In the News
By Post Editorial Board
Free-speech watch: Money Can’t Buy Elections
Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer “rediscovered an age-old truth” this year, snarks Bradley A. Smith at City Journal: “Money can’t buy love.” Nor did it help Hillary Clinton in 2016 or other wannabes, like Jeb Bush, Linda McMahon and Steve Forbes. “Money can help a campaign’s message get heard, but it doesn’t mean” listeners will “like what they hear.” Still, fears of candidates “buying” elections “continue to drive” campaign-finance laws. Just last year, the House passed “a variety of restrictions on paid political speech.” Sure, ” ‘getting money out of politics’ makes for a good bumper sticker, but the policies it leads to actually give more power and influence to the wealthy, not less.” Policymakers should just “get out of the way and let voters speak.”
Nonprofit Quarterly: Cuomo Resurfaces Nonprofit Donor Disclosure Plan
By Kristen Munnelly
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) is again proposing a law that would require nonprofits and political advocacy organizations to publicly disclose their donors. Gov. Cuomo had proposed a similar law in 2016 that was struck down by Federal Judge Denise Cote of the Southern District of New York, who stated the law was too broad and threatened free speech. Opponents representing nonprofits claim the current iteration of the law would depress charitable giving and also continue to infringe on free speech rights…
As conservative groups such as Institute for Free Speech have made clear, they are supportive of maximum freedom for these nonprofit groups with minimum oversight by governmental agencies, such as the IRS.
By Ethan Blevins
Imagine a law that required Republicans to contribute to Bernie Sanders’s or Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. Or that the Hollywood left must donate to President Trump’s reelection. Would you support such a law? Of course not – most of us would find such a law to be not only unconstitutional but an affront to one’s conscience.
Absurd as those imagined requirements sound, they capture the essential thinking behind Seattle’s “democracy vouchers” campaign finance scheme. The Supreme Court will decide next month whether to look at a First Amendment challenge to that scheme. Here’s hoping the court gives city officials a crash course in how free speech works.
By Jacqueline Thomsen
A senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit sharply criticized the Federal Election Commission for arguing that a legal challenge to the commission’s decision to not prosecute certain campaign finance violations cannot be reviewed by the court.
In a per curiam opinion Friday, the panel upheld a district court ruling that granted the FEC summary judgment in a lawsuit from the nonprofits Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, finding the reasons commissioners gave for throwing out complaints of campaign finance violations were reasonable.
In a concurring opinion, Senior Judge Harry Edwards of the U.S. Court of Appeal for the D.C. Circuit said he agreed with the panel’s finding, but that he wrote separately to “express my concerns over the position taken by the Federal Election Commission suggesting that the matter before this court is not subject to judicial review.”
Washington Post: Raise your hand if you have not been sued by Devin Nunes
By Dana Milbank
Devin Nunes, bless his heart, is still filing lawsuits. The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee has, aided by a lawyer with a colorful past and a flair for invective, sued just about everybody who criticizes him…
McClatchy. CNN. Hearst Magazines. Fusion GPS. Republican strategist Liz Mair. A watchdog group, Campaign for Accountability. An organic fruit farmer who called Nunes a “fake farmer.” Twitter. A parody Twitter account called “Devin Nunes’ Mom.” A fictitious bovine on Twitter called “Devin Nunes’ Cow.” …
Nunes has, through his lawyer, also sent a menacing legal letter to a Fresno County, Calif., deputy district attorney who previously ran against Nunes to cease his support for “the @DevinCow Twitter account.” …
And now, Nunes has sued The Post.
That’s a lot of litigation for a guy who co-sponsored the Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Act of 2017…
A cynic might conclude that Nunes is not trying to win lawsuits but to force his critics to pay legal fees, thereby creating a chilling effect that deters them from criticism. (But I’d never allege that – so please don’t sue me! Brrrr.)
Now Nunes finds himself on the receiving end of lawyers’ scrutiny. The Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group, asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether Nunes is receiving free legal services from his lawyer, Steven Biss, in violation of House rules.
Wall Street Journal: Adam Schiff’s Surveillance State
By Kimberley A. Strassel
Lawmakers are debating ways to prevent the Federal Bureau of Investigation from abusing its surveillance authority again. While they’re at it, they have an obligation to address their own privacy transgressor, Rep. Adam Schiff.
