Daily Media Links 5/1

May 1, 2019   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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In the News

Washington Examiner: Facebook’s struggle to define political speech is nothing new

By Bradley A. Smith and Akhil Rajasekar

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg expressed his dismay recently over the difficulty in defining political speech and called for more government regulation of internet communications…

The question of what should be regulated as “political” speech may be new to Facebook, but it has vexed campaign finance reformers for decades. The Supreme Court has repeatedly faced this issue, most notably in the 1976 case, Buckley v. Valeo. There, the court wrestled with language in the Federal Election Campaign Act that regulated spending by any person or organization on speech “relative to” a candidate for office. As the court noted, “No speaker, in such circumstances, safely could assume that anything he might say upon [a] general subject would not be understood by some as an invitation [to vote for a particular candidate].”…

The Supreme Court’s compromise answer in Buckley was to interpret the statute as applying only to direct financial contributions to candidates and political parties, and speech that specifically advocated the election or defeat of candidates with phrases such as “vote for” and “vote against.” …

Buckley’s refusal to let campaign finance laws swallow the First Amendment whole is one of the most important the court has ever made. So when Mr. Zuckerberg calls on the government to regulate “discussion of issues,” he is calling for massive government regulation of the marketplace of ideas.

He is asking the federal government to set broad standards on what Americans can say about public affairs, how they can finance their public communications, and what they must report about their associations and discussions to the government.

KSFY Sioux Falls: Broadcasters join court challenge to campaign contribution ban

The South Dakota Broadcasters Association joins with others to challenge the restrictions of Initiated Measure 24, a ban on out of state contributions to ballot question committees which passed in November, 2018.

The challenge was filed in Pierre federal court April 17.

Along with the broadcasters, other participants include the South Dakota Newspaper Association, the South Dakota Retailers Association, the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Americans for Prosperity, and Tom Barnett, Jr.

The group represents the media, the two largest and most active statewide business groups, a non-profit national participant in state ballot measures, and a former state resident with a long history of political participation.

They are represented by attorneys from the Institute for Free Speech, one of the nation’s most prominent and accomplished defenders of free speech. Former Attorney General Marty Jackley and his firm, Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson, and Ashmore are serving as in-state counsel.

IM 24 passed with 56% approval. It bans contributions to ballot question committees from out of state organizations, individuals, and new South Dakota businesses.

Broadcaster President Steve Willard, said, “The legislature considered and killed similar bans each of the past two years because it didn’t survive a closer look. There wasn’t an opposition campaign in November and voters didn’t have all the facts. I personally think it passed because everyone’s getting a little tired of politics. Once SD voters hear more, I think they’ll agree with us.” 

New from the Institute for Free Speech

Center for Democracy & Technology Coalition Letter to Department of Homeland Security

We are a coalition of 103 civil liberties, civil rights, corporate responsibility, faith-based, human rights, immigrant rights, journalism, media, privacy, and government transparency organizations, legal service providers, and trade associations. We write to express our deep concern with reports of surveillance and targeting of activists, journalists, and lawyers by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Those reports indicate that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) created dossiers on activists, journalists, and lawyers, and targeted these individuals for heightened border screening based on their association with migrants seeking asylum. They also indicate that Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (ICEHSI) documented and shared a spreadsheet of “Anti-Trump” protests in New York City.

The actions of CBP and ICE-HSI may violate the Privacy Act of 1974 and threaten the exercise of First Amendment-protected activities, including freedom of speech and association and freedom of the press, as well as the delivery of legal services. These actions also diminish public confidence that the power granted to DHS and its agencies is wielded with appropriate discretion. Below, we further detail our concerns and request a series of remedial steps, including greater transparency by CBP and ICE with respect to their enforcement actions that may touch on these First Amendment rights.

PDF of coalition letter available here

The Courts

Constitutional Law Prof Blog: Federal Judge Enjoins Texas anti-BDS Statute as Violative of First Amendment

By Ruthann Robson

In an opinion in Amawi v. Pflugerville Independent School District, United States District Judge for the Western District of Texas, Judge Robert Pittman, issued a temporary injunction against Texas Gov. Code § 2270.001 et seq., also known as Texas H.B. 89, passed in 2017.

HB 89 prohibits governmental entities from entering into contracts for goods or services unless the contract contains a written verification that the contractor does not and will not “boycott Israel.” …

Judge Pittman easily found that the plaintiffs had standing, that their claims were ripe, and that the action was not barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity.

