Daily Media Links 2/8

February 8, 2019   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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In the News

New York Daily News: Your tax dollars for their elections? No thanks

By Eric Peterson

In New York City’s last mayoral election, Mayor de Blasio cruised to his second term, winning more than 66% of the vote. De Blasio is anything but a small-time candidate and has raised gobs of money from donors big and small. Yet de Blasio convinced the city’s Campaign Finance Board that he faced more than “minimal opposition” in his primary election.

As a result, he qualified for 6-to-1 matching funds and received more than $2.5 million from taxpayers just for his primary. His closest challenger had raised only $124,000 by that point. If implemented at the federal level, expect prolific fundraisers to benefit while lesser-known challengers are left in the dust.

Seattle’s voucher program fared little better than its East Coast counterpart, similarly failing to help upstart candidates…  [J]ust three well-established candidates received 92% of the program’s total funding while less than 4% of citizens took advantage of the vouchers. So much for helping the little guy.

If funding well-connected incumbent politicians isn’t a big enough waste of taxpayer dollars, how about spending that money to attack minorities?

One New York City Council candidate, Thomas Lopez-Pierre, campaigned on a platform centered on attacking “greedy Jewish landlords.” To help spread his message, New York taxpayers kicked in almost $100,000 in taxpayer financing…

Something tells me the House would be similarly less than thrilled to hand over taxpayer financing to Holocaust denier Arthur Jones, who appeared on the ballot for the 3rd Congressional District in Illinois. If H.R. 1 had been law, Jones would have been eligible for hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars…

In short, taxpayer funding of campaigns as designed by H.R. 1 is likely to help incumbents and established candidates who already have large fundraising networks in place. Furthermore, it forces citizens to subsidize speech they may disagree with. How exactly is such a program “for the people”?

The Intercept: House Republicans Warn That Bill Combating Big Money In Politics “Resembles Russian Government Policy”

By Akela Lacy

“So lets take a whack at a little summary here, professor,” Jordan said during his questioning of Bradley Smith, chair of the Institute for Free Speech and former chair of the Federal Election Commission, who testified at the invitation of the minority.

“H.R. 1 requires taxpayers to pay for a holiday on Election Day for government workers. H.R. 1 requires taxpayers to pay for six days of paid leave for government workers who want to be poll workers. H.R. 1 requires taxpayers to pay for politicians’ campaigns. And if those same taxpayers give to some organization, some (c)(4), they can be outed under H.R. 1 so that the left can – or anyone – could harass them or their family.”

“Yes,” Smith said. “Such a deal for the taxpayer, right?” …

Smith said his primary concern with the bill was its infringement on first amendment protections of free speech – wherein political spending is a form of speech. He said the bill would expand the universe of what Congress could regulate as political spending or speech, including ads. And he argued that in public financing there “tend to be avenues for corruption in many ways.” …

Ocasio-Cortez later pulled out an op-ed Smith authored for the Washington Post titled, “Those payments to women were unseemly. That doesn’t mean they were illegal.”

“Okay, great. So, green light for hush money,” she said. “I can do all sorts of terrible things. It’s totally legal right now for me to pay people off. And that’s considered speech – that money’s considered speech.”

(Ed. Note: For Bradley Smith’s response, in which he corrects the mischaracterization of his op-ed, along with other inaccuracies about campaign finance law, click here.)

ICYMI

IFS Chairman Brad Smith Corrects AOC on Campaign Finance Law (Video)

At a February 6, 2019, House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on H.R. 1, IFS Chairman Bradley A. Smith was asked by Representative Chip Roy (R-TX) to correct the record on a line of misleading questioning by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) on current U.S. campaign finance laws. In the following clip, Brad clarifies the state of current law and explains some of the problems with the questions that were presented by Representative Ocasio-Cortez…

A copy of Brad’s written testimony to the House Oversight and Reform Committee on a number of issues with H.R. 1 can be accessed here.

AOC Doesn’t Let the Facts Get in the Way of a Good Story

By Scott Blackburn

The press and self-styled “reformers” alike are heralding Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for her remarks during yesterday’s House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on H.R. 1…

Presenting herself as the hypothetical “bad guy” trying to destroy democracy, Ocasio-Cortez spun a tale about how she could (among other things) “use my special interest, dark money-funded campaign to pay off folks that I need to pay off to get elected.”