That’s the gist of a pointed letter from Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr, which landed Thursday at the House Intelligence Committee. Chairman Schiff spent months conducting secret impeachment hearings. His ensuing report revealed that he’d also set up his own surveillance state. Mr. Schiff issued secret subpoenas to phone carriers, to obtain and publish the call records of political rivals. Targets included Rudy Giuliani and another attorney of the president, the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee (Rep. Devin Nunes) and a journalist (John Solomon).
Impeachment is over, but Mr. Carr hasn’t forgotten this abuse of power, and his letter, which I obtained, calls for answers and reform…
Mr. Carr also points out the heightened First Amendment questions that accompanied Mr. Schiff’s acquisition and publication of records for an investigative journalist-one who was writing stories critical of Mr. Schiff.
By John Pudner
It is absolutely a constitutional right for Americans to petition government for redress of grievances. It is the right to make a complaint to, or seek the assistance of, one’s government, without fear of punishment or reprisals. The concern is when organizations hold events or rallies at the capitol too often in order to just get media attention for their own fundraising purposes. Government is lucrative on both sides. It pays for the public advocate’s membership drives, but also for the Congress members who spend two-thirds of their time in the office sitting on the phone asking for money to fund their reelections.
Coronavirus is a huge concern. Situations like this can really magnify our broken political system [which] is a core problem that will never be addressed until we fundamentally change our campaign finance laws.
By Michelle Ye Hee Lee
Rep. Ilhan Omar’s marriage to a political consultant has drawn renewed focus on her campaign’s payments to her now-husband and his firm, which are at the center of a pending complaint with the Federal Election Commission.
Omar on Wednesday announced on Instagram that she had married Timothy Mynett, and the couple filed their marriage license in Washington that same day.
Following Omar’s marriage announcement, conservative critics raised concerns about payments by her campaign to E Street Group, which is run by Mynett.
“Taxpayers funded her campaign. Now they’re funding her marriage. How is this not an FEC violation?” conservative activist Charlie Kirk tweeted Thursday…
Since 2018, Omar’s campaign paid about $586,000 to E Street Group for a range of services…
Payments to the firm in the 2019-2020 cycle for Omar’s reelection campaign comprised 40 percent of total campaign expenses, federal filings show…
“Generally, the rationale is, as long as they’re doing real work, you can pay them as you’d pay anyone else. You can’t overpay them. It can’t be a no-show job or a low-show job. You have to actually do the work,” said Daniel Petalas, formerly the FEC’s acting general counsel and head of enforcement…
The FEC lost its voting quorum shortly after the complaint was filed [in August], and it is unable to take any official enforcement action on the pending complaint.
Washington Post: Higher education’s mandatory political participation
By George F. Will
In 1949, during the Cold War anxiety about communist subversion, Robert Gordon Sproul, president of the UC system, proposed that university employees sign an oath attesting that they were not members of the Communist Party or other organizations advocating violent revolution. Protests, litigation and the firing of some non-signers ensued. Then fears of domestic communists abated, and a court ended the oath in 1967. The UC system subsequently adopted this policy: “No political test shall ever be considered in the appointment and promotion of any faculty member or employee.”
Today, however, DEI [“diversity, equity and inclusion”] statements are political litmus tests used in a baroque three-stage, five-point scoring system that winnows out applicants – sometimes most of them – before considering the applicants’ academic qualifications…
Politics is how we organize our ideas and practices for living together. The defining characteristic of totalitarian societies is not that the individual cannot participate in politics but that the individual cannot not participate. In such societies, politics permeates everything: Government’s aim is the conquest of consciousness, and abstention from politics is subversive. Hence DEI pledges.
Associated Press: Election-year spread of misinformation challenges local news
By David Klepper
Political misinformation is often considered a national and international challenge, in part because of the Russian-based trolls and bots that spread false claims and sow division in a bid to influence elections in the U.S. and abroad. But it’s increasingly a problem on Main Street, too, as local candidates and politicians adopt misinformation tactics and local news organizations shrink or shut down, leaving residents with fewer credible sources of information.
Surviving media organizations are responding by partnering with fact-checking organizations such as Chicago’s Better Government Association and creating new anti-misinformation projects. They’re also re-purposing traditional reporting techniques to fit an era of doctored videos, online impersonators and partisan sites masquerading as news…
The decline of local news sources not only raises the risk that politicians and others can exaggerate or lie without consequences, but it also means that residents looking for information about their communities increasingly turn to local message boards and social media, where virality is often emphasized over accuracy.
