buckley Court denied Congress the power to limit campaign spending. But not completely. The same Court decided Congress could restrict contributions to candidates to prevent quid pro quo corruption or “the appearance of corruption.” Giving citizens an “equal voice” in elections, however, could not justify suppressing speech.

Buckley remains a vital precedent that restrains and empowers Congress. But should Buckley be considered a First Amendment failure? Or did it embrace inevitable compromises that were both worse and better than everyone desired? How does Buckley affect the law and American politics and campaigning today? Does the decision have a future? Please join us to discuss these essential questions of First Amendment law and politics.

The January 26 event is free of charge and will be held at The Cato Institute at 1000 Massachusetts Avenue, NW in Washington, DC. The program will begin at 9:00 AM and conclude at 12:30 PM with a luncheon to follow. Speakers are still being finalized, but CCP Chairman Bradley A. Smith will be speaking. More information, including an agenda, can be found here. All those interested in attending should RSVP at the following link.

Brian Walsh

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