In the News
More Soft Money Hard Law: Second Fiddles, in a Tribute to Buckley
By Bob Bauer
There has been news of an original structure for Super PAC activities, and it has scrambled assumptions about how these entities might be organized and function. The coordination debate to this point has been all about candidate control or influence. In the different arrangement coming to light, the donors behind the PACs are striving for control. A source tells Bloomberg Politics: “Donors used to be in the category of ‘write a check and go away’ while the operatives called all the shots. Donors don’t want to play second fiddle anymore.”
It appears that the notion now is for the donors to play multiple fiddles. Funders would put together several PACs committed to the same candidacy, each such committee to be operated for discrete purposes. One PAC would fund TV ads, another would handle social media, and additional committees would attend to any number of other tasks, including data mining, voter turnout, or volunteer recruitment. David Keating has suggested that this network would also enable each funder to have the consultants of her choice, or spotlight within her PAC’s communications the issues she most cares about.
(Re)Formerly Logical: Mandatory Contracting Disclosure (Cartoon)
Forcing government bureaucrats to review government contractors’ political ideologies doesn’t help prevent corruption, it simply provides contracting officials with an easy way to choose winners and losers based on politics.
Amending the First Amendment
Democracy 21: Press Release: Reform Groups Strongly Oppose Efforts in the States to Call a Constitutional Convention
Huge amounts of money would very likely be spent by wealthy Americans, corporations and other well-financed interests to influence the decisions made by the convention.
To put it simply, we would be unleashing the opportunity for a wholesale rewrite of the founding Constitution of our country with no limit on the issues to be considered and no idea about how the process for doing this would work and how decisions would be made.
This makes no sense and would pose grave danger to the nation.
Washington Post: Wealthy donors on left launch new plan to wrest back control in the states
By Matea Gold
SAN FRANCISCO — A cadre of wealthy liberal donors aims to pour tens of millions of dollars into rebuilding the left’s political might in the states, racing to catch up with a decades-old conservative effort that has reshaped statehouses across the country.
The plan embraced by the Democracy Alliance, an organization that advises some of the Democrats’ top contributors, puts an urgent new focus on financing groups that can help the party regain influence in time for the next congressional redistricting process, after the 2020 elections. The blueprint approved by the alliance board calls on donors to help expand state-level organizing and lobbying for measures addressing climate change, voting rights and economic inequality.
“People have gotten a wake-up call,” Gara LaMarche, the alliance’s president, said in an interview. “The right is focused on the state level, and even down-ballot, and has made enormous gains. We can’t have the kind of long-term progressive future we want if we don’t take power in the states.”
NY Times: Group Spells Out 5-Year Plan to Build Liberal ‘Infrastructure’
By Nicholas Confessore
While Hillary Rodham Clinton was kicking off her very long-awaited presidential bid on one side of the country on Sunday, dozens of deep-pocketed liberal donors were meeting on the other side to ponder a progressive resurgence.
The donors, all partners in the Democracy Alliance, held a spring retreat in San Francisco, where the alliance’s leaders presented a new five-year plan intended to help stem political and legislative losses faced by Democrats. The alliance will seek to double the amount of money its partners contribute to a portfolio of liberal-leaning “infrastructure” organizations, said Gara LaMarche, the alliance’s president, aiming to push roughly $50 million a year into about 30 think tanks, policy advocacy organizations, and other groups.
A significant amount of that money will go into funding new or expanded organizations at the state level, where conservatives and Republicans have exploited electoral success to usher in sweeping changes on issues like abortion, gun rights, and taxes. Mr. LaMarche said the alliance hoped to replicate the success of conservative organizations in raising money for local politics from big national donors.
Wall Street Journal: Rules Mean End of the Road for ‘Ready for Hillary’
By Byron Tau
Ready For Hillary is now just Ready.
The reason is a Federal Election Commission rule that independent groups cannot use the name of a federal candidate in their name — to keep voters from being confused or misled by independent efforts.
Politico: Keep Shining the Light on ‘Dark Money’
By Robert F. Bauer and Samuel Issacharoff
Current conversations on this topic have a Groundhog Day quality, and it seems that they are stuck between the dreary and the dreadful. Part of the problem is that nearly 40 years ago, the Supreme Court limited the objective of campaign finance regulation to the prevention of corruption or its appearance, and decades of debate ensued about what is and what is not corruption. And all this in the service of identifying when candidates and political parties come under the “undue influence” of money.
It’s time to retire the tired discourse of corruption and return to the core objective of giving voters access to relevant information. Disclosure today is best understood as a service to voters. Voters care about the “big money,” large contributions and expenditures in support of candidates. Those are the funds that most shape the issues raised and emphasized in campaigns and compel our attention.