This dystopic vision of how campaigns work in America bears little semblance to reality. Let’s work backward:

1. You cannot use campaign funds for non-campaign related expenses. That includes “paying off folks.” Here, Ocasio-Cortez appears to be referencing the Stormy Daniels scandal and the “greenlight for hush money” she claims it represents. But she has the argument exactly backwards. Those who believe Trump committed a campaign violation think that the hush money needed to be paid with campaign expenses, and that Trump’s failure to do so was the problem. As IFS Chairman Bradley A. Smith previously argued, IFS believes the opposite is true. The crime would be if you did “pay off folks” with campaign money…

2. “Dark-money funded campaigns” are not a thing. The source of all donations to candidates over $200 are fully disclosed to the FEC, which then publishes that information online for the world to see…

3. “Special interest” money does not dominate campaign coffers, even of the candidates you don’t like. This ties in to Ocasio-Cortez’s earlier assertion that a campaign could be entirely funded by corporate PAC donations. That’s true in the abstract – there’s nothing in the law to stop a candidate from trying – but completely divorced from the reality of how campaigns are funded. Notably, Ocasio-Cortez did not name any examples of this sort of campaign, because there aren’t any. In reality, all congressional campaigns are predominantly funded by individual donors, not corporate PACs.

Congress

The Hill: Social progress depends on diverse voices; some in Congress want to silence them

By Mark Holden

Democracy dies in silence. It thrives when all voices can be heard. This month, Congress will consider legislation that would make it harder for ordinary Americans to make their voices heard, and easier for politicians to silence them.

Proponents tout the measure as the For the People Act. But in reality, HR 1 is a self-contradiction that ought to be called the For the Politicians Act.

Its supporters espouse the importance of a diverse public square. But it would disenfranchise the very people it claims to champion. They market it as the right medicine to restore health to our democracy. But it would inflict grievous wounds on civil society by eroding privacy for everyday citizens, placing restrictions on online speech, and insulating politicians from the voters they are supposed to serve…

Social progress depends on diverse voices and on those willing to raise dissenting views. Early advocates for women’s suffrage, marriage equality and other civil liberty movements were viewed by many as the rebels of their times. Encountering divergent ideas might make politicians uncomfortable, but it makes us more thoughtful as a people. To nurture that kind of public discourse, we need transparency for government and privacy for citizens…

It takes courage to challenge the status quo, whether it be the NAACP, the Communist Party, Black Lives Matter, conservative nonprofits, religious groups, the LGBTQ community or any of a host of others who have at one time or another been targeted by the police, prosecutors or tax auditors. Consider what was necessary for the gay rights movement to advance only a few decades ago. The single largest contributor to LGBTQ causes from 1970 to 2010 was “Anonymous Funders.”

Standing up for what’s right should not mean you must fear reprisal because you criticized those in power.

Townhall: Unconstitutional H.R. 1 will Ensure Trump Victory in 2020

By Scott Walter

H.R. 1 expands the regulation of speech to include “public communications which refer to a clearly identified candidate for election for Federal office and which promotes or supports . . . attacks or opposes a candidate for that office, without regard to whether the communication expressly advocates a vote for or against a candidate for that office.” This empowers the FEC to decide how to interpret the terms promotes/ supports/ attacks/ opposes, and whether to count funds spent on digital communications as “campaign related disbursements.”

The bill is so vague it will force most affected organizations to seek out an FEC opinion on whether their speech would jeopardize the identities of their supporters…

In another pro-incumbents scam, H.R. 1 would politicize the FEC by shrinking it from six commissioners to five. The President would appoint the majority of commissioners, who would be poised to punish the opposition party…

The law would also treat online publishers like broadcasters, forcing them to maintain an exhaustive “public file” of information about ads and sponsors. This extra compliance raises the cost of online issue advertising, hurting grassroots groups who can’t afford to use other media.

The new requirements on advocacy communications-increased screen-time for sponsor information, organization authentication, and donor disclosure-hurt political discourse in a way that Democrats surely never intended: they ensure only the wealthiest and most strident politicos and megadonors-like Donald J. Trump-will be willing to continue business as usual. Others will be priced out of the national conversation, unable to afford expensive consultations with campaign finance lawyers or the extra air-time required to disclose affiliations, donors, and officers. Many more donors will be unwilling to forfeit their privacy in exchange for free expression.