Online Speech Platforms
By Chris White
A Chinese official’s tweets suggesting the U.S. Army is responsible for injecting coronavirus into Wuhan, China, will not be removed, a Twitter spokesman told the Daily Caller News Foundation…
Twitter’s decision came after the company announced in June 2019 that it will begin labeling and down ranking politicians’ most vitriolic tweets, a move that could affect how President Donald Trump promotes his message.
The label applies to all verified political candidates and officials with more than 100,000 followers… Users who want to view flagged content must click on a screen that says Twitter’s rules against abusive behavior apply to the tweet.
The Trump administration asked big tech companies on Wednesday to help stomp out misinformation and conspiracy theories related to coronavirus. Twitter was among those companies that attended a conference addressing misinformation with White House officials.
Wall Street Journal: Justice vs. Conformity at Scalia Law
By The Editorial Board
The campaign for intellectual conformity in higher education could win a major and destructive victory as George Mason University moves to violate the agreement that established Antonin Scalia Law School.
After Scalia died in 2016, a donor, described as a friend of the Justice, offered $20 million to rename GMU’s law school in his honor. GMU, a Virginia-based public university, agreed to condition the gift on the donor’s anonymity. The name officially changed that year.
Yet this month GMU threatened to renege on its contract by identifying the donor, according to a motion filed in Arlington County Court. The motion asked for a temporary restraining order, which was granted Thursday, but the case isn’t over. GMU could win the lawsuit, while the donor says the agreement has already been breached and may demand the return of $16 million…
Anonymous involvement in American politics goes back to the writings of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists, of whom George Mason himself was a leader. Yet liberals want to use charges of “dark money” to target anonymous donors and purge invaluable resources at George Mason like its Center for the Study of the Administrative State.
Contracts are enforceable even if made with conservatives, and we hope a court enforces this one if GMU bends to the left’s political pressure and breaks its word.
Candidates and Campaigns
Washington Post: Fact-checking the 11th Democratic primary debate
By Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly
“You have nine super PACs.”– Biden to Sanders
After a slow fundraising start, Biden is now flush with campaign cash and has locked down support from some of the best-funded Democratic super PACs.
Sanders doesn’t have a super PAC per se, but he enjoys the support of a “sprawling network of socialists, climate-change activists, millennial organizers and other liberal advocates, who raise money from millions of members,” as The Post reported. Nine groups in this coalition are known as “People Power for Bernie.”
Most of these pro-Sanders groups are not organized as super PACs – which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money – but as politically active 501(c)(4)s.
It is unknown how much most of these groups have raised to support Sanders in the 2020 cycle or where they are getting their money because they are not required to disclose their donor lists. Advocates for more transparency in political donations – predominantly on the left – refer to this type of funding as “dark money.”
Washington Post: Biden ad manipulates video to slam Trump
By Meg Kelly
An onslaught of political advertising is par for the course in any election year. The 2020 presidential contest proves to be no exception.
So, on first glance, nothing was unusual when former vice president Joe Biden, who appears to be on track for the Democratic nomination, took a swing at President Trump. On March 3, he tweeted a video with the caption, “We can’t sit by and lose this country to Donald Trump. Today, we take it back – together.” However, while the caption is standard political rhetoric, the attached video included two clips of the president that meet the Fact Checker’s standards for manipulated video. Our guide includes three broad categories: Some video is taken out of context; other content is deceptively edited; or, in the worst instances, it is deliberately altered.
Earlier this week, we examined three videos — including one by the Trump campaign — that met our standards for manipulated video. But the Biden campaign isn’t shy about playing the same game of video trickery.
Washington Free Beacon: Dark Money Juggernaut Gets Behind Steve Bullock, Who’s Long Derided Influence of Hidden Money
By Joe Schoffstall
Montana governor Steve Bullock has spent his entire political career saying he wants to remove dark money from politics. Now running for the U.S. Senate, he is receiving help from one of the largest liberal dark money networks in America.
Protect Our Care, a shadowy group that attacks Republicans on health care issues, announced Thursday it is spending $250,000 to support Bullock…
Bullock, who announced his candidacy for the Senate on March 9, has long been a campaign-finance reform and transparency advocate. He centered his short-lived presidential campaign around campaign-finance reform and opposing secret money in politics. The “One Big Idea” on his campaign’s website included an executive order to crack down on dark money spending. As Montana’s governor, he signed a law requiring dark money groups to report how they spend their cash on state elections.