Washington Post (LTE): Changing pay-to-play politics
By David Bossie
Mr. Menendez is alleged to have received luxury outings and travel from Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen. While the public is rightly outraged, the media have attempted to shift focus to an indictment of the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United v. FEC decision and the era of political speech that the decision ushered in.
The editorial cherry-picked facts from a far-ranging 68-page indictment in an effort to tie Mr. Menendez’s alleged actions to super PAC contributions. This spurious argument against Citizens United ignored the true allegations of corruption leveled against Mr. Menendez — and that many of the allegations date to before Citizens United.
Candidates, Politicians, Campaigns, and Parties
NY Times: Hillary Clinton Announces 2016 Presidential Bid
By Amy Chozick
Ending two years of speculation and coy denials, Hillary Rodham Clintonannounced on Sunday that she would seek the presidency for a second time, immediately establishing herself as the likely 2016 Democratic nominee.
“I’m running for president,” she said with a smile near the end of a two-minute video released just after 3 p.m.
“Everyday Americans need a champion. And I want to be that champion,” Mrs. Clinton said. “So I’m hitting the road to earn your vote — because it’s your time. And I hope you’ll join me on this journey.”
Washington Post: For GOP, ‘Stop Hillary’ campaign begins in earnest
By Robert Costa
Acknowledging Clinton’s political strength, many Republican officials and strategists on the right are determined to get a head start on attacking her record as secretary of state and highlighting what they see as her vulnerabilities, almost ignoring her lesser-known rivals.
The early onslaught — a battery of opposition research, snarky videos and even an upcoming feature film — reflects Republicans’ desire to use a common opponent to unite their ranks, which have fractured as the GOP has stumbled in the past two presidential elections.
McClatchy: FEC argues that ex-Sen. Larry Craig misused campaign funds
By Michael Doyle
WASHINGTON — Former Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig “appears to have gambled that he would not be pursued for his violation” of campaign finance laws, the Federal Election Commission now says.
In a new brief that resurrects details about Craig’s 2007 arrest in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the FEC suggests Craig’s use of campaign funds to pay legal fees heeded the “famous observation that it is often easier to seek forgiveness than permission.”
“But it does not reflect much effort to comply with federal law,” FEC attorney Kevin P. Hancock wrote in the legal brief.
The Hill: Let Bitcoin into the campaign
By Jerry Brito
If a donor uses a credit card or PayPal, they can give up to the maximum contribution limit of $2,700 per election cycle. But if they try to use Bitcoin to give the max, the Paul campaign website pops up a message that reads: “There is a problem with your donation. Bitcoin donations are limited to $100. If you would like to contribute more that $100, you may select Credit Card as your payment option.”
This $100 limit comes from an advisory opinion issued by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) last year, and it puts Bitcoin at an obvious disadvantage.
With Bitcoin, for the first time, the medium is the message. Contributions made using Bitcoin implicitly communicate the donor’s support for the digital currency and emerging technology broadly. Given that venture capitalists have poured over half a billion dollars into Bitcoin startups, there would no doubt be strong interest in signaling support for the technology. Seriously contributing to a campaign using Bitcoin would accomplish that, but the $100 limit makes it impossible.
State and Local
New York –– Buzzfeed: Judge Says Preet Bharara “Strayed So Close To The Edge” Of Prejudicing Silver Trial
By Matthew Zeitlin
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was scolded by a federal judge today for his comments to the press and his office’s tweets in the aftermath of the arrest of former New York state Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver. The embattled longtime Assembly leader had requested that his indictment be dismissed because of Bharara’s comments, which his attorneys described as prejudicial, but the case will go on despite the judge’s criticism.
“The U.S. Attorney … strayed so close to the edge of the rules governing his own conduct that Defendant Sheldon Silver has a non-frivolous argument that he fell over the edge to the Defendant’s prejudice,” U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni said in an opinion released Friday afternoon.
Caproni described Bharara’s actions following the arrest — including a press conference, a speech given at New York Law School, and an interview with MSNBC two weeks later — as a “media blitz orchestrated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” and “brinksmanship relative to the Defendant’s fair trial rights.”
Vermont –– Burlington Free Press: Public financing deterrent
The prospect of having to pay a $72,000 penalty for a $255 violation is likely to give pause to anyone considering the public financing route to run for office in Vermont.
Public financing offers candidates an alternative to seeking individual donations to fund a campaign. Public financing also can reduce the influence a few big donors — individuals, corporations and political action committees — can have on electoral politics.
Yet the disproportionate consequences of a misstep raises the stakes for candidates who might seek public financing precisely because they has limited access to big money.