The Hill: Dems probing whether NRA made illegal contributions to Trump

By Rachel Frazin

A pair of Democratic lawmakers are probing whether the National Rifle Association (NRA) violated campaign finance laws by coordinating communications with President Trump’s 2016 campaign and other GOP campaigns.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) wrote in a letter to NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre that media companies the NRA reportedly used to purchase political ads were also employed by the Trump campaign and other Republicans.

“The relationship between the firms the NRA employed and the firms the Trump Campaign and other Republican candidates used suggests illegal coordination,” they wrote in the letter dated Wednesday…

The Democratic lawmakers are requesting a series of documents from the NRA by March 6, including emails with five media consulting firms and the names of employees they communicated with at the companies.

They separately noted in letters to the companies that “a payment for a coordinated communication is an in-kind contribution to a candidate,” adding, “the NRA may have violated contribution limits under the Federal Election Campaign Act by making coordinated communications in excess of applicable contribution caps.”

Citizens United

Reason: Netflix Paying $10 Million for Ocasio-Cortez Campaign Documentary. Isn’t the Free Market Great?

By Scott Shackford

Ocasio-Cortez hates the Citizens United decision and wants a constitutional amendment overturning it. This has been a pretty steadfast position among Democrats: They believe the Citizens United decision has ushered in an era of “dark money” and of massive, manipulative mega-corporations buying elections.

All of that fundamentally ignores what the Citizens United case actually involved-an attempt, just before the 2008 Democratic Party primaries, to censor advertisements for a documentary critical of Hillary Clinton. It was a case about censoring the media.

Prior to the Citizens United ruling, it still would have been perfectly fine for Sundance to have shown Knock Down the House. The law that was being challenged banned certain types of political communications close to elections. The ruling guaranteed that Netflix can air this documentary whenever it wants, even close to Ocasio-Cortez’s next election race…

Ocasio-Cortez has benefited greatly from press coverage-both positive and negative-and that coverage most certainly played a role in her win. Tellingly, when people on the left talk about the money that comes in to help candidates in getting their message across, they bring up “big oil” and “big pharma” but tend to leave out Hollywood and the media. (Conservatives do bring it up, of course. They yell it from the rooftops.)

Should Netflix be allowed to air this documentary come 2020 when Ocasio-Cortez is looking to get re-elected? Yes, absolutely. Does the information in the documentary magically become more sinister and a threat to democracy now that $10 million is changing hands to make sure people can view it? Absolutely not. That money doesn’t magically transform into votes. The candidate still needs to make her case. It’s just that enough people like her message that they’re willing to spend lots of money to provide the megaphone. That’s known as the marketplace of ideas, and we need it for a functioning democracy.

Contribution Limits

FEC: Contribution limits for 2019-2020

Under the Federal Election Campaign Act, certain contribution limits are indexed for inflation every two years, based on the change in the cost of living since 2001, which is the base year for adjusting these limits. The inflation-adjusted limits are:

– The limits on contributions made by persons to candidates (increased to $2,800 per election, per candidate) (52 U.S.C. § 30116(a)(1)(A));

– The limits on contributions made by persons to national party committees (increased to $35,500 per calendar year) (52 U.S.C. § 30116(a)(1)(B));

– The limit on contributions made by certain political party committees to Senate candidates (increased to $49,600 per campaign) (52 U.S.C. § 30116(h)).

The inflation adjustments to these limits are made only in odd-numbered years. The per-election limits on contributions to candidates are in effect for the two-year election cycle beginning the day after the general election and ending on the date of the next general election (November 7, 2018 – November 3, 2020). All other contribution limits are in effect for the two-calendar-year period beginning on January 1, 2019, and ending on December 31, 2020.

The Media 

Chicago Tribune: Federal prosecutors investigating whether National Enquirer violated non-prosecution agreement in campaign finance case: sources

By Michael R. Sisak, Michael Balsamo and Zeke Miller, Associated Press

Federal prosecutors are looking into the National Enquirer’s handling of a story about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ extramarital affair to see if the tabloid’s publisher violated a cooperation agreement with prosecutors, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Friday.

Bezos claims the Enquirer’s publisher, American Media Inc., tried to extort and blackmail him. In an extraordinary blog post published Thursday on Medium.com, Bezos said AMI threatened to publish intimate photos of him unless he stopped investigating how the Enquirer obtained his private exchanges with his mistress.