It appears Bullock has now reversed course. Protect Our Care falls under the umbrella of Arabella Advisors, a dark money network responsible for concealing the source of $600 million funneled to liberal causes in 2018 alone…
Protect Our Care is a project of Arabella’s Sixteen Thirty Fund, a fiscal sponsor that offers its legal and tax-exempt status to groups the IRS does not recognize as nonprofits. Sixteen Thirty contains dozens of groups and initiatives that work to advance liberal causes.
Charleston Gazette-Mail: Sean Parnell: A win for privacy in WV
By Sean Parnell
[T]hanks to a bill recently passed by the West Virginia Legislature and signed by Gov. Jim Justice, citizens’ charitable and civic involvement are now free from prying eyes…
Under the Protect Our Right to Unite Act (Senate Bill 16), a public official can’t simply demand that a church, charity, trade association, social welfare group or other nonprofit organization turn over a list of its donors, volunteers or others affiliated with it. Just as important, if any government agency or official does happen to come into possession of such lists, it would be required to treat that information just as confidentially as it would any medical or banking records it might wind up with.
The new law doesn’t just protect the personal privacy of West Virginians who contribute to charities and other civic causes, it helps to nurture and protect a vibrant and independent civil society…
The Protect Our Right to Unite Act received broad bipartisan support, passing unanimously in the West Virginia Senate and nearly 3-1 in the House of Delegates. Groups supporting the bill included the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia and the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity.
By Post Editorial Board
Well, here’s one money saver for state lawmakers: They don’t need to come up with the cash for public financing of political campaigns anytime soon, since a judge last week quite rightly struck the program down.
In an 11-page ruling, Niagara County Supreme Court Justice Ralph Boniello held that the ridiculous method Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature used to impose the public-finance system was blatantly unconstitutional: Setting up an independent commission whose plan would become law unless legislators held a special session to derail it was “an improper and unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority.” …
Of course, higher courts may overrule Boniello – but they shouldn’t: Quite apart from the myriad problems of taxpayer-funded campaigns, it’s a complete abdication of duty for lawmakers to pass off their core powers to unelected panels.
Lansing City Pulse: Mayor’s ‘Schor Lansing Fund’ swells to over $110K
By Kyle Kaminski
Lansing Mayor Andy Schor has stockpiled nearly $114,000 into a nonprofit fund that operates outside of the bounds of Michigan’s campaign finance laws. And next week, he’ll be looking to keep the donations flowing.
Schor last year faced criticism for failing to report to the Internal Revenue Service a special pot of money he uses to dole out charitable gifts and other “expenses” related to his role as mayor…
Funds like Schor’s – also known as 527 accounts – are widely used by politicians. Donations and expenditures there, unlike campaign donations, aren’t capped and don’t need to be reported as political contributions. Instead, they serve as discretionary funds for elected officials to spend as they see fit, including on personal expenses.
Last year, much like in years past, Schor’s largest donors included several massive corporations, lobbyists, political action committees and employee unions.
Tampa Bay Times: Shadow group weaponizes Scientology in Clearwater election
By Editorial Board
It’s fair play to point out which candidates in Tuesday’s Clearwater City Council elections have been endorsed by a group of Church of Scientology members. It’s entirely unfair to flood voters with deceptive phone calls and mailers targeting one particular candidate for politically partisan reasons and not come out of the shadows to identify yourself. That’s how low Republicans are sinking to target council candidate Kathleen Beckman, and Clearwater voters should not put up with it.
As the Tampa Bay Times’ Tracey McManus reported, Clearwater voters have received robocalls from a person sounding like a Scientology member and urging them to support Beckman. Similar mailings also have been received that appear to come from Scientology members. In fact, the calls and mailers did not come from a Scientology group but from the Florida Values Coalition, a political committee backed by Republican money and interest groups. This sort of deception has no place in any election, and a shadowy Republican group has no business meddling in a nonpartisan city election.
By Antonia Ayres-Brown and Jamie Munks
Under Illinois law, candidates are prohibited from using campaign funds for personal expenses that they would have incurred regardless of their candidacy, such as laundry or rent. The law doesn’t mention child care costs, which have ballooned in recent decades and become one of many working parents’ largest monthly expenses, leaving it unclear whether those expenses are allowed.
Efforts to clarify the rules have been moving forward in Springfield, where last month the Illinois Senate overwhelmingly backed legislation that would allow candidates who are parents to use campaign funds to help pay for child care during their campaign.