More Soft Money Hard Law: Cause for Complaint to the FEC
Larry Lessig and Brad Smith remain at odds over the complaint Professor Smith’s organization, the Center for Competitive Politics, filed against Mayday PAC for violating the disclaimer rules. While not using precisely this word, Lessig believes that the CCP action was petty. The problem, he says, was a breakdown in approval procedures and vendor performance, and no one was harmed. Smith has no use for the excuse and he says that an organization dedicated to regulating political activity ought to be held to account for violating the regulations it is dedicated to promoting.
It is a familiar scene—a spat between adversaries, one of whom has resorted to complaint to make a point. In this case, CCP has made what it believes to be a telling point, supported by a clear violation of law, about campaign finance and policy—about the costs of the Mayday reform program. Most often, the complaint wars break out among electoral competitors, and the claims are more speculative and the aims nakedly political. The public is treated to certain claims about the rules, what they call for, and the ways in which they are violated, and the complainant pressing for action is all set to denounce the agency for not taking it – – whatever the merits of its cause.
ICYMI: Mayday! Mayday! Responding to Professor Lessig’s defense of Mayday PAC’s lawbreaking
It is ironic that Professor Lessig made this defense, and attack on CCP, during the week of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, because a quote often attributed to Lincoln is “The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly.” I have problems with that philosophy, because a) I don’t think that that is always true, and b) in the meantime, the cost to innocent people can be considerable. But I do know this: selective enforcement of the law that exempts those who favor vigorous enforcement and advocate the imposition of more unjust laws, but only on others, is a pretty sure ticket to getting more unjust laws. And Mayday PAC is not an innocent party — it affirmatively seeks more restrictions on the speech of fellow Americans, while arguing that even the existing laws shouldn’t apply to it. If Mayday PAC wants to challenge these regulations, we will represent them. Pro bono. It’s what we do. But apparently that is not what Mayday PAC wants. They want such rules to apply, just not now, and just not to them.
I know this may come as a surprising revelation to the reform community, but far from having a lesser motive, we believe that we are helping “the little guy.” We think that while the reformers and regulators have tried for four decades to “get money out of politics,” the result they have actually achieved is infringing on the liberties of everyday people and organizations to have their say in the political arena, debasing political discussion, and generally making our electoral system worse. Its not personal — we just want a well-functioning democracy and freedom of speech for all concerned. That’s a pretty big motive.
We filed this complaint because we think everyone should have to follow the same rules, and that unless self-styled “reformers” are forced to comply with the rules, they will continue to advocate — too often with success — for unjust laws. We hoped Mayday PAC, based on its difficulties, would see the light. But since that has not occurred, perhaps Mayday PAC can serve as a shining example of what happens when noble intentions collide with actual campaign regulations, and the actual effect these regulations have on what ought to be perfectly lawful activity.
The Federalist: Don’t Let Prosecutors Terrorize Citizens Under Secret Charges
In the predawn hours of October 3, 2013, armed deputies raided the homes of R.J. Johnson, Deborah Jordahl, and several others in a paramilitary style blitz across Wisconsin. The detainees weren’t terrorists bent on mass murder or the overthrow of the government. The agents weren’t looking for contraband narcotics or illegal firearms. In fact, no one was quite sure what they wanted, but agents got it all; computers, phones, business records, files, and communications dating back years. Deputies told the raided subjects to keep quiet or there would be consequences, as a pedophile might tell his prey.
The targets represent only a fraction of political activists sucked into Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s “John Doe”—a grand-jury-type mechanism Wisconsin prosecutors prefer for its secrecy. Chisholm accuses them of “illegal talking” by coordinating messaging, which is supposedly forbidden under Wisconsin’s prolix campaign finance code. The investigation, which Chisholm has expanded 18 times, has engulfed advocates, large and small, for years on end. His favorite tactic is bulk intimidation. Alongside raids and gag orders, he employs kitchen-sink subpoenas, many of which are eventually quashed at great legal expense. When he fails to get sufficient obeisance, he serves arrest warrants and sends people to jail on nonexistent charges. One judge reviewing a John Doe prosecutor’s actions stated, “The conduct described is nothing that we as Wisconsinites should be proud of, bottom line . . . . Mr. Landgraf was behaving badly, probably for political reasons.”
Chisholm’s victims have paid a steep price financially, personally, and emotionally for their activism. There is, of course, also a larger political effect. John Doe virtually shut down the entire conservative apparatus during Wisconsin’s recent political battles, including Gov. Scott Walker’s 2014 re-election. The mere investigatory process, as Chisholm well understands, diverts time and resources, dries up fundraising, and taints the targets with an “under investigation” label.
Chisholm’s John Doe represents the worst kind of legal thuggery, rife with personal enmity, conflicts of interests, and professional skullduggery. Unfortunately victims are left with little practical recourse. The laws, judicial doctrines, and disciplinary structures that shield Chisholm and his cohorts should be reformed to prevent this type of abuse from ever happening again.
National Journal: Why Millennials Should Start Super PACs, According to One Jeb Bush-Loving Millennial
“The idea was to engage millennials, bring millennials in, and gather support behind who we think a candidate that supports our views, one, in supporting Jeb, and also engaging millennials, bringing them into the debate on 2016 and letting them decide for themselves who they want to support,” Agnew said.
But Bush is Agnew’s candidate, and he hopes his peers vote for him. Rattling off vague talking points, Agnew cites Bush’s stances on immigration and Common Core, and his “proven” record on job growth as appealing to himself—and, he hopes, his peers.
