Daily Media Links 3/21: The Future of Corporate Political Spending, Liberal groups increase pressure over Gorsuch nomination, and more…

March 21, 2017   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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In the News                                      

Charleston Gazette-Mail: WV Senate Judiciary Committee eyes raising campaign funding limits

By Jake Zuckerman

The committee reviewed Senate Bill 539, a lengthy measure that revises election finance laws down to the smallest nuts and bolts.

Counsel for the committee, Jennifer Greenlief, said the main things the bill does include increasing campaign contribution limits, increasing use of campaign funds and increasing allowances of individual expenditures…

The bill also raises the dollar amount that triggers donors’ disclosure of affiliations…

The committee heard testimony from several speakers. Speaking in favor of the bill, Deputy Secretary of State Steve Connolly said he and his department support the bill, saying it gives candidates more control over their campaigns and decreases their reliance on nondisclosed, outside money.

Also pushing the bill, Allen Dickerson, legal director of the Center for Competitive Politics, a Virginia group that advocates for the deregulation of campaign finance law, said the measure would bring the state up to federal guidelines.

During his testimony, he said he was invited by state Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, when asked.

NPR: Trump’s White House Counsel Don McGahn Has Combative Record

By Peter Overby

Peter Overby, Byline: Don McGahn was the lawyer for Trump’s presidential campaign committee. Like his boss, he takes a dim view of too much regulation. And like his boss, he isn’t shy about saying so. Consider this moment back in 2011, when McGahn was at the Federal Election Commission. He was arguing with another commissioner over the role of super PACs. Listen closely here.

(soundbite of archived recording)

Don McGahn: You don’t get to take matters in your own hands and take the book and just rip out the coordination rules, you know? And now my book’s complete because we don’t have the rules in there anymore.

Overby: And he tossed the ripped-out pages in the air. Brad Smith, head of the conservative Center for Competitive Politics, says McGahn worked hard to rein in FEC lawyers that he saw as overzealous.

Brad Smith: The vituperation he sometimes receives I think reflects the fact that he was very effective at, you know, what he sought to do, which was keeping the FEC within its constitutional and statutory role.


Failure of Campaign Self-Funders Highlights Once Again that Money Doesn’t Buy Elections

By Joe Albanese

Because money doesn’t buy votes, personal wealth is not a ticket to political success. In fact, self-funders have had a hard time winning elections because, by skipping those important fundraising steps, they have fewer opportunities to identify their base and create a relationship with those they intend to represent. Fundraising hones the skills that make candidates effective on the campaign path. Self-funders miss those lessons, and it routinely costs them on Election Day.

Interestingly, rather than trumpeting these impressive findings, CRP seeks to underplay and undermine them as much as possible. Just look at the title: “Self-funded candidates lose big (except when they don’t).” Yes, that is how most things work: either something happens or it doesn’t. Or this part: “If it’s any consolation, this past election’s self-funders did better than their counterparts in 2004, when just one of 30 emerged with a seat in Congress.” 12.5% winning is a big improvement from less than 1%, but it’s still markedly unimpressive.

Not that the overwhelming weight of real-world evidence will change CRP and similar groups’ underlying premise that money buys elections and conclusion that therefore greater speech regulation is needed. But keen observers will know better: money can buy a lot of things, but it can’t buy the hearts and minds of voters, who remain the most important component of American democracy.

Supreme Court                                      

Sacramento Bee: Senators must press Gorsuch on campaign finance laws

By Ann M. Ravel

Senators must evaluate how Judge Neil Gorsuch will review laws intended to protect the integrity of government and the democratic process – and the next justice could provide the pivotal swing vote on future cases about money in politics.

Seven years ago, the Supreme Court decided Citizens United v. FEC, striking down long-standing laws prohibiting corporations and unions from spending on political campaigns. Several years later, in McCutcheon v. FEC, the court struck down the overall limit that an individual could contribute to political candidates, parties and political committees.

The Supreme Court decided each case by a 5-4 vote, with Scalia siding with the majority. Each case made it easier for wealthy interests to back campaigns and buy influence over public policy. Now the mere threat of campaign spending can reset policy priorities in Congress and state legislatures…

Before confirming Gorsuch to a lifetime appointment, senators should strictly scrutinize his own philosophy about the laws whose very purpose is to protect our representative, and increasingly vulnerable, democracy.

