Daily Media Links 4/21: On Party Line Vote, FEC Rejects Continued Exemption from Disclosure for Socialist Workers Party, Privacy as a Philanthropic Pillar, and more…

April 21, 2017   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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Election Law Blog: On Party Line Vote, FEC Rejects Continued Exemption from Disclosure for Socialist Workers Party

By Rick Hasen

The Supreme Court has long recognized that a group facing a realistic threat of harassment for revealing its donors or vendors has a First Amendment right to exemption from generally applicable campaign finance laws. The case establishing this principle, Brown v. Socialist Workers Party ’74 Campaign Committee, has come up as the SWP has sought a continued exemption.

Today, on a party line vote, the FEC refused to extend the exemption, based upon the evidence presented that SWP donors still faced a threat of harassment.

We’ll see if this next ends up in court. 


Philanthropy Magazine: Privacy as a Philanthropic Pillar

By Karl Zinsmeister

The fact is, anonymity has been closely intertwined with free expression since the founding of our country. Much of the argumentation that fueled the American Revolution itself was produced without attribution (like Common Sense-the most widely circulated polemic in U.S. history, which was only later identified with Thomas Paine). The Federalist Papers (and many retorts) were also published anonymously as our Constitution was created, so they would be judged on their merits, rather than discounted or promoted based on who was behind the effort.

U.S. judges have repeatedly knocked down governmental efforts that interfere with anonymous voluntary action. “Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority,” warned the Supreme Court in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission in 1995. It protects “individuals from retaliation, and their ideas from suppression.” Whether the flash point was trying to force small groups to disclose their donors (Brown v. Socialist Workers, 1982), or requiring advocates to publicly register before going door-to-door (Watchtower Society v. Village of Stratton, 2002), our courts have rebuffed authorities over and over for demanding the names and addresses of inconvenient activists.

Competitive Enterprise Institute: Darcy’s Story: The Need for Donor Privacy Protections

By Richard Morrison

Our friends at People United for Privacy have a new video out illustrating the need for strong donor privacy protections for nonprofit groups. Darcy Olson, the president of the Goldwater Institute, helped lead a campaign starting in 2009 to stop the city of Glendale, Arizona from using millions of dollars in taxpayer money to subsidize a new hockey stadium. The next four minutes tells the story of the threats, violence, and intimidation that followed…

When the government forces nonprofit groups to disclose their supporters to the public, they threaten the free speech and free association rights of those involved. Worse, they expose them to retribution by unprincipled political opponents who are willing to use threats and intimidation to get their way. CEI experienced its own version of this-happily, unsuccessful-tactic when we received a subpoena attempting to force us to turn over a decade’s worth of documents relating to our work on climate change, including information on our donors.

Free Speech

CNN: Texas v. Johnson and free speech’s trial by fire

By Brenna Williams

Before protesting became “the new brunch,” it spawned a landmark Supreme Court case. Outside the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Gregory Johnson set fire to an American flag…

“I think it’s a most important case,” said Johnson’s lawyer, William Kunstler. “I sense that it goes to the heart of the First Amendment, to hear things or to see things that we hate test the First Amendment more than seeing or hearing things that we like. It wasn’t designed for things we like. They never needed a First Amendment.”

The court narrowly agreed with Kunstler in a 5-4 decision on June 21, 1989. Scalia joined the majority, which, in an opinion written by Justice William Brennan, said that “if there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

Political Parties

Washington Examiner: RNC sets new record for first quarter fundraising

By Kyle Feldscher

The Republican National Committee pulled in $41.5 million in the first quarter of 2017, including $12 million in March, to set a fundraising record for the party.

RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel announced the fundraising haul is the largest first quarter following a presidential election in the party’s history. The party has $41.4 million cash on hand and has distributed $10 million this year.

“Our record-setting fundraising pace has been fueled by grassroots enthusiasm for President Trump and the Republican Party,” McDaniel said in a statement “With more than a quarter million new small dollar online donors contributing to the RNC and Trump campaign’s efforts, it is clear voters are invested in our party and the president.

“The RNC is in a strong position to make an impact in key races in 2017 and 2018 as we plan to take a leading role in preserving our congressional majorities and prepare to reelect President Trump in 2020,” she said.

Candidates and Campaigns

USA Today: Montana special election pits millionaire against cowboy poet

By Bartholomew D. Sullivan

The race is likely to become the same kind of referendum on President Trump that the previous special elections have devolved into, with heavy spending from outside groups intended to move a national message, good or bad, about his national leadership.

“Gianforte is the favorite but it appears as though national forces are starting to tune into the race,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor and House races analyst at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

“Some Republican outside groups have started investing, and Democrats may enter soon,” Kondik said. “Democratic candidates have generally been running ahead of Hillary Clinton’s performance in special House and state legislative races so far, and it’ll be interesting to see if that effect manifests itself in Montana and, if so, how dramatic the effect is. The outside spending by national groups will give us a sense of how competitive the race is but, with special elections, there are always challenges in figuring things out in advance.”

Trump Administration

Bloomberg BNA: Corporations Gave Millions for Trump Inaugural

By Kenneth P. Doyle

Corporate America, which largely shunned Donald Trump during last year’s presidential campaign, embraced him after he won the presidency, providing much of the record $106.7 million raised for Trump’s inaugural festivities in January.

At least 17 companies contributed $1 million or more to Trump’s inaugural committee, according to a new report filed with the Federal Election Commission and reviewed by Bloomberg BNA. In total, nearly 150 companies, large and small, gave to the Trump inaugural, along with hundreds of individual donors…

Only one publicly traded company, the private prison company GEO Corrections, made any reported contributions to a pro-Trump super political action committee during the presidential campaign, according to an analysis of FEC disclosure reports by Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a law professor at Florida’s Stetson University and a fellow at the nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.

The States

Bloomberg: If Corporate Cash Scares You, Rethink This Boycott 

By Stephen L. Carter

It’s unfortunate that corporate pressure was needed to bring about the state’s retreat; still that’s what had to happen. But here I at least try to be consistent: I don’t have any particular problem with the use of corporate cash at election time.

Which brings me to my own state of Connecticut. Democrats in the state legislature are pushing a bill that would try to restrict what critics call “dark money.” The bill would among other things place stringent disclosure requirements on businesses making political contributions and place a cap on the amount of money that a single source can contribute to a Connecticut group that makes independent expenditures…

 As I said, I’m glad that North Carolina has partially repealed HB 2. But let’s be clear. The case is all about corporate free speech. Continued pressure from some of the biggest companies in the world is what moved the legislature to act. The paltry sums companies spend on electioneering pale beside the billions of dollars in business that they threatened to yank from North Carolina. If one scares you so should the other.

Montana Public Radio: Increased Campaign Finance Limits Near Passage In Montana 

By Freddy Monares

A bill that would increase the money state candidates can raise is one vote away from passing the Legislature.

Senate Bill 368 failed a vote in the House earlier this week but was brought back to life by Republican Rep. Theresa Manzella in the House today. The bill would also require the now-independent Commissioner’s Office of Political Practices to report to the state’s Attorney General.

Manzella is carrying the bill in the House.

“What this bill does that we should all appreciate is that it brings transparency for all of us, it brings accountability for the COPP, as well as us,” Manzella said.

Democratic Rep. Zac Perry opposes the bill. He says it would reverse a law passed in 2015 to remove “dark money” in Montana politics.

“We had a great moment in the last session with the Montana Disclose Act, that was a great achievement by that body. I see this bill as an attempt to undermine that,” Perry said.

The House passed the bill on a preliminary 54-to-46 vote.

Alex Baiocco

Alex Baiocco