Daily Media Links 4/18: Yes, Corporations Do Have Free Speech Rights, The IRS Is Politicized Because We Politicized It., and more…

April 18, 2016   •  By Brian Walsh   •  
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In the News

More Soft Money Hard Law: Ambition and Ambiguity

Bob Bauer

The Republican Commissioners say that the law is unclear and, absent a clear purpose to evade reporting requirements, there is no justification for enforcement.  From the outside, Brad Smith agrees, and he questions why the Democrats won’t give up on enforcement actions on which there is no agreement and simply work on a rulemaking to establish clear, concrete rules…

Taking the claims on each side at face value—crediting the Commissioners with meaning only what they say—one can ask: what is this argument about?  The very skilled Smith has shown that someone so inclined could defend the proposition that that there was really some doubt about the law and a donor might imagine that she could set up an LLC or use an existing one to make a contribution that would be reported only in its name and not in hers .  Elsewhere, here included, there has been doubt that there could be any doubt. Lawyers disagree.

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Mount Vernon News: Smith: Money does not buy elections

Nick Sabo

Many of those talking points — dark money, corporations as people — have also spawned their share of myths, said Bradley Smith, professor of law at Capital University and author of “Unfree Speech: The Folly of Campaign Finance Reform.” Smith was the featured speaker at the Knox County Republican Women’s Club luncheon Thursday.

While many of the myths have come out of true facts from the Citizens United ruling, one is entirely false. Foreign spending on campaigns is still illegal, Smith said, and nothing in Citizens United changes that.

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The Future and Past of the IRS Scandal

Scott Blackburn

A recent decision by the Sixth Circuit echoes these sentiments, stating that, “at every turn the IRS has resisted the plaintiffs’ requests for information regarding the IRS’s treatment of the plaintiff class, eventually to the open frustration of the district court.” While that statement speaks specifically to only one case, it reverberates around the entirety of the issue, and explains why the panelists can’t discuss the future of executive agency political activism – we have almost entirely failed to adjudicate past abuses…

In any event, six years after the illegal targeting of conservatives began, with an overwhelming record not just of IRS abuse – but a political push for it, and an apathy by DOJ to investigate what happened and why – it is difficult to not feel angry not only that the government blatantly violated the First Amendment rights of those it serves, but also that no one in government seems to care. Why has no one been fired? How can we be sure these agencies won’t target individuals for their political beliefs and preferred policies again? What is the remedy for those targeted groups? We still have no answers.

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Corporate Speech

Bloomberg: Yes, Corporations Do Have Free Speech Rights

Stephen L. Carter

But matters might not be so straightforward. In striking down the anti-electioneering rules that applied to corporate expenditures, the court distinguished the many cases allowing limits on speech that interferes with core government functions. Surely a corporation’s threat of a boycott, by pressuring the legislature, does exactly that. Thus it’s possible that the Citizens United majority might also uphold such a hypothetical law.

Nevertheless, I still think my hypothetical statute would be flatly unconstitutional. If you agree with me, you evidently hold a fairly robust view of the free speech rights that attach to private for-profit corporations. After all, the sole ground of the companies’ threatened refusal to deal is a strong disagreement with the states’ policies on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. I, too, wish the states would take a more open view of human possibility, and not rush to legislate for eventualities exceedingly unlikely to arise.  But that’s a simple and straightforward political tussle — exactly what the First Amendment exists to protect.

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Independent Groups

CPI: Pierre Omidyar gives $100,000 to new anti-Trump super PAC

John Dunbar, Michael Beckel, and Carrie Levine

Billlionaire eBay founder Pierre Omidyar is donating $100,000 to NeverTrump PAC, a fledgling super PAC that registered with the Federal Election Commission on March 4.

While Omidyar has made donations to various Democratic candidates and party organizations over the years, this is believed to be his first contribution to a super PAC…

Omidyar confirmed the donation via Twitter: “I think Trumpism is dangerous,” he wrote. “So I’m personally supporting @NeverTrumpPAC, a rare political contribution during extreme times.”