Pacific Standard: The Future of Corporate Political Spending

By Rick Paulas

If the vacancy left by Antonin Scalia’s death is filled by Neil Gorsuch, campaign finance regulations may disappear entirely…

With five justices on the Supreme Court who side with deregulatory forces, one of the first regulations to disappear may be the 2002 Bipartisan Reform Act, known as “McCain-Feingold.” If that goes, the ban on campaigns accepting “soft money” – donations that are not traced through the Federal Election Commission, meaning they’re inaccessible through public records – will be struck down. That may only be the beginning.

“We’ll eventually allow for wealthy individuals to give money directly to the candidate’s campaign,” Hasen says. What’s the difference between giving money in a roundabout way through Super-PACs, or giving it directly to the candidates themselves? “If you ask [candidates], they’d say the current system is terrible because Super-PACs are unaccountable,” Hasen says. “But getting millions of dollars directly to the legislators’ campaign is an excellent way to gain influence over the legislators.”

Washington Post: Potential Democratic presidential hopeful focused on campaign finance

By Ed O’Keefe

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), who is among the Democratic senators talked about as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, said much of her questioning of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch would focus on his rulings on campaign finance laws.

In an interview last week, she said she was especially interested in Riddle v. Hickenlooper, a Colorado campaign finance law that was upheld by the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit despite a concurring opinion by Gorsuch in which “he made the case for strict scrutiny standard for campaign contributions,” she said.

“Why it’s important to my people at home, in a state that has long prided itself on honesty in government and strong campaign finance laws – with a lot of transparency in matching funds – is that there is a very good case to be made that this standard that he put forth at a national level would eliminate the remaining campaign finance laws and limitations we have now,” she said. “When I look at all of the things going on in our world, keeping our democracy strong is really an abiding mission for me right now. That’s why I’m so focused on civility, which I think will be important in this hearing.”

Independent Groups                                     

Politico: Liberal groups increase pressure over Gorsuch nomination

By Seung Min Kim

As Neil Gorsuch faces a grilling in the Senate Judiciary Committee later Tuesday, liberal groups mobilizing against him are accelerating the pressure against Democratic senators with a new digital ad campaign urging them to filibuster the Supreme Court nominee.

The People’s Defense, a coalition of more than a dozen progressive organizations, is launching the six-figure digital ad campaign on Tuesday…

Other progressive groups involved in the campaign include Indivisible, American Federation of Teachers, Center for American Progress Action Fund, CREDO Action, End Citizens United, EveryVoice, MoveOn.org Civic Action, People for the American Way, Planned Parenthood, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Service Employees International Union and Stand Up America. The umbrella group has been increasingly vocal about their frustration with Senate Democrats, who they say have not fought hard enough against Gorsuch’s nomination.

USA Today: George Soros-aligned group weighs funding anti-Trump activists

By Fredreka Schouten

A network of some of the nation’s wealthiest Democratic donors is weighing providing money and support to several of the new activist groups that have cropped up since Election Day to challenge President Trump and his agenda…

The alliance, aligned with billionaire financier George Soros, also is weighing building a pool of money that can be deployed for “rapid response” work by other liberal groups on an array of issues, such as challenging the Trump administration on the deportation of undocumented immigrants…
The alliance, formed in 2005, has close ties to some of the biggest names in liberal politics. Soros helped found the group along with Taco Bell heir Rob McKay and other wealthy Democrats. The network does not release the names of its donors, but other contributors identified with the group have included Tom Steyer, a billionaire environmentalist from California who contributed more than $90 million to politically active super PACs in the 2016 election cycle.

The alliance does not donate directly to groups. Instead, its 120 or so donors – officially termed “partners” – pay annual dues to the alliance. They also are required to contribute at least $200,000 a year to organizations the alliance recommends. 

The Media                                        

Politico: Trump blasts ‘fake news’ CNN’s polls

By Louis Nelson

President Donald Trump attacked CNN, one of his favorite media targets, Monday morning for continuing to conduct polls even though “their election polls were a WAY OFF disaster.”

