Daily Media Links 2/8: Of Gorsuch, the Supreme Court, and Campaign Finance, New senator wants to shred First Amendment protection, and more…

February 8, 2017   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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In the News            

The Hill: Obama was no one’s hero when it came to money in politics

By Luke Wachob

For eight years, left-leaning groups like Common Cause, Public Citizen, and the Brennan Center for Justice pressured President Obama to do something, anything about “money in politics.” Despite their pleas, he never took direct action.

They told him to stack the Federal Election Commission (FEC) with pro-regulation commissioners. Instead, he had just two confirmed nominations to the six-member FEC, and one was a Republican. They told him to issue an executive order forcing government contractors to report their donations to advocacy groups and nonprofits. He never did. They told him to prioritize legislation regulating speech by nonprofits, but when the bill died in the Senate, he did not fight to resurrect it.

Both the right and the left expected President Obama to do more to regulate the political process. Instead what emerged was a significant divide between the “reform” community and the Obama administration. That divide illustrates a reality the pro-regulation lobby would rather obscure-that even critics of the current campaign finance system cannot agree on a better alternative.

Concurring Opinions: FAN 141 (First Amendment News) Judge Neil Gorsuch – the Scholarly First Amendment Jurist

By Ronald K.L. Collins

“Judge Gorsuch is a serious, accomplished jurist who will defend a robust First Amendment.” There is truth there, in David Keating’s assessment of the First Amendment opinions of Judge Neil Gorsuch…

If one scans what we now know of the arc of Judge Gorsuch’s views on the First Amendment and free expression, it is readily apparent than he has long and informed commitment to the First Amendment. Should that continue, and it seems likely to, he could well become the First Amendment point-person on the Court.

David Keating: “Judge Gorsuch’s record suggests he will be a strong defender of free speech rights if confirmed to the Supreme Court. He wrote or joined opinions on a wide variety of topics related to free speech, including campaign finance, petition clause and defamation cases. Each time, he ruled for free speech. He applies real scrutiny in constitutional challenges and is a terrific writer. Not only are his opinions a joy to read, they are clear.”

“It’s ironic that President Trump nominated a judge who wrote or joined four opinions in cases brought against the media. Each time Gorsuch ruled for the media defendants.”

Free Speech              

New York Times: First Amendment Support Climbing Among High School Students

By Niraj Chokshi

Support among American high school students for the First Amendment is stronger today than it has been in the last 12 years, according to the latest in a series of large nationwide surveys of the nation’s rising voters.

Some 91 percent of high school students say they believe that individuals should be allowed to express unpopular opinions, according to a Knight Foundation survey of nearly 12,000 students conducted last year. The survey is the sixth in a series, the first of which was carried out in 2004, when 83 percent supported such rights…

Ninety-one percent of the students may support the right to express unpopular opinions in general, but only half as many – 45 percent – support that right when the speech in question is offensive to others and made in public…

Students may have faith in firsthand accounts shared online, but they are still generally wary of the news they see there. Eighty-two percent said they had “some” or “a lot” of trust in the information found in newspapers, compared with 77 percent for television news and 70 percent for news websites. Just 49 percent reported similar levels of trust in news shared on social media.

Supreme Court             

Observer: Of Gorsuch, the Supreme Court, and Campaign Finance

By Jeff Brindle

If U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is confirmed, rulings involving campaign finance law can be expected to follow the same course as when the late Justice Antonin Scalia served on the Court.

This means that the High Court is likely to strongly protect First Amendment free speech and assembly rights…

There is not much about Judge Gorsuch and his rulings involving campaign finance law.  One such case, however, might provide a glimpse into his thinking.

Riddle v. Hickenlooper suggests that he, like Justice Scalia, will place importance on First Amendment rights.

In Riddle, Judge Gorsuch agreed with the opinion that found different contribution limits for major and minor party candidates unconstitutional.

But rather than just citing the equal protection clause, the judge added “the act of contributing to political campaigns implicates a ‘basic constitutional freedom,’ one lying ‘at the foundation of a free society,’ and enjoying a significant relationship to the right to speak and associate-both expressly protected First Amendment activities.”

The Courts             

Austin American-Statesman: Legal dispute could limit Texas election laws

By Chuck Lindell

A meandering legal dispute between Texas Democrats and a Houston tea party group has landed before the Texas Supreme Court in a case that could overturn longtime election laws that require certain political committees to disclose donors and ban direct political contributions from corporations.

Arguing before the court Tuesday, the Democrats’ lawyer, Chad Dunn, warned that overturning the laws would open “the floodgates to the secret funding of elections.”…

But James Bopp Jr., an Indiana lawyer known for challenging campaign finance regulations nationwide, argued that Texas election laws improperly limit the free-speech rights of the King Street Patriots in Houston and similar groups.

The Texas laws also are unconstitutionally vague, chilling speech by allowing for arbitrary and capricious enforcement, Bopp told the all-Republican court.

“We have a core democratic value at stake essential to the ability of citizens to participate in our democracy, and that is to be able to talk about the government, politicians and what is happening without being fearful that they will cross some vague line,” Bopp said.

Independent Groups             

Washington Examiner: Pro-Trump outside groups ready to shell out cash for 2018

By David M. Drucker

President Trump and his allies in Congress are getting reinforcements for 2018 from two political groups backed by a pair of prominent Republican mega-donor families.

45Committee, a political nonprofit, and Future45, its affiliated super PAC, spent heavily to support Trump in 2016. Sheldon Adelson and the Ricketts family financed the organizations, both of which are now turning their attention to the midterm elections and the president’s legislative agenda.

