Daily Media Links 2/19: Reason: The FEC Fears the Dead Will Corrupt Politics (Through the Libertarian Party), Roll Call: Firewall Between Candidates and Super PACs Breaking Down, RNLA: A Pelosi-Sarbanes Dud, and more…

February 19, 2014   •  By Kelsey Drapkin   •  
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In the News

Reason: The FEC Fears the Dead Will Corrupt Politics (Through the Libertarian Party) 

By S.M. Oliva

In a 1983 opinion, the FEC decided that contributions from a deceased person’s estate should be treated the same as if it came from a living person. And federal law caps the amount of money a living person can give a national political party in a given year (presently $32,400). Therefore, the Burrington estate had to place the $217,734 in escrow and make annual distributions to the LP up to that year’s contribution limit. The final payment is expected this year, seven years after Burrington’s death.

Three years ago, the LNC sued the FEC in federal court, alleging the restriction on Burrington’s gift violated the First Amendment. The LNC wanted “immediate control of the balance of the Burrington Estate funds” and a declaration that future bequests to the LP—or any other political party—would not be subject to FEC limits. The LNC also invoked a special section of federal campaign-finance law that requires certification of “non-frivolous” constitutional questions directly to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Wilkinsagreed to certify only a narrower question: “Does imposing annual contribution limits against the bequest of Raymond Groves Burrington violate the First Amendment rights of the Libertarian National Committee?” Wilkins said there could be no question as to whether the FEC violated Burrington’s First Amendment rights, as he was dead. Nor, Wilkins said, could the LNC use this case to mount a broader assault on federal contribution limits. But he conceded the D.C. Circuit could find the LNC has a limited “First Amendment right to receive campaign contributions” as applied to the particular facts of the Burrington donation.

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Roll Call: Firewall Between Candidates and Super PACs Breaking Down

By Eliza Newlin Carney

The challenge for those lodging coordination complaints, said former Republican FEC Chairman Bradley Smith, is that they are tough to prove unless super PAC organizers and candidates engage in direct or face-to-face communications — the kind that could facilitate quid pro quo corruption. Telling super PACs they can’t pick up b-roll footage from candidate websites is both questionable and futile, he argued.  

“I just don’t see how you are going to realistically tell people that you can’t use material that’s out there that everybody knows about,” said Smith, currently the chairman of the pro-deregulation Center for Competitive Politics. “It creates inherent line-drawing problems.”  

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Independent Groups

RNLA: A Pelosi-Sarbanes Dud 

By Paul Jossey

Various leftist factions have no need for such inconvenient details, however. H.R. 20’s public backers include Democrat donors, liberal nonprofits, and campaign finance reform groups.

The donors published a supportive letter released last week. In it they state their noble intention to lessen their own influence for the good of the ordinary citizen. A write up about the publicity stunt suggests they are also weary of constant phone calls from politicians asking for their money.

The Sierra Club, among other left-leaning groups, is also on board. The famed environmental outfit is worried about big-money political influence. But why? First, the group has its own Super PAC, which spent $1.2 million dollars in 2012 trying to influence various elections. Second, radical California environmentalist Tom Steyer was 2013’s largest Super PAC contributor with a brisk $11 million. And that doesn’t count the $8.5 million he dropped in Virginia to help elect the Sierra Club’s preferred choice for governor. Regardless, if the Sierra Club or any other groups want a louder political voice, that is a matter between them and their members, not the American taxpayer.

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NY Times: Liberal Donors Pollute Politics, Too 


Those who are worried about man-made climate change might be tempted to welcome the news that Tom Steyer, a Democratic billionaire, will spend $100 million this year to fight it. Mr. Steyer plans to put up half the money himself for attack ads against governors and lawmakers who ignore climate change, and will raise the rest from like-minded rich people.  

But it’s worth thinking twice before celebrating Mr. Steyer’s donation, which is actually a pretty bad idea that will make plutocracy politics even worse.  

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NY Times: Change the Rules on Secret Money 


In November, when the Internal Revenue Service finally stirred itself to propose a modest crackdown on the abuse of the tax code by political groups, it was immediately attacked by tax-exempt nonprofit groups on the right. That wasn’t too surprising; secret donations from conservatives to these groups are the principal reason American politics is now dominated by those with huge bank accounts.

But now liberal tax-exempt groups are also raising their voice in protestover the I.R.S.’s plans, afraid that they will be caught in the same crackdown, and will be unable to engage in political activity. The best thing the I.R.S. can do is to ignore both sides and proceed swiftly ahead, making its proposed rules even stronger to squeeze the influence of money out of politics.

The problem of secret money began in 2010, with the loosening of rules that was prompted in part by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. 

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Candidates, Politicians, Campaigns, and Parties


Bloomberg: January: When Companies Donate To Both Political Parties 


Many companies make campaign contributions to both political parties, sometimes on the same day. 

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Lobbying and Ethics

Washington Post: A wave of Capitol Hill retirements may force some lobbyists to rebrand themselves 

By Holly Yeager

The retirement of several powerful members of Congress is being felt across the lobbying industry, in which former staffers who used their ties to the lawmakers to help build businesses are being forced to rebrand themselves or risk becoming irrelevant.  

The impact is likely to be greatest among tax lobbyists, a K Street specialty that is rich with former aides to Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who this month gave up his post as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee to become the U.S. ambassador to China.  

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State and Local

New York –– New York World: De Blasio inaugural committee member exceeded campaign contribution limit 

By Sebastien Malo

Homeless shelter operator Isaac Leshinsky holds $168 million in city contracts — and his operation is about to get one more

Bill de Blasio’s campaign for mayor took in contributions exceeding legal limits from a member of his inaugural committee whose organization holds $168 million in contracts with the city.

As he ran for mayor last year, de Blasio took in $2,500 in contributions from Yitzchok Leshinsky, the head of a not-for-profit called Housing Bridge that runs shelters for the Department of Homeless Services.

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Texas –– Austin American-Stateman: Why Texas races could see a rise in super PAC dollars 


Ed Shack, a Texas election-law attorney, has a bit of advice for clients and others who’ve caught wind of a recent, relatively obscure federal ruling: Get ready for more super PACs, along with corporate spending not confined to the message of a particular candidate’s campaign.  

In October, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals essentially overturned the state’s ban on super PACs. The court declared that corporations can give unlimited amounts of money to political action committees that aren’t coordinating with political campaigns, squaring Texas’ laws with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which gave rise to so-called super PACs.  

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Kelsey Drapkin

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