The Hill: Dems launch super-PAC to gain edge in redistricting
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is launching Advantage 2020 and an accompanying super-PAC to be headed by former Rep. Mark Schauer (D-Mich.), who lost a hard-fought race to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) last year.
The group’s goal: to wrest back control of state legislatures in a number of swing states, where Republican gerrymanders have given them a huge edge in both the statehouse and in their congressional delegations.
“Our interest is in fair maps and breaking the back of Republican gerrymandering,” Schauer said in an interview with The Hill in the DLCC’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.
Bloomberg: Hit Over Foreign Fundraising, Clinton Foundation Reavows Vigilance
The Clinton Foundation will take steps to manage contributions from foreign governments and other entities if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chooses to run for office, it said Thursday, amid incoming fire over the issue from Republicans. The foundation, with its long roster of donors to be investigated, is widely seen as one of the greatest vulnerabilities of her all-but-certain campaign.
“Should Secretary Clinton decide to run for office, we will continue to ensure the foundation’s policies and practices regarding support from international partners are appropriate, just as we did when she served as secretary of state,” the foundation said in a statement.
The foundation stopped accepting most foreign government contributions in 2009 when Clinton joined the Obama administration, but that ban ended when she left Foggy Bottom and became more engaged with the foundation, which was renamed the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation to reflect the heightened involvement of the two Clinton women. The foundation has been building a $250 million endowment, in part to prepare for the fundraising restrictions that would come with another Clinton in the White House.
Washington Post: Jesse Jackson Jr. can’t escape the Federal Election Commission
By Al Kamen and Colby Itkowitz
Going to jail, as we’ve noted, does not give you a “Get Out of Campaign Finance Reporting” card.
Former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is no exception. Seems the disgraced Illinois Democrat — charged in 2013 with misusing campaign money to spend extravagantly on items such as a gold Rolex watch, a Michael Jackson-owned fedora and an Eddie Van Halen guitar, as well as top-dollar travel and fancy dinners — hasn’t filed a campaign finance report with the Federal Election Commission since the end of 2012, according to FEC documents.
But as certain as death and taxes, if a candidate committee is still active, it can expect to hear from the FEC.
Candidates, Politicians, Campaigns, and Parties
Politico: Debbie’s damage control
By Marc Caputo
Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s office offered to change her position on medical marijuana if a major Florida donor recanted his withering criticism of her, according to emails obtained by POLITICO.
The proposal to Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan was straightforward: retract critical statements he made to a reporter in return for Wasserman Schultz publicly backing his cannabis initiative that she had trashed just months earlier. Morgan declined the offer with a sharp email reply sent to a go-between, who described the congresswoman as being in a “tizzy.”
Roll Call: Roll Call’s Guide to the Most Clever Leadership PAC Names
Such PACs compete not only for dollars, but for clever names, often concocting elaborate acronyms or catchy regional references to woo potential donors. From the Penguin PAC run by Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, to the Blue Hen PAC run by Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., leadership PACs are named for animals, plants, landmarks, colors and the campaign platforms of the politicians who run them.
Once run principally by congressional leaders — hence their now-outdated moniker — leadership PACs are so ubiquitous they are routinely set up by freshmen, and even sometimes by candidates who have not yet won election.
Politicians use these PACs to back like-minded candidates and to pay for everything from travel, to meals and fundraisers at swanky restaurants and resorts. They’ve quadrupled in number to more than 400 over the past two decades, and several have family members, such as spouses and children, on the payroll.
The Hill: The FEC opens its ears
Members of Congress frequently face the public in town halls in their home districts. Often, when controversial issues arise, those meetings can become contentious. Those town halls are part of the rough and tumble of politics, but they serve a very important function for elected officials. They help keep elected officials accountable to their constituents, and they improve communication between the public and the government.
As an appointed body, the Commission does not typically face the general public in the same way. But having public hearings is also extremely important for the FEC. A federal agency funded by American taxpayers, the FEC exists to serve the public. The work we do is fundamental to democracy and impacts all citizens. We cannot fulfill this duty without hearing from all Americans.
California –– Santa Ynez Valley News: Mitchum sues Capps over election ads, claims defamation
By Kenny Lindberg and Harold Pierce
Former 24th District congressional candidate Chris Mitchum, a Republican, who lost the race for the hotly contested seat to incumbent Lois Capps in the November 2014 election, has filed a lawsuit against Capps and others for defamation of character.
In the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court by attorney Joshua E. Lynn of Santa Barbara-based Lynn & O’Brien, LLP, Mitchum cites one radio and one television ad in alleging the defendants “deliberately edited Mitchum’s film and audio comments to completely alter and falsify what Mitchum really said.”
The suit names Lois Capps, a Democrat, the Capps For Congress Campaign, (“Friends of Lois Capps”), and “the theoretically, independent Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, (DCCC),” as defendants.
New York –– NY Times: Sheldon Silver, Former Assembly Speaker, Is Indicted
A federal grand jury in Manhattan voted on Thursday to indict Sheldon Silver on the fraud and extortion charges that were the basis of his arrest last month, and led to his ouster as speaker of the State Assembly.
Mr. Silver was arrested on Jan. 22 on a five-count criminal complaint that detailed two alleged bribery and kickback schemes in a case that has upended Albany. The three-count indictment, handed up in the United States District Courthouse in Manhattan, charged him with mail fraud, wire fraud and extortion under the color of official right.
Two charges in the complaint — a mail fraud conspiracy count and an extortion conspiracy count — were not included in the indictment. A spokesman for the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment on why the counts had been dropped.