On the merits of the First Amendment claims, Judge Pittman’s careful and well reasoned opinion first concluded that the prohibition of a boycott was inherently expressive activity protected by the First Amendment…

Moreover, Judge Pittman stated, even if “it were generally true that boycotts are not inherently expressive, H.B. 89, by its terms, applies only to expressive boycotts,” given the statutory definitions…

Judge Pittman then found that the H.B. 89 was viewpoint and content discrimination, and was not government speech under Walker v. Texas Div., Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. (2015)…

Judge Pittman’s extensive and detailed opinion then found that plaintiffs’ additional First Amendment arguments – that the statute is an unconstitutional condition, that it was compelled speech, and that it was unconstitutionally vague – all had merit.

The constitutionality of anti-BDS statutes is being vigorously litigated and Judge Pittman’s decision is sure to be appealed.


CNN: Watchdogs say Mueller report offers ‘roadmap’ for civil penalties against Trump campaign

By Fredreka Schouten

Three watchdog groups on Tuesday urged federal campaign regulators to pursue civil penalties against President Donald Trump’s campaign, saying special counsel Robert Mueller’s team had created a “roadmap” for action.

Mueller’s team did not charge Donald Trump Jr. and other campaign aides with breaking any laws by participating in a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower. Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya after an email exchange between Trump Jr. and a publicist about potential dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The special counsel’s redacted report, released earlier this month, did not find that Trump Jr. and other aides had “willfully” violated a federal law that bars candidates from soliciting and receiving money or in-kind services from foreign interests.

The Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and Democracy 21 on Tuesday filed a supplement to an earlier complaint the groups filed in July 2017, asking the Federal Election Commission to investigate the meeting for a possible violation of campaign finance law. Civil penalties under that law, they said, did not require regulators to prove “willful” violations…

Last week, FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub said the Mueller report raised issues that fall “squarely” within the agency’s purview and asked the commission’s lawyers to look at the report to determine whether its findings contain information relevant to ongoing enforcement matters.


New York Times: After Backlash, Personal Voter Information Is Removed by New York City

By Vivian Wang

Bowing to fierce criticism from elected officials and privacy advocates, the New York City Board of Elections has removed the voter enrollment books  that it had posted online, which had included every registered voter’s full name, party affiliation and home address.

The books, spanning thousands of pages in searchable PDF format, were quietly posted in February, the first time they had been available on the Board of Elections website. Officials said the online publication was necessary given changes to election law at the state level.

But after a series of news reports regarding the decision, some election and privacy experts warned that it could make sensitive personal information too readily available. And officials including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, warned that the decision to publish the books could undermine public trust in the electoral process and jeopardize the security of voter information…

“I think it was a mistake,” [Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo] said on Monday. “Putting people’s personal information online – in this new world, we’re worried about hacking, we’re worrying about identity theft.”

He added: “People can take it and use it to bad effect one way or the other.”

Independent Groups

Politico: Top Dem strategists launch secret-money group to rebrand party

By Maggie Severns

The nonprofit organization, called Future Majority, plans to provide strategic advice to other Democratic groups, as well as branding efforts, communications and a “war room” that will debunk fake news and counter conservative social media. The group quietly soft-launched during the 2018 midterms and advised organizations including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on how to message to voters…

Many of Future Majority’s 2020 plans – including working to define to voters exactly what it means to be a Democrat – would in the past have been solely assumed by the Democratic National Committee. But the DNC has a somewhat smaller footprint heading into this election, and outside groups have taken on bigger party-building roles over the last decade of campaign finance deregulation.

Future Majority’s formation also highlights tensions within the Democratic Party over how to navigate money in politics in the 2020 election. The group will spend money through PACs but is initially organized as a 501(c)(4) political nonprofit – known to critics, including many Democrats, as “dark money,” with no disclosure of donors and limited disclosure of how money is spent. And while Democratic presidential candidates are clamoring for campaign finance reform and voluntarily limiting their own fundraising, all signs point to the party as a whole spending record sums of money through all sorts of groups as they try to unseat President Donald Trump.

Several other large Democratic outside groups have announced aggressive spending plans for the year. Priorities USA, the main Democratic super PAC that will support the party’s presidential nominee, announced earlier this year it planned to spend $100 million during the run-up to the 2020 elections in just key swing states. (Priorities also has an affiliated nonprofit group.)

The Hill: Biden allies launch super PAC

By Amie Parnes and Jonathan Easley

Democratic fundraiser Matt Tompkins has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to establish the For the People PAC with the aim of raising tens of millions of dollars to support Biden’s White House bid.