45Committee has invested $4 million this year alone to generate support for Trump’s Cabinet nominees, a senior official with the political nonprofit said Tuesday…

A cadre of political hands loyal to Trump and Pence are running America First Policies. The group has not responded to a request for comment about its strategy and planned activities.

For now, that leaves 45Committee and Future45 as the outside groups that are operational and most focused on helping Trump, although they also plan to bolster congressional Republicans.

Congress               

Elko Daily Press: New senator wants to shred First Amendment protection

By Thomas Mitchell

Nevada’s newly elected U.S. senator, Catherine Cortez Masto, has already taken up the cudgel against the First Amendment previously wielded by her predecessor, Harry Reid.

She put out a press release recently announcing that she has joined with other congressional Democrats to reintroduce a constitutional amendment that would overturn Supreme Court rulings that have held that it is a violation of the First Amendment to restrict the amount of money corporations, nonprofits, unions and other groups may spend on political campaigns and when they may spend it.

In its current incarnation it is being called the Democracy for All Amendment. In previous years it bore the unwieldy acronym DISCLOSE Act – Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections…

Lest we forget, in the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump was outspent by Hillary Clinton by two-to-one – $600 million to $1.2 billion.

Censorship is unAmerican and unnecessary. Cortez Masto should abandon this assault on free speech.

National Law Review: House Panel Votes to Scrap Public Funding of Presidential Campaigns, Election Oversight Commission

By Frank Bass, MapLight

House Republicans took their first steps towards dismantling two generations of campaign finance reform measures, pushing one committee vote through today to eliminate the federal commission that ensures the integrity of U.S. elections and another to end public financing of presidential campaigns…

The presidential public financing fund, created in the wake of the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s, hasn’t been used by a major-party presidential candidate since 2008. It is funded by a check-off box on individual federal income tax forms. Although the fund has a $317 million balance, major candidates have recently refused to use the public money because it limits how much they can spend…

Under the measure passed by Republican committee members, at least $63 million would be transferred to a program used to fight childhood cancer. The remaining balance — a little more than $250 million — would be used to reduce the nation’s $20 trillion national debt.

Donor Privacy              

The Agitator: Defending Black Lives Matter … And The Alt-Right

By Roger Craver

Make no mistake. Ever since the U.S. Presidential election political and ideological polarization has increased not diminished. It’s a dangerous trend that should concern and alert every nonprofit with a mission to advocate a point of view.

Now, as much as any time in history, it is essential that individuals be able to express and promote their viewpoints through affiliation with like-minded organizations, without exposing themselves to a legal, personal or political attacks of intimidation.

And now, more than any time in recent history, every advocacy nonprofit – liberal, conservative and those in the middle – are increasingly at risk of being compelled by the government to turn over their donors’ names and identities…

As I write, it’s the liberals who are leading the charge to compel exposure of donor names and identities. Tomorrow it may be the Alt-Right leading the charge to expose the names and addresses of donors to Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ groups and organizations concerned with immigration.

The Media            

Wall Street Journal: Facebook and Google Step Up Efforts to Combat Fake News

By Sam Schechner

With European countries heading into pivotal election campaigns in coming months, Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google are rolling out initiatives and tools aimed at slowing the spread of online misinformation by flagging false or hoax news articles for readers.

On Monday, Google-financed nonprofit First Draft News said that it has enlisted some 15 French news outlets, including Le Monde and Agence France-Presse, for a new program to find and verify content circulating online in the run up to April’s presidential election in France. A Google spokesman said a similar program is under discussion for Germany, which holds its federal parliamentary elections in September.

At the same time, Facebook said it would deploy in France-after rolling out in Germany last month-a change to its service that tags news stories as “disputed” and shows them less frequently on users’ news feeds when outside news organizations rule them to be false.

Google said it has implemented its own fact check tool in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany as well.

The States

Concord Monitor: The LLC loophole debate in context

By Jay Surdukowski

State Sen. Dan Feltes, a Concord Democrat, seeks to close the “LLC Loophole” – the currently lawful practice where individuals who own multiple limited liability companies can give the maximum contribution of $7,000 a piece many times over – to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The practical effect is a small group of people can amplify their individual political preferences many times over. This piece provides context to the many different ways businesses can contribute to campaigns under current law, and I hope it will help the public and our Legislature decide whether the practice of LLC contributions should be continued as an exercise in free speech or whether the Granite State will place a marker down that corporations should not count as people under this small, but not insignificant corner, of our complex and convoluted state campaign finance law.

Westport News: Election watchdogs seek to curb special-interest dollars in state races

By Neil Vigdor

Election watchdogs are trying to shut a back door in Connecticut’s clean campaign law that allows banned state contractors and lobbyists to give money to candidates for state office, including governor.

But the proposed rules change by the state Elections Enforcement Commission has the major parties at loggerheads, with Republicans saying it wouldn’t be necessary if Democrats obeyed the law and Democrats accusing Republicans of obstructing efforts to improve compliance.

The commission says the traditional accounting system used by the parties enables special-interest money to co-mingle with other political contributions. The system relies on separate state and federal fundraising accounts, the latter of which can use state contractor and lobbyist dollars for congressional races and get-out-the-vote efforts.

But what happens when there’s an overlap between state and federal political expenditures? The commission’s solution is to create a “compliant account” that could be used for both and would be off-limits to special-interest money.

Alex Baiocco

https://www.ifs.org/author/abaiocco/

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