Daily Media Links 3/8: How well-meaning political reformers are helping to elect President Trump, Super PAC consultant who spent $100 million on Jeb Bush is unapologetic, and more…

March 8, 2016   •  By Brian Walsh   •  
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The Courts

Courthouse News Service: Assistant AG Says Koch Donor Suit Suspicious

Matt Reynolds

During heated testimony on Friday morning, Americans for Prosperity Foundation attorney Derek Shaffer pressed Senior Assistant Attorney General Tania Ibanez on whether she was suspicious of the foundation because of the lawsuit.

After Ibanez testified that she had not yet made a determination, Shaffer then played a Jan. 6, 2016 video deposition to the court in which he asked the prosecutor if the group’s actions made her suspicious.

“You’re suing us and you don’t want to give us your Schedule B. So, that puts my suspicions on alert,” Ibanez said in the video, adding later: “The litigation caused me to have some concerns.”

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Tax-Financed Campaigns

Washington Post: How well-meaning political reformers are helping to elect President Trump

David Broockman

This makes those who celebrate voter centrism rather like the fabled statistician who drowned in a river that was 2 feet deep on average. Even if voters are centrist on average, they can be quite extreme on many particular issues.

The result? Reforms that empower voters may not push politicians further to the center — instead, they may encourage politicians to pander to extreme views popular among voters. Indeed, where they have been enacted, many changes that reformers favor — like public funding of elections and top-two primaries — have resulted in politicians doing just this. By seeking to further empower voters in the name of reducing polarization, well-meaning reformers may actually be encouraging dangerous extremism.

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Effects of Campaign Spending

CNN: Super Saturday: Rubio and allies spent more than double the field per vote

Richard Greene

Take Marco Rubio. The Florida senator and his allies spent nearly twice as much in TV advertising per vote as all other candidates combined — Republicans and Democrats.

Here’s how that breaks down: Conservative Solutions PAC, which backs Rubio, spent $124,590 on ads in Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Maine in the 15 months up to Saturday. Rubio took 85,064 votes across the four states, which works out to $1.46 per vote.

That might seem like a good deal until you see the numbers for the other candidates.

Donald Trump and John Kasich spent no money on advertising. Trump got the largest number of votes in the Republican field, with 230,443, while Kasich came last with 62,554. Both spent zero dollars per vote.

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Independent Groups

Los Angeles Times: Super PAC consultant who spent $100 million on Jeb Bush is unapologetic

Seema Mehta

The political strategist who spent more than $100 million to get Jeb Bush the presidential nomination saturated the airwaves with ads. Red billboards flashed Bush quotes. A plane towing a Bush banner buzzed a Donald Trump rally. He went so far as to mail Iowa voters digital video players loaded with a biographical documentary.

It was all for naught. The best Murphy’s effort could buy was a finish that was 1,879 votes shy of third place in New Hampshire for the man once presumed to be the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

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Newsweek: Super PACs Are Killing the Republican Party

Kurt Eichenwald

Then came 2012, the first primary season after the Citizens United decision, and with it, one of the most ridiculous sights in political history: Republican debates with so many candidates that the stage seemed to groan under their weight. Unlike in the past, no one needed to go hat in hand to hundreds or thousands of potential donors—they just needed backing from one of those not-for-profit entities supported by a few billionaires.

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Daily Caller: Citizens United Sues For Clinton Campaign Finance Director’s State Dept. Emails

Chuck Ross

Before and after Dennis Cheng served as one of Hillary Clinton’s top campaign fundraising directors, he worked under her as deputy chief of protocol at the State Department as well as chief fundraiser at the Clinton Foundation. Now, Citizens United wants to know if all of those jobs, especially the State Department gig, carried the same responsibilities.

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Center for Responsive Politics: Steyer second in megadonor rankings, giving more to his super PAC than at this point in 2014 cycle

Will Tucker

Now, Steyer’s $13 million in contributions, as of the end of January, to NextGen alone have placed him at the No. 2 spot on the Center for Responsive Politics’ ranking of megadonors in 2016. He runs just behind Long Island hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, who has already given millions to conservative outside groups, including one $11 million contribution last year to a super PAC supporting Sen. Ted Cruz‘s(R-Texas) presidential campaign.

