Daily Media Links 3/19: IRS chief admits some tea party groups still waiting approval, Obama: Maybe it’s time for mandatory voting, and more…

March 19, 2015   •  By Scott Blackburn   •  
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CCP

Constitutional and Practical Issues with Minnesota House File 2015 
By Matt Nese
Current Minnesota law defines such activity with the same precision employed by the Supreme Court in Buckley:  it requires actual “words or phrases of express advocacy.”[7] The amendment proposed in H.F. 2015 would greatly expand the law’s definition. Thus, rather than clarifying the law, it would confuse speakers and spawn litigation about the proper scope of campaign finance regulation. Instead of ensuring that political speech is uniformly and constitutionally regulated, this addition will muddy the waters, replacing a crisp rule with a more amorphous standard. Moreover, by eliminating a bright-line test for regulated speech, it invites political gamesmanship and partisan polarization concerning messages that should be judged on their merits by voters, not by lawyers and public officials. This will inevitably require speakers to hire expert attorneys in this highly specialized area of law, or, for the smaller organizations that cannot afford such help, risk enforcement actions that could drive their voices from the public debate.  
 
IRS

Politico: IRS may broaden rule to police political nonprofits 
By Hillary Flynn and Rachael Bade   
The IRS may broaden a looming controversial rule to police political nonprofits to include political parties and political action committees, the IRS chief said Wednesday.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said the agency may expand a yet-to-be-released rule governing 501(c)(4), “social welfare” groups, to include political groups known as 527s, which focus on elections. It could require them both — as well as other types of tax-exempt groups — to operate under the same definition of “political activity.”
“If it’s going to be a fair system, it needs to apply across the board,” Koskinen said when asked by POLITICO if such groups would be included in the new rule. “[I]f we have a set of definitions for 501(c)(4)s, what about everybody else? Can they do more or less [political activity]? And for us as (an) administration, for ease of administration, it makes sense to have this common definition.”
 
The Hill: Outgoing US attorney hasn’t acted on Lerner contempt charge  
By Jesse Byrnes
Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia appointed by President Obama and set to step down next month, has not acted on a contempt of Congress charge for former IRS official Lois Lerner. 
Machen, who announced at the beginning of the week he’d step down April 1 to return to private practice, has not referred Lerner’s case to a grand jury. Her contempt citation for not testifying at two hearings has been in Machen’s hands since May 2014. 
During Machen’s five-year tenure as a top prosecutor, the largest U.S. Attorney’s Office was dominated by cases related to financial fraud, national security and public corruption. 
 
Washington Times: IRS chief admits some tea party groups still waiting approval 
By Stephen Dinan
One group, the Albuquerque Tea Party, has been waiting since 2009. It has provided hundreds of pages of evidence to the IRS over the years, and officials say they have no idea why they still have yet to be approved.
The groups have applied for status under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, which designates them as social welfare organizations. Groups under that designation can shield their donors, but must abide by rules that prohibit them from making political activities substantial portion of their work.
 
Independent Groups
 
Concurring Opinions: “Liberty is Liberty” 
By Floyd Abrams
Freedom of speech was not among the listed priorities and was referred to in only the most passing manner, an extraordinary omission for an organization formed for the prime purpose of defending that right and probably more associated with doing so than any other entity.
The ACLU later responded, pointing to a number of activities on its part aimed at protecting the First Amendment. Before it did so, however, another scholar — Professor Howard Wasserman — had responded to the blog with a provocative thesis. “One possible (if not entirely accurate) answer,” Professor Wasserman wrote of the ACLU’s omission, was this: “We won. There are no ‘major civil liberties battles’ to be fought or won with respect to the freedom of speech.”
 
Candidates, Politicians, Campaigns, and Parties

CNN: Obama: Maybe it’s time for mandatory voting 
By Holly Yan
“Other countries have mandatory voting,” Obama said Wednesday in Cleveland, where he spoke about the importance of middle class economics, and was asked about the issue during a town hall.
“It would be transformative if everybody voted — that would counteract money more than anything,” he said, adding it was the first time he had shared the idea publicly.
Note: Voting is what gives everyone an equal voice in elections? You don’t say.
 
Washington Post: A mighty fundraising operation awaits Clinton, as well as financial hurdles  
By Matea Gold
The team of fundraisers tasked with raising more than $1 billion for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s expected presidential bid will start with two major assets: a national grass-roots operation two years in the making and a network of wealthy Democratic donors much broader than the one that backed her first White House run. 
But for all those advantages, Clinton and her allies will also be scrambling to catch up with the tens of millions that Republican contender Jeb Bush has been stockpiling in a super PAC set up to back his campaign. A similar vehicle poised to help Clinton has so far struggled to secure commitments. 
The dynamic underscores how drastically the fundraising environment has changed since Clinton ran in 2008 — two years before the birth of super PACs. Now, GOP White House hopefuls are working hand-in-glove with big-money groups, helping them scoop up as much money as possible before they officially announce their candidacies.
 
State and Local

Connecticut – Hartford Courant: Rowland’s Sentence Strikes Blow For Clean Elections  
Editorial
There are no video games about election law violations that we know of, and the subject rarely comes up in television crime dramas. But clean elections are the bedrock of a representative democracy, and the laws that support the elective process must be enforced. That’s why U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton was right to sentence former Gov. John Rowland to serious prison time.
Judge Arterton sentenced Mr. Rowland to 30 months in prison and three years of probation and fined him $35,000 for seven crimes — five of them felonies — connected with clean election laws. He was convicted of the crimes last September. The charges arose from two schemes to work secretly and off the books as an adviser in two congressional campaigns in 2010 and 2012.
The idea came to fruition in the failed 2012 campaign of Republican congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley. The jury found that Mr. Rowland was paid $35,000 to work on the campaign and conspired to hide those payments through a sham consulting contract with a nursing home business owned by her husband, Brian Foley. Both Foleys pleaded guilty; Mr. Foley was sentenced to three years of probation while Ms. Wilson-Foley awaits sentencing.
 
Connecticut – Fox: State election commission investigating campaign finance violations from Malloy’s re-election 
By Samantha Schoenfeld
HARTFORD–Investigators are subpoenaing Connecticut’s Democratic Party in an effort to determine if illegal money was spent to fund Gov. Dan Malloy’s re-election campaign.
A campaign mailer sent in the last few weeks of the election may have been paid for by federal funds, which is against state law.
Scott Blackburn

Scott Blackburn