Trump and other officials from his White House have been frequent critics of polling, emboldened by the president’s surprise victory that went against the predictions of nearly every 2016 poll. CNN, in a poll conducted several weeks before the election with the market research firm ORC International, released a poll showing Democrat Hillary Clinton with a 5-point lead over Trump nationwide.

“Just heard Fake News CNN is doing polls again despite the fact that their election polls were a WAY OFF disaster. Much higher ratings at Fox,” Trump wrote on Twitter, offering a plug for his preferred cable network, Fox News, where he is the recipient of generally favorable coverage.

Washington Examiner: Anti-Trump media: 91% coverage negative, 96% of donations to Hillary

By Paul Bedard

With the coverage of President Trump putting media bias on display as never before, an influential House chairman and longtime press critic has opened a campaign to call out the “mainstream media” for what he thinks it is.

“The media and Democrats are so close in association and so close in their philosophical views that we might as well use one word to describe both, and that’s ‘Mediacrats,'” said Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, founder of the House Media Fairness Caucus…

In an interview, he cited the media’s ills: 91 percent of Trump campaign coverage was negative, 96 percent of media campaign contributions went to Democrat Hillary Clinton, and 55 percent of the public is weary of the anti-Trump tone in coverage.

“It’s the most biased media I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Smith said…

“I am concerned that it is hurting our republic, I’m afraid they are hurting themselves, I’m afraid they are hurting the country, and they’re clearly so intent on hurting the president that they are taking themselves down at the same time,” he concluded.

The States

Sioux Falls Argus Leader: State officials upholding IM-22 promise

By Gov. Dennis Daugaard

The 14,000-word initiated measure became the center of attention because of the constitutional problems it posed and the bizarre unintended consequences it would create. For example, IM 22 could have been read to say that a teacher in Sioux Falls would be a criminal if her husband is a state legislator.

Leaving Initiated Measure 22 in place was not a viable option, due to its constitutional issues and other problems. It could not be enforced as written. Another option was to repeal Initiated Measure 22, and return to the old laws. That was also not a good option, because it would have ignored the will of the voters.

I joined legislators in following a middle path. Together we repealed the unworkable law and made a promise to honor the voters’ intent.

Legislators brought forward proposals aimed at the citizens’ expectation of honest government, an open and transparent campaign finance system, and a legislative process which allows lobbyist influence only through their arguments.

As I write this, four of these proposals are on their way to my desk.

U.S. News & World Report: Ethics Commission Initiative Heads to Ballot in New Mexico

By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico voters will decide next year whether to create an independent political ethics commission in an effort to shore up trust in government after a string of corruption scandals.

The state Legislature on Friday approved a constitutional amendment that calls for creating a seven-member body to investigate ethics violations and apply sanctions.

The vote capped a decades-long effort by government watchdog groups and select lawmakers to put ethics complaints in the hands of an independent authority…

The commission would enforce standards of conduct for state officers, employees, lobbyists and contractors, along with campaign finance restrictions and reporting requirements for political candidates. It would have the authority to issue subpoenas and civil penalties.

Last year, a similar constitutional amendment was approved by the House but stalled in the Senate over concerns that a commission would become a forum for false accusations and political vendettas.

Miami Herald: Will legislators lift the veil on ‘dark money’ in Florida politics?

By Mary Ellen Klas

Although committees must report all contributions and are barred from coordinating with donors about how to spend the money, the lack of transparency has prompted two legislators to propose bills to reform the system.

“Everything we do is a complete joke,” said Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, who was elected last year after a divisive and close primary contest. “All the reporting is a waste of time if we have no transparency.”

Gruters and Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, have proposed legislation that would ban the practice of committees transferring funds to other committees, allowing the public to better see who gives and who gets millions in political contributions.

Under the proposals, HB 1057 and SB 1178, political committees could not transfer money to another political committee to shield the source. The only entities that would be allowed to accept unlimited amounts of cash to transfer to other committees would be the political parties and the House and Senate leadership funds, which are controlled by the House speaker and Senate president.

Alex Baiocco


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