Daily Media Links 3/25: Why the campaign to pressure Republicans to confirm Merrick Garland is failing, American politics has reached peak polarization, and more…

March 25, 2016   •  By Brian Walsh   •  
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In the News

CPI: Sanders, Clinton want campaign finance overhaul, but face huge obstacles

Carrie Levine

David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, a nonpartisan group that describes its mission as promoting First Amendment rights, said the proposals laid out by Clinton and Sanders “are all bad ideas.”

Keating said having agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission police political disclosure distracts from their core missions and forces them outside their expertise, leading to potential problems like the Internal Revenue Service scandal.

In that case, more than 100 groups seeking tax-exempt recognition that were deemed to be potentially political by the IRS waited more than a year for answers from the agency, according to a May 2013 report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

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Citizens United is Too Often Distorted in the Press

Paul Jossey

Mr. Eichenwald then trots out worn Citizens United refrains: “[The conservative justices] ‘discovered’ . . . that money is speech and corporations are people.” Let’s gander at ‘money is speech.’ Liberal First Amendment scholar Geoffrey Stone stabbed this kooky canard in 2012: “[N]ot a single justice of the United States Supreme Court who has voted in any of the more than a dozen cases involving the constitutionality of campaign finance regulations, regardless of which way he or she came out in the case, has ever embraced the position that money is not speech. It is simply not a persuasive or even coherent way to frame the issue. If it were, then the government could make it a crime for any person to use money to buy a book.”

And finally, most familiar: “[Citizens United] created a new political world. Billionaires and their companies could now anonymously dump unlimited cash into political organizations known as super PACs, 501(c)4s, and 527s. . .” Super PACS are PACs. PACs disclose their donors. Controversy exists about some trying to hide Super PAC donations through LLCs, but it is a tiny fraction of all donations, and they usually get unmasked anyway. In fairness, 527s could hide their donors – when Bill Clinton was president. Today, 527 donors must be publicly reported to the FEC (or state equivalents) or the IRS. Only 501(c)(4)s, which play a minor role in national elections can avoid donor disclosure, and such groups accounted for just over 3% of total federal campaign spending in the 2014 election cycle.

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Independent Groups

New Republic: Will Big Money Republicans Break the Democratic Wave?

David Dayen

These funders got a lesson in this throughout the primary cycle. No matter how much money they used to build up Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, or a seemingly endless array of establishment-lane favorites, they couldn’t force voters to support them. By the end of 2015, the spending had almost a negative correlation with voter preference.

But as I said back then, you’d be mistaken to extrapolate from those results that money doesn’t matter in politics anymore. Presidential elections require relatively less money per vote because it’s the biggest story in politics for two years, and every potential voter in the country gets bombarded with information about the candidates from every conceivable angle. Ad blitzes simply have less value when there’s near-universal awareness of the race. It’s in those contests where nobody is paying attention where a lot of money can move numbers.

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Reason: Corporate Influence over Government Is Bad…Unless They Hold the Correct Positions

Scott Shackford

It’s the left’s worst nightmare. Several large, powerful corporations are using their economic dominance to manipulate the outcome of the legislative process in Georgia. It’s happening right now. It’s what they’ve been warning us all about since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision. This is what happens when you allow unfettered corporate speech and involvement in politics! It’s a corruption of the democratic republic. Wake up, people!

Oh, wait. They’re using their economic influence to try to kill a “religious freedom” bill that would protect faith-based organizations from having to participate or provide their services in such a fashion that runs counter to their religious beliefs. This is obviously about same-sex marriage. Churches under the bill could not be forced to perform same-sex weddings, nor could they be forced to let same-sex couples use their facilities for same-sex ceremonies.

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Washington Post: Why Emily’s List is spending big to defeat a progressive Democrat

Rachel Weiner

Rep. Chris Van Hollen seems an unlikely target for a Democratic super PAC’s ­biggest-ever primary campaign. A rising star in the party, the Senate candidate is a longtime protege of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and a high-profile defender of liberal policies.

But he’s also a man running against a woman for the Democratic nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), the longest-serving woman in Congress. And so the pro-choice women’s group Emily’s List is committing at least $2.4 million from its super PAC — Women Vote! — to help Rep. Donna F. Edwards defeat him.

Emily’s List argues that its mission is to elect pro-choice Democratic women, regardless of who gets toppled along the way.

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CRP: LLC gifts are making up a bigger share of super PACs’ fundraising hauls

Will Tucker

Nearly one-fifth of Reform Washington‘s funds this cycle have come from entities with “LLC” appended to their names.