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Ballotpedia: Is hard money a larger share of political spending than outside money?

Humberto Sanchez

Penniman and Potter pointed to data from CRP that said that total spending on the 2014 midterm elections totaled about $3.7 billion. Of that figure they point out that spending from outside groups, excluding party committees, totaled about $560 million and made up about 15 percent of the total election spending, while spending by the candidates totaled about $1.5 billion and made up over 40 percent of the total. The remaining spending included roughly $1.5 billion by the parties and “other” spending tracked by CRP.

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Washington Free Beacon: Dark Money Funds Super PAC Coordinating With Clinton Campaign

Lachlan Markay

Clinton defended her third-party supporters by claiming that President Obama has engaged in similar practices.

“President Obama had a super PAC when he ran. President Obama took tens of millions of dollars from contributors,” Clinton said.

While Obama did rely on Super PAC support despite disavowing recently the loosening of campaign finance laws, experts say Clinton has stretched the bounds of campaign finance law further than any presidential candidate since the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United decision.

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Paradox: The IRS Is Politicized Because We Politicized It.

Matthias Shapiro

And yet liberals have at best ignored and at worst defended the IRS during this abuse of power scandal. Why? Why would you spend your time defending a nameless, faceless government organization that we know has acted improperly? Even worse, why would you fight a bipartisan effort that isn’t even focused on punishing that organization, but simply wants to understand the truth of what happened?

The only reason that comes to my mind is that for many liberals, the IRS is on “their team.” On this issue, they have planted their flag firmly on the team of government abuse, the team of bureaucracy in service to “the cause,” the team of fighting transparency efforts if those efforts might make them look bad.

I want the moderate left back, the left that was worried about trust in the government, concerned with an equal application of justice. But we are in a post-scandal world. It’s not a scandal unless they admit it’s a scandal, so the easiest way to keep it from being a scandal is to deny the undeniable facts on the ground and defend the IRS no matter what injustice they may engage in.

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Tampa Bay Times: Lessons from Bush, Rubio fundraising machines

Editorial Board

Second, the IRS needs to police nonprofits masquerading as social welfare organizations. They are little more than fronts for laundering unlimited, anonymous contributions for political candidates, and both Bush and Rubio benefited from such nonprofits. In Rubio’s case, the nonprofit Conservative Solutions Project said last summer it raised nearly $16 million and used the money to air ads such as one urging voters to support Rubio in his opposition to President Barack Obama’s nuclear arms agreement with Iran. The IRS mishandled its previous attempt to crack down on these nonprofits by focusing on tea party groups, but it needs to take another run at this issue after this election.

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Tax-Financed Campaigns

Washington Post: There’s nothing to fear in fair elections

Craig Holman

For incumbent elected officials, the news is good here, too. Though small-donor public financing programs fundamentally change the donor base and increase the competitiveness of elections, these programs have not been shown to measurably increase the odds of incumbents being defeated at the polls. Incumbents, like newcomers to politics, share the benefits of changing donor pools from the wealthy special interests to average citizens.

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Bloomberg BNA: FEC’s Petersen Hints Interest in Foreign-Money Rules

Kenneth P. Doyle

Matthew Petersen, the FEC’s Republican chairman, proposed that the FEC sponsor a forum and call in outside legal experts to receive advice about how to proceed. The FEC forum is expected to take place in June.

Petersen’s suggestion responded to a proposal from a Democratic FEC colleague, Ellen Weintraub, who had urged the commission to begin writing new rules to prevent corporations from being used to disguise illegal contributions to super PACs and other political spending groups.

Weintraub’s proposal focused on a certification process to prevent corporations from being used to funnel money from foreign nationals and government contractors into U.S. campaigns. Rather than rejecting Weintraub’s plan, as FEC Republicans have done with past Democratic proposals for post-Citizens United regulations, Petersen indicated he was prepared for a serious examination of possible new rules.

