Daily Media Links 2/11: Funny or Die Made a Trump Biopic, Starring Johnny Depp, Sanders’s claim that he ‘does not have a super PAC’, and more…

February 11, 2016   •  By Brian Walsh   •  
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Corporate Speech

New York Times: Funny or Die Made a Trump Biopic, Starring Johnny Depp

Brooks Barnes

The humor website Funny or Die on Wednesday began streaming a 50-minute comedy that finds Mr. Depp portraying the businessman turned politician, full-blown comb-over and all. Kept a secret for months — no small task in Hollywood — “Funny or Die Presents Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie” was released to coincide with Mr. Trump’s victory on Tuesday in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary.

“It was a crazy, completely nuts idea that somehow we pulled off,” said Adam McKay, a co-founder of Funny or Die, which also counts Will Ferrell and Judd Apatow as principal partners and produces exclusive material that often features well-known stars. Mr. McKay, the director of “The Big Short,” which is a contender for best picture at the coming Academy Awards, added that the site’s newest skewering of Mr. Trump will “with any luck” annoy the presidential hopeful.

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Citizens United

New York Times: Shedding Light on Dark Money

Ira Glasser and William Josephson

First, most if not all of the money spent or contributed by the Koch brothers, and by people both on the right (like Sheldon Adelson) and on the left (like George Soros), has been spent by those people as individuals. They had that right long before Citizens United. The decision involved only the legal question of whether corporations and labor unions should have the same right as individuals to spend money on electoral speech or on speech involving issues at play during elections. Among the corporations whose speech was restricted by the law that Citizens United struck down were the American Civil Liberties Union, which never in its nearly 100 years endorsed or opposed a candidate for elective office, and Planned Parenthood, the N.A.A.C.P., gay rights and environmental groups, as well as similar organizations on the right, like anti-abortion groups.

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Independent Groups

Washington Post: Sanders’s claim that he ‘does not have a super PAC’

Michelle Ye He Lee

This is a guaranteed drink for Debate Night Bingo. Sanders’s rejection of super PACs has become such a core part of his campaign that his supporters worked it into their chant: “We don’t need a Super PAC, Bernie Sanders has our back.”

Yet there are some important distinctions glossed over in this claim, which obscures the fact that Sanders has benefited from outside groups, including a super PAC that has spent more than $1 million campaigning for him. Let’s check it out.

Determining whether Sanders “has” a super PAC comes down to two issues: the technical definition of a super PAC, and whether the super PAC is affiliated or unaffiliated with the campaign.

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Salon: “More corporate money in our elections”: Believe it or not, big money is about to get even more powerful

Elias Isquith

With both sides of the presidential campaign intensifying, and with the IRS making news earlier this week when it comes to dark money (more on this later), Salon decided to call UC-Irvine School of Law’s Richard Hasen, campaign finance expert and author of “Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortion of American Elections.”

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Political Parties

American Prospect: Going After the Big Bucks

Eliza Newlin Carney

On paper, the notion that parties should operate by the same rules as freewheeling non-party players has appeal. Parties fully disclose their activities, are accountable to and committed to turning out voters, and act as a moderating force on political polarization—so the argument goes. By contrast, unrestricted super PACs and politically active tax-exempt groups are beholden to ideological super-donors and often operate outside the disclosure rules.

“The most influential actors in elections should be those who also have to pay the price of governance,” says Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Stanford Law School, whose book Solutions to Political Polarization in America proposes strengthening the parties by injecting them with big money.

But in the real world of American elections, turning parties into super PAC clones would only weaken them in the long run, as well as reinforce the dominance of super-donors in elections.

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Free Speech

Federalist: Say Hello To Twitter’s Tweet Police

Daniel Payne

Twitter yesterday announced it is forming a “Trust and Safety Council,” an effort to “ensure that people feel safe expressing themselves on Twitter.” The council features “safety advocates, academics, and researchers,” “grassroots advocacy organizations” and “community groups,” all of them emphasizing “safety” of varying degrees and types, in order to allow “everyone, everywhere to express themselves with confidence on Twitter.”

This is a rather startling development, chiefly because Twitter already allows its users to either mute or block anyone who is being bothersome or threatening. There is no practical necessity for a “council” to make people feel “safe” on Twitter. Blocking is an effective tool for anyone who needs it. You can always report to the Twitter staff the rare troll who just won’t give up.