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Supreme Court

New York Times: The Senate’s Duty on a Supreme Court Nominee

Joseph R. Biden Jr.

I know there is an argument that no nominee should be voted on in the last year of a presidency. But there is nothing in the Constitution — or our history — to support this view. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy was confirmed in the last year of Ronald Reagan’s second term. I know. I was chairman of the Judiciary Committee at the time. And we promptly gave him a hearing, a vote in committee and a full vote on the floor.

As I write this, nearly all Republican senators have said that they will refuse to consider any nominee — sight unseen. At a time when we need to reduce the gridlock in our politics, this would extend Congress’s dysfunction to the Supreme Court — preventing it from functioning as our founders intended for a year and possibly longer.

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Wall Street Journal: The Scalia Seat: Let the People Speak

Ted Cruz

The court would be poised to allow the banning of movies and books criticizing political candidates like Hillary Clinton, to mandate that states permit the barbaric monstrosity known as partial-birth abortion, to force the religiously devout to provide abortion-inducing drugs, and to allow the confiscation of guns by holding that the Second Amendment doesn’t include an individual right to keep and bear arms.

In 2014 when the American people last spoke in a nationwide election, they clearly repudiated Democratic governance and elected a Republican Senate majority. Although the president has the constitutional power to nominate Justice Scalia’s replacement, no nominee can be appointed without the Senate’s “Advice and Consent.” And as Minority Leader Harry Reid himself once said, “nowhere” in the Constitution “does it say the Senate has a duty to give presidential nominees a vote.”

I believe the Senate should fulfill its constitutional duty by letting the American people be heard in selecting the next Supreme Court justice.

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Washington Post: Justices Thomas and Alito urge court to decide First Amendment rules applicable to bus advertising

Eugene Volokh

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case, but Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from that “denial of certiorari,” joined by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. Lower courts are split, Thomas argued, on an important question: When a city transit agency opens up advertising space for a wide range of political messages, does this create (1) a “designated public forum” — in which the government generally can’t discriminate based on the content of speech — or (2) a “nonpublic forum” …in which the government may impose content-based but viewpoint-neutral and reasonable restrictions? And the Supreme Court should have stepped in, he argued, to resolve the split.

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Washington Post: The FEC just made it easier for super PAC donors to hide their identities

Matea Gold

A divided Federal Election Commission cannot agree to investigate whether super PAC donors used corporations to mask their identities in the 2012 campaign, effectively giving a green light to contributors writing checks through limited-liability companies in this year’s elections.

FEC Assistant General Counsel William Powers wrote in letters to the nonprofit advocacy group Campaign Legal Center last week that the six-member panel was split about whether to look into corporate donations that were made in 2011 to Restore Our Future, a super PAC backing then-GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. At least four commissioners must agree that there is a basis for an investigation before the agency’s lawyers can proceed. Absent that consensus, the FEC closed the cases, he wrote.

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The Media

The Guardian: Millions of ordinary Americans support Donald Trump. Here’s why

Thomas Frank

I call it a “mystery” because the working-class white people who make up the bulk of Trump’s fan base show up in amazing numbers for the candidate, filling stadiums and airport hangars, but their views, by and large, do not appear in our prestige newspapers. On their opinion pages, these publications take care to represent demographic categories of nearly every kind, but “blue-collar” is one they persistently overlook. The views of working-class people are so foreign to that universe that when New York Times columnist Nick Kristof wanted to “engage” a Trump supporter last week, he made one up, along with this imaginary person’s responses to his questions.