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Slate: George Clooney Says He’s Raised “Obscene Amount of Money” for Hillary Clinton

Daniel Politi

George Clooney says he agrees with Bernie Sanders that the amount of money in politics is ridiculous. The actor, who hosted big fundraisers for Hillary Clinton over the weekend, told NBC’s Meet the Press that he’d rather not fundraise at all but characterized money in politics as a necessary evil. “The Supreme Court can overturn Citizens United and get this obscene, ridiculous amount of money out so I never have to do a fundraiser again,” he said. “And that’s why I’m doing it.”

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Tampa Bay Times: Awaiting his sentence for landing on Capitol lawn, gyrocopter pilot Doug Hughes still seeks campaign finance reform

Ben Montgomery

The stunt cost him his job. He forfeited his gyrocopter to the government, was placed on house arrest and has been living on Social Security since. He’s facing as many as 10 months in prison when he’s sentenced on Thursday, which would mean time away from his wife and adolescent daughter, who watched him get arrested on CNN.

And he has zero regrets.

“I will wear my felony as a badge of honor for the rest of my life,” he said at home. “I won’t do it again, but I don’t regret it. . . . I know I broke the rules, but I did it to restore true democracy to the United States.”

The judge wouldn’t allow him to attend the protests last week, but his name was a rallying cry.

“We totally honor him,” said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the activist group Code Pink. “I think it’s fair to say that this is his baby.

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Candidates and Campaigns

Buzzfeed: Sanders Struggles To Back Up Idea Clinton Has Been Compromised By Donations

Evan McMorris-Santoro and Ruby Cramer

Sanders struggled to make his case at the key moment, though. When he was asked exactly what Clinton had done or not done to appease the Wall Street donors he says influences her, he wasn’t able to come up with specifics…

“That’s been our whole point,” Fallon said. “The reason why it’s pretty bad that he didn’t even have something to throw out there was because we have, at previous points, always argued that there’s no there there

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Gawker: Clinton Donor Confirms Presence of Static Noise Machine at Secretive Colorado Fundraiser

J.K. Trotter

Following our write-up, a Clinton donor who attended this specific fundraiser told Gawker that he personally witnessed the the static noise machine being operated: “I can confirm without any doubt that there was a white noise machine set up on the perimeter to prevent the public and reporters from hearing what Hillary Clinton said.” He did not know, however, what in Clinton’s speech, as he remembers it, would have inspired such a precautionary measure. (The same donor, who provided a copy of an invitation to the fundraiser bearing his name, asked not to be identified because of his involvement in local Democratic politics.)

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The States

Kentucky Courier-Journal: Bill increasing contribution limits advances

Joseph Gerth

House Bill 147 would allow people to contribute $2,000 to state candidates in Kentucky and up to $5,000 to political parties. The contribution limits would be indexed to inflation every two years.

Under the current law, individuals can’t contribute more than $1,000 to a candidate per election and no more than $2,500 to a political party.

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, Georgetown, said the Senate State and Local Government Committee removed other provisions from the bill that he said would likely be impacted by an ongoing lawsuit in federal court challenging Kentucky’s campaign finance law.

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Willamette Week: Jessie Sponberg Could Face Fine for Failing to Report Campaign Cash to State

Karina Buggy

Jessie Sponberg, a rabble-rousing activist who for 20 years made his living selling pot, wants voters to take him seriously as a candidate for Portland mayor.

He’s demanded to be included in public debates. He’s sought endorsements from newspapers.

He has also raised $2,650 in campaign contributions through the website Rally.org, more than 10 of 14 other candidates.

But state campaign finance records show Sponberg hasn’t reported any of those contributions to the Secretary of State as of April 15, and that’s a civil violation under Oregon law punishable with a fine up to $265.

Sponberg calls the oversight an honest mistake made by an all-volunteer campaign whose treasurer is in the hospital.

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Brian Walsh

Brian is a Research Fellow at the Center for Competitive Politics.https://www.ifs.org/author/bwalsh/

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