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Cleveland Plain Dealer: Feds ask pro-Kasich PAC where it got its initial money

Jeremy Pelzer

The Federal Election Commission has asked a PAC backing Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s presidential campaign for more information on who made the initial $2.34 million in donations to the group.

New Day Independent Media Committee Inc. didn’t disclose in its most recent campaign finance filing where its initial cash balance came from, according to an FEC letter sent to the PAC on Friday.

The PAC, affiliated with the main pro-Kasich super PAC New Day for America, was threatened with a possible “audit or enforcement action” if the information wasn’t filed with the FEC by March 11.

Connie Wehrkamp, a New Day spokeswoman, said in an email that the issue stemmed from confusion over how to submit donor information to the FEC.

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Orlando Weekly: Sam Waterston wants money out of politics: an interview with the legendary actor and activist

Dan McCarthy

Nick Carraway. Jack McCoy. Charlie Skinner. Countless people know and adore actor and Cambridge, Massachusetts native Sam Waterston for the characters he’s played on screen. What’s less known is his passion for and involvement with the forces pushing campaign finance reform to the top of America’s voting agenda.

Along with other Cantabrigians, like comedian Jimmy Tingle and Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig, the latter of whom ran for president himself this cycle before dropping out, Waterston was in Manchester, New Hampshire last week railing against money in politics.

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Candidates and Campaigns

Wall Street Journal: Political Ads Reach YouTube’s Most-Watched Ad List

Natalie Andrews

In more evidence that all eyes are on the presidential election, of the top 10 most-viewed YouTube ads in January, three were tied to the 2016 presidential campaign.

This is the first time political ads have cracked the top 10 and made it to Google’s U.S. Ads Leaderboard for January, Google said, which owns YouTube. The list is determined by an algorithm that takes into account both the number of times viewers watched the ads on their own and the number times they clips were played as pre-roll advertisements ahead of other videos. Another factor is the length of time viewers stayed with the ad.

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Politico: How Bernie built a fundraising juggernaut

Kenneth P. Vogel

The donations flooded in at a record-setting pace ― $6.3 million in the 23 hours after the polls closed and counting ― at one point coming so furiously they overwhelmed the interface that processes them. The gusher was fueled further by Sanders’ victory speech, in which he boasted of his unprecedented small donor fundraising and implored supporters to go to “please go to Berniesanders.com and contribute,” as well as a follow up email from his campaign manager Jeff Weaver highlighting the fundraising surge. “This is what a political revolution looks like, sisters and brothers,” Weaver declared.

Indeed, Sanders’ campaign has melded its fundraising into its core mission in a way that is without precedent in American political history. It’s more than a means to an end. It is the purpose of his campaign ― the vehicle for regular people to buy into the idea that they can fight back against a moneyed elite that has tilted the scales against them.

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Time: Sanders Raises Millions by Bashing Campaign-Finance System

Sam Frizell

“I am going to New York City tonight. But I am not going to New York City to hold a fundraiser on Wall Street,” Sanders told the audience, poking broadly at his opponent Hillary Clinton’s high-dollar approach to raising cash. “Instead, I’m going to hold a fundraiser right here, right now, across America.” The Vermont Senator then directed his listeners to BernieSanders.com and asked for a contribution…

A large war chest will not necessarily lead to victory at the polls: Jeb Bush spent nearly $3,000 for each vote he won in Iowa, and he came away with a dismal performance in the state.

Clinton, too has raised heavily from small donors, especially compared with her previous race in 2008, bringing in cash from close to 700,000 individual contributions.

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The States

Sacramento Bee: California’s landmark campaign finance law needs an update

Jodie Remke

But that was four decades ago. Voter initiatives and the Legislature have made significant changes to the act over the years. The unintended consequence is a law that is overly complex, cumbersome and sometimes contradictory. When confronted with allegations of misconduct, public officials point to the law’s complexity to justify their noncompliance, undermining our strong rules.

At the same time, potential candidates in smaller races are discouraged from running when faced with either navigating the intricate rules alone or hiring a professional treasurer. The public’s trust in the political system and their public officials continues to erode.

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Brian Walsh

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