Prosecutors now are looking at whether AMI violated an earlier agreement in which it promised not to break any laws in exchange for avoiding prosecution for campaign finance violations, the people familiar with the matter said. They weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

The States

Bridge Michigan: Pro-Whitmer group broke Michigan campaign finance laws, Benson finds

By Riley Beggin

Michigan Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the state Bureau of Elections have determined that a political group aligned with now-Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her campaign committee violated state campaign finance laws, Benson’s office announced Friday. The group agreed to pay a civil fine of $37,500 and dissolve within 60 days.

“I view this interpretation of the MCFA (Michigan Campaign Finance Act), as applied to this specific set of facts, as critical to promoting greater transparency,” Benson wrote in a letter to lawyers for Build a Better Michigan and Gretchen Whitmer for Governor, dated Feb. 5.

The decision has been considered an early test of Benson’s independence from fellow Democrat Whitmer, who she has been working closely with since taking office.

Despite finding against Whitmer’s campaign, Republicans ripped Benson’s ruling as far too timid…

In upholding the complaints by Republicans, Benson determined that both BBM and Whitmer’s campaign committee violated campaign finance law by engaging in express advocacy in both respects: by using the word “candidate” in front of Whitmer’s name and in urging voters to act (“tell your legislators, let’s get it done”) in BBM-funded ads during the 2018 election cycle. The group did not comply with campaign finance rules that apply to groups engaging in express advocacy.

“Build a Better Michigan’s advertising is part of a long tradition of issue advocacy used for years in Michigan by both parties,” said BBM’s spokesman Mark Fisk via email. “While we respectfully disagree with the Secretary of State’s determination and settlement, we fully intend to comply with her ruling to put this matter behind us and move forward.”

Bleeding Heartland: Iowa House, governor have no grounds to exclude me from “press”

By Laura Belin

Iowa House Chief Clerk Carmine Boal has refused to grant me credentials for the chamber during the 2019 legislative session. Staff for Governor Kim Reynolds have ignored repeated messages seeking credentials to cover the governor’s office or an explanation for denying my request…

I didn’t anticipate any problems when I asked Boal for an application. Her counterpart, Secretary of Iowa Senate Charlie Smithson, immediately put me in touch with the right staffer in the upper chamber, who sent me the form and processed it without incident.

Before Boal stopped responding to my messages in early January, she told me, “Press credentials are not issued to members of the public.” After Ryan Foley reported on my situation for the Associated Press January 25, a House Republican staffer provided a new statement from the chief clerk.

“The House rules limit access to the floor of the House to ‘representatives of the press, radio, and television’,” she said. “Those that meet those requirements have received credentials. Those that do not have been denied. House Rules have been applied uniformly and without consideration of content.”

The chamber has no written rules defining “member of the press.” …

First Amendment protections aren’t solely for employees of established news organizations. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes wrote for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1938,

“The liberty of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. These indeed have been historic weapons in the defense of liberty, as the pamphlets of Thomas Paine and others in our own history abundantly attest. The press, in its historic connotation, comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.”

Urban Milwaukee: Larson Bills Reform Campaign Finance

By Matt Rothschild

[State Sen. Chris Larson] is introducing what he calls the “2019-2020 Campaign Integrity Package,” which consists of nine bills which aim to roll back changes in the laws made by Republicans in recent years…

One of the bills, which is entitled the “No Corporate Campaign Bribes Act,” would ban corporations, labor unions, tribes, and other groups from donating to political parties and legislative campaign committees…

Another bill, the “Communications Transparency Act,” would end the secrecy surrounding the dark money that has flooded into recent elections. It would require so-called “issue advocacy” groups to disclose the names of any donors who gave them $100 or more in the preceding 12 months…

Another bill, the “Coordination Control Act,” would prohibit unlimited donations to “issue advocacy” groups that are coordinating with candidates. Instead, those donations would not be able to exceed the limits on direct contributions to candidates…

“The Sensible Limits Act,” would place a $10,000 ceiling on donations to political parties and legislative campaign committees…

A similar bill, the “Stop Unlimited Contributions Act,” would also limit the transfer of funds between political parties and legislative campaign committees…

The “Restoring Reasonable Limits Act” would lower the individual donation limit to $10,000 for candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, and secretary of state…

The “Special Interests Limitation Act” would also cut in half the amount that the political action committees may contribute to candidates…

The “Closing the PAC Loophole Act” would require any group that spends more than $1,000 on express advocacy to register as a political action committee in Wisconsin…

And the “Contribution Sunshine Act” would require campaign committees to identify the employer of any donor who gives more than $100.

Alex Baiocco

Alex Baiocco