The super PAC will run local and national media ads for Biden and ensure he’ll have an activist network in all 50 states as he seeks to maintain his standing at the top of the polls in the Democratic primary. For the People will also run Facebook ads that send potential donors directly to Biden’s campaign…

Biden’s campaign distanced itself from the effort.

“Vice President Biden does not welcome assistance from super PACs,” Biden communications director and deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told The Hill…

Those supporting the super PAC say they understand that while Biden isn’t a fan of super PACs, it is critical that Democrats utilize the space outside the campaign to lift up the candidate they believe is most qualified to defeat President Trump.

“I applaud the effort,” said one longtime Biden ally. “It’s putting democracy back in the people’s hands.”

Online Speech Platforms 

Forbes: What Is Democracy When Twitter Decides Who Speaks To The President?

By Kalev Leetaru

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of democracy in the digital era is the degree to which the conversations between elected officials and those they represent are occurring within the private walled gardens of social media companies in which all the most sacrosanct traditions of the democratic process like free speech do not apply. Today any American can speak directly to the President of United States through Twitter, receive a direct personal response from the President and even potentially influence American policy. Yet, one of the most overlooked elements of this brave new world of digital democracy and digital diplomacy is the degree to which Twitter and Facebook now control democracy itself, with Twitter quite literally controlling who has the right to speak directly to the President…

Twitter is not a neutral communications channel. It has values, morals and ethical beliefs that are enforced with absolute authority upon its users.

This is in direct contrast to the channels traditionally used by citizens to contact their elected officials. The USPS does not open every letter and evaluate it according to a set of acceptable speech criteria, refusing to deliver those letters it disagrees with. Neither does the telephone company monitor every call and disconnect users whose conversations veer into topics or beliefs it as a company disagrees with.

Twitter, on the other hand, does increasingly monitor all of the posts that cross its servers and remove those that do not comport with its corporate values…

It is worth pointing out that in the leadup to an election in a democratic country, all it would take is a simple phone call or email from Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey to their staff to instantly delete all negative coverage of their preferred candidate and delete all positive coverage and suspend all supporters of the opposing candidate to have an outsized effect on the election.


Roll Call: ‘No corporate PAC’ pledges aren’t always so pure

By Kate Ackley

Corporate PAC money is yucky, but if it comes via contributions from other lawmakers or party committees, the taste seems to suddenly improve.

That’s the message from many incumbents in the club of 50-something Democratic lawmakers who refuse corporate political action committee dollars but still accept donations from colleagues and party committees that take the derided funds.

Numerous freshman Democrats who ran on a no-corporate-PAC-money mantra opened their re-election coffers to donations this year from party leaders and committees, such as the New Democrat Coalition Action Fund, that are chock full of funding from some of the nation’s best-known companies, federal election reports show…

Though End Citizens United encourages candidates to take no-corporate-PAC pledges – and keeps a list of those folks – the group’s endorsement is not contingent on it.

Crow’s campaign, for example, reported $7,500 from the New Democrat Coalition Action Fund, and the FEC report includes a note that the contributions had been “earmarked” through this organization. Spanberger’s campaign reported $5,500 from the group and also included the disclaimer, as did the first quarter reports of Slotkin, Malinowski and Rose. None of the earmarked sources was reported from corporate PACs.

Corporate PACs may earmark their donations for candidates through other committees, says Jan Baran, a campaign finance expert and partner at Wiley Rein. But a “candidate who receives a contribution that has been earmarked must disclose the original donor who has earmarked a contribution through a conduit,” he says.

National Review: The Problem with Sanders’s Small Donors

By Jay Cost

Rather than a politics financed by special interests, Sanders is drawing funds from an army of local activists, whose commitment to the cause induces them to chip in $20 here or $40 there. Taken individually, the activists cannot compete with lobbyists from the telecommunications or health-care industries, but their numbers are so vast that, in sum, they can propel Sanders into the front of the money race.

Call me a contrarian, but I have my doubts about this mode of financing, too. Again, stipulating that donors have access or influence that average voters do not possess, is it really better for activists to be the main source of finance? Corporate lobbyists are going to invest in politics for their stockholders’ interests, but activists have a wide array of ideological views that are often out of step with the rest of society. The Sanders voters in particular are far to the left of the average American – and probably the average Democrat, too.

We complain so much about political polarization these days, and I think with good reason. But to what extent does the polarization in the last generation lead back to this revolution in campaign finance? Are grassroots extremists pulling candidates to the ideological fringes by increments of $20 apiece? It’s very possible.