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Candidates and Campaigns

FiveThirtyEight: Donald Trump Would Be Easy To Stop Under Democratic Rules

Nate Silver

The reason these details matter so much is because of how the GOP’s delegate rules are structured. If the Republican nomination were contested under Democratic delegate rules instead, Trump would find it almost impossible to get a majority of delegates, and a floor fight in Cleveland would already be all but inevitable. If every state awarded its delegates winner-take-all, conversely, Trump would be much further ahead, although the bigger swings these rules enable would give his opponents a chance to catch up later on. In the rest of this article, I’ll run the numbers on how many delegates Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio would have won so far under three alternate sets of rules, including the two I just mentioned.

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New York Times: Maryland House Race a ‘Caldron of Power Couples and Washington, D.C., Politics’

Sheryl Gay Stolberg

“Even the political novices are political insiders; it shows how many would-be, wannabe politicians are here.”

The candidate roster looks like the pages of one of those glossy, D.C. name-dropping magazines. It includes the Democratic whip of the Maryland Senate, whose wife is President Obama’s deputy Treasury secretary; a former television reporter whose husband, Chris Matthews, hosts “Hardball” on MSNBC; and two former Obama administration officials, one with a biography eerily similar to the president’s. His father is African (from Nigeria), his mother is from Kansas and his wife is named Michele.

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The States

Arizona Republic: Michele Reagan sold (us) out on dark money

Laurie Roberts

Once elected to the state’s No. 2 job, Reagan no longer fought the forces of darkness. When I pressed her on it, she explained that she no longer believed the state can require dark-money groups to disclose who is bankrolling their campaigns.

“The worst thing you can do is tell people something that they want to hear, knowing it can’t be done,” she said last year. “Yes, I tried. I ran a bill and in running the bill, I learned what can happen on the state level and the state Legislature regarding disclosure of these groups and what can’t happen.”

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Campaign contribution limits measure gets airing in House committee

Alex Stuckey

The state has operated without contribution limits since 2008 and Arthur’s bill would cap contributions for statewide candidates at $5,000, Senate candidate at $1,500 and House candidates at $750…

Instead, Republican leaders have moved forward on proposals that would ban lobbyist gifts and impose a cooling off period for lawmakers seeking to become lobbyists.

Some lawmakers argue the lack of limits results in transparency. If limits were in place, they say, the same amount of money would pumped into candidate’s coffers it would just be harder to trace.

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Joplin Globe: Some lobbyist groups operating in Jefferson City shield donors

Crystal Thomas

Johnson said influencing the state legislature was the best way to make a difference. He said he wanted to push their three main principles: limited government, individual liberty and free market policies…

As a 501(c)(4) group, the Alliance does not have to disclose its donors, whether that’s $5 coming from thousands of different donors around the state, or from a single donor cutting one check, in effect hiring Cady and Johnson as his or her own personal lobbyists.

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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: 38 states looking at ‘dark money’

Spencer Willems

According to the Center for Public Integrity, nonprofit dark-money groups spent about $25 million in the 2014 election year in TV ads in state races, roughly about 3 percent of all ads purchased during that cycle.

Democratic legislators have asked Gov. Asa Hutchinson to consider taking up Tucker’s proposed legislation that would, for the first time, regulate electioneering in the state and would require groups — like those that spent more than $1 million on TV ads on Tuesday’s state Supreme Court races — to register with state officials and disclose the source of their funding.

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Frankfort State Journal: Rep. James Kay files bill to regulate ‘dark money’

Brad Bowman

Super political action committees (PACs) still play a contentious role in state elections, and House Democrat James Kay said he wants to add another layer of transparency and disclosure when it comes to campaign contributions…

To get full disclosure from such entities, Kay said he thought it would be easiest for them to follow the same guidelines candidates do.

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Atlanta Journal Constitution: ‘Dark money’ showdown looms at Capitol

Chris Joyner

Perhaps because of the anger of activists — particularly conservative tea party types — the Senate stripped the so-called “dark money” provisions out of the bill in hopes of settling the fines issue before returning to their home districts to run for re-election…

Because the House and Senate versions of HB 370 differ, the House will have to decide whether to accept the Senate changes or work out the differences in a conference committee.

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Brian Walsh

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