Only a slice of the total $161,500 from LLCs appears problematic; corporate giving to super PACs, after the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, is entirely legal.

But Reform Washington isn’t alone in receiving a significant portion of its funding from business entities. Most notably, the Fund for Louisiana’s Future, which supports Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), received about the same share of its contributions this cycle — 18.4 percent

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Supreme Court

Washington Post: Why the campaign to pressure Republicans to confirm Merrick Garland is failing

James Hohmann

I asked the senator during an interview whether he thinks conservatives are more amped up about the SCOTUS fight than liberals. “Yes, sure, yes,” he replied. “The people I’m talking to say, ‘You’re going to hold tight, aren’t you? You’re going to hold firm? You’re not going to squish out on this one?’

“No, don’t worry about it,” the senator says he tells them. 

“Let’s face it,” he added during the interview. “There are very few things that motivate, and quite honestly anger, our conservative supporters more than judges that we thought were conservative that all of a sudden … don’t call the balls and strikes but change the strike zone. You know, John Roberts and Justice (Anthony) Kennedy.”

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Politico: Clinton asks for $353K to sit with the Clooneys

Annie Karni and Kenneth P. Vogel

For two seats at the head table with Clinton, George Clooney and his wife, attorney Amal Clooney, at an April 15 fundraiser, a couple must contribute or raise a whopping $353,400 — a huge ticket price for a hard-dollar fundraiser.

The Bay Area fundraiser, hosted at the home of venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar, is one of two events starring the Clooneys. On April 16, Clinton and the Clooneys will reunite at the Clooney Los Angeles mansion, where tickets cost $33,400 per person to dine at the table with one of Hollywood’s most glamorous couples.

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Political Parties

Vox: American politics has reached peak polarization

Lee Drutman

For a long time in American politics, we’ve been trapped in a cycle of ever-escalating political polarization. As measured by voting patterns in the US Congress, the two parties have pulled apart to distances we’ve never seen before. As measured by consistent partisan positioning among voters, the split in the electorate has reached a historic level of divisiveness.

But this is about to end. We’ve now hit peak polarization. The forces that have fueled the widening gap between the two political parties are now fueling fights within the two political parties, fights that will lead to new coalitions in American politics, eventually realigning the two parties. A new era of American politics is about to emerge.

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Dangers of Disclosure

NBC News: Criticism of Trump Draws Online Harassment, Threats

Jane C. Timm

“She woke up and there was a very, very nasty threatening voicemail from somebody who’s a Trump supporter. She’s going to make a decision about a police report,” Mair told MSNBC. “I’ve already had to file a police report about a Trump supporter who threatened to behead me.”

Mair is just one of the many who have spoken out against Trump and been harassed for it. Her home address was later published online by one of his supporters, she tweeted.

As Trump routinely tweets attacks at his rivals that are then seen by his 6 million Twitter followers, others take it further: Ganging up, harassing and threatening his critics online and in person for weeks and months on end. They adopt Trump-like insults — his critics are often “losers” — and routinely publish and circulate private information, just as Trump did last summer when he read rival candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham’s cell phone number aloud on live television.

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Candidates and Campaigns

Los Angeles Times: Clinton criticizes lax campaign finance laws between two L.A.-area fundraisers

Seema Mehta

In between attending two Los Angeles-area fundraisers, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton railed against the laxness of campaign finance laws on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

“We have to raise money. I raise a lot of money at events and I raise a lot of money online, but there should not be these huge loopholes for corporations and billionaires to just put as much money as they want to and not even have to tell you who it comes from or really disclose very much at all,” Clinton told Kimmel, arguing that Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that weakened campaign finance laws, must be overturned. “It is wrong.”

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The States

San Luis Obispo Tribune: Carpenter changes mind on ‘democracy vouchers’ for campaign finance

Dan Carpenter, Vice Mayor

On March 15, the majority of the SLO City Council, including myself, gave direction to staff to return with a discussion of policy, legal and operational issues on the idea of creating a “democracy voucher” system giving public funds to candidates who agree only to receive contributions through the program…

I was wrong to think this was the answer to achieving that goal, and I will oppose this proposed ordinance when it returns for further council consideration.

In the hours and days following the decision, I heard from many citizens throughout the community with a primary concern about the inappropriate use of taxpayer resources for candidates.

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Brian Walsh

Brian is a Research Fellow at the Center for Competitive Politics.