Politico: Senate GOP lags Dems in battle for online cash

By James Arkin

The GOP has vowed to work harder to appeal to small-dollar donors after getting hit by a “green wave” of Democratic online cash in 2018. But some of the most vulnerable Republican senators up for reelection in 2020 are off to a slow start.

Only two of the six most endangered Republican senators topped six figures in digital spending in the first quarter, according to a POLITICO review of campaign finance records, while every vulnerable Democrat and two challengers cleared that mark. On average, the GOP senators were outspent on Facebook ads prospectingfor supporters, data from the social media network shows. And every vulnerable Democratic incumbent raised more small-dollar money in the first three months of the 2020 election cycle.

The figures prompted concern from some Republican digital strategists focused on improving a major weakness in the party. Congressional Democrats raised over $700 million online in the 2018 elections, fueling the Democratic House takeover and prompting top GOP officials to create a new platform to harness small-dollar donations. But the onus is also on individual campaigns to build the big email lists and social media followings that can later generate online cash.

Eric Wilson, a veteran GOP digital strategist who worked for Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign and Ed Gillespie’s campaign for governor of Virginia in 2017, said GOP senators should be taking advantage of their incumbency to start building online infrastructure early…

“We just know that the Democrats, through their online fundraising culture, are going to be able to bring millions of dollars out of nowhere at very short notice,” Wilson added. “Republicans can’t muster that. We have to take time to build these lists.”

New York Post: Participants in AOC’s ‘fun run’ didn’t know they were donating to her campaign

By Kevin Fasick and Mary Kay Linge

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez held a 5k in Queens Saturday that she billed as “a Family Fun Run supporting U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal on the Saturday following Earth Day.”

But many of the 400 runners didn’t realize their $30 registration fees were going directly into the lawmaker’s campaign coffers…

“It’s going to help raise awareness and educate people,” a female runner told The Post.

“I think it’s really for this particular New Green Deal,” said Brian Schwartz of Long Island. “No question.”

“It’s to help the environment. To support the Green New Deal,” another woman said. “It’s a good cause.”

A vaguely worded notices on AOC’s Facebook page – saying that the run would support “U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez & the Green New Deal” – worsened the confusion.

But the fine print on a third event-related website revealed the truth.

“Registration fees are contributions to AOC for Congress,” reads the legal disclosure on aoc5k.com…

Even kids as young as 3 became unknowing political donors – ponying up $20 fees to join a kids’ 1k.

But by fudging the fact that those fees were actually campaign contributions, AOC may have enticed constituents into inadvertently breaking federal election laws.

Parents, for example, can’t contribute their own funds in a child’s name…

Some participants felt fooled.

“The site says it’s to benefit her environmental plan,” said one supporter who would not give his name. “If it is going to go directly to her campaign they should have said so.”

Politico: Buttigieg renounces lobbyist donations, refunding over $30,000

By Elena Schneider and Theodoric Meyer

Pete Buttigieg will no longer accept campaign donations from registered lobbyists, an emerging campaign finance litmus test for the Democratic presidential candidates.

The South Bend, Ind., mayor announced that he will refund donations he has already received from lobbyists, totaling just over $30,000 from 39 contributors. The campaign also said it will not allow lobbyists to serve as bundlers, closing a potential loophole…

A few candidates have still accepted checks from Washington lobbyists, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Buttigieg had initially joined them, accepting help from lobbyists including Steve Elmendorf, a prominent Democratic lobbyist and donor. Elmendorf had planned to host a Washington fundraiser for Buttigieg on May 21.

Biden, who launched his presidential bid on Thursday, has also committed not to accept lobbyist donations – but his kickoff fundraiser was held at the home of a Comcast executive who oversees the company’s lobbying shop, though he is not a registered lobbyist himself.

Candidates and Campaigns 

NBC News:  ‘Democracy Dollars’: Gillibrand’s plan to give every voter $600 to donate to campaigns

By Benjy Sarlin

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., unveiled a plan on Wednesday to give every voter up to $600 in what she calls “Democracy Dollars” that they can donate to federal candidates for office.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News to discuss the roll out of her first major 2020 policy initiative, Gillibrand said her “Clean Elections Plan” would help reduce the influence of big money in politics.

“If you want to accomplish anything that the American people want us to accomplish – whether it’s healthcare as a right, better public schools, better economy – you have to take on the greed and corruption that determine everything in Washington,” she said.

Under Gillibrand’s plan, every eligible voter could register for vouchers to donate up to $100 in a primary election and $100 in a general election each cycle, either all at once or in $10 increments to one or more candidates over time. Each participant would get a separate $200 pool for House, Senate and presidential contests for a total maximum donation of $600 for those federal offices.

There would be strings attached for both donors and candidates. The money could go only to elections in the donor’s state, although they could be used for House candidates outside the voter’s district.

Politicians would face much tighter limits on donations. To be eligible to receive “Democracy Dollars,” a candidate would have to voluntarily agree to forgo any contributions larger than $200 per donor…

Gillibrand predicted candidates would opt into the voucher system “because the potential of how much you could raise in this system is exponentially higher.” 

The States

Oklahoma Council Of Public Affairs: Don’t let the state dox its citizens

By Greg Forster

The Oklahoma Ethics Commission wanted the power to compel private groups to post their membership rolls online if they expressed an opinion on legislation. As a sinister cherry on top of the sundae, they didn’t just want names; they wanted to compel people to post home addresses and even their employers. This was needed, they said, to ensure transparency in public discourse about legislation. We need to know who is saying what, who is hiding behind the innocent-sounding names of groups that engage in free speech-and, apparently, we also need to know where they work and where they sleep.

The proposal was quietly set aside after public comment exposing its dangers, including expert testimony and an OCPA petition. But “set aside” does not mean “dropped forever,” and attempts of this kind are growing more frequent nationally. Some alternative form of the proposal is likely to emerge-if not at the ethics commission then possibly from some other agency, or a legislative proposal. The Tulsa World and a conga line of Oklahoma pundits and professional mean-wellers endorsed the proposal, after all…

Try posting the home address or the employer of another person on any of the major social media platforms. Your account will be swiftly disciplined-suspended or terminated. It’s called “doxing” and it’s a serious infraction of their terms of service. Social media companies police doxing more aggressively than almost any other offense.

The reason we need rules against doxing is obvious. People post this information for only one reason: to facilitate violence and harassment…

“There are few more toxic practices online than doxing,” wrote Lily Hay Newman in Wired in 2017. “It’s…deployed regularly and devastatingly as a means to harass and intimidate….Doxing is an effective tool for bad actors.”

Politico: With taxpayer dollars flowing in, Konst’s public advocate campaign accused of fraud

By Laura Nahmias and Dana Rubinstein

It was two months into his work on the Nomiki Konst campaign for New York City public advocate that her compliance aide, Jason Coniglione, said he began to suspect something was awry.

On Feb. 21, just five days before the election, the campaign received its tranche of public matching funds – a roughly $500,000 payment that matched each dollar Konst raised from small local donors at the city’s 8-to-1 rate.

The very next day, an invoice arrived at the Konst campaign office for nearly $90,000 worth of canvassing and field operations from a Louisiana firm called Deep South Political Consulting, Coniglione said.

By Coniglione’s account, the invoice shocked Dominique Shuminova, Konst’s official campaign manager. For one, the campaign was already amassing an internal canvassing team. Why hire another? Further, the decision to hire Deep South Political Consulting hadn’t been run past Shuminova, he said. Coniglione, who’d recently gone through the city’s campaign finance board training, said the invoice itself was bizarre, asking for payment for services that hadn’t been rendered, and in one lump sum.

In the days that followed, Coniglione says he increasingly began to suspect something was amiss, eventually prompting him to file a complaint in April with the city’s campaign finance authorities alleging “massive fraud by the Campaign and Ms. Konst.” In his formal complaint, Coniglione says he suspects the campaign used public matching funds to “funnel” money to Konst’s off-the-books, de facto campaign manager, a man named Lonny Paris.

Two days after Coniglione filed his complaint, Konst issued a public statement accusing Coniglione of being a “sexual predator” who used his position in the campaign to harass her – an accusation he emphatically denies.

Denver Post: Griswold: Coloradans deserve to know who is funding all those negative campaign ads

By Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold

Coloradans deserve to know who is trying to influence their votes and how they are trying to do it. We need to know more about the millions and millions of dollars used to influence our elections. Reforming money in politics will help detect and deter corruption, stop foreign financial influence, and increase transparency. The Clean Campaign Act of 2019 will make Colorado a leader on campaign finance transparency and help put our democracy in the hands of the people…

It exposes the hard-to-trace high-dollar donations by requiring organizations that give money to Colorado SuperPACs to disclose their funding sources. Special interests will no longer be able to hide their money by transferring it through various shell organizations. The bill prevents all foreign nationals, foreign corporations, and foreign countries from spending money on any type of political communication or controlling any type of campaign finance committee in this state. Additionally, it will ensure that corporations that spend money in support of, or against, ballot initiatives disclose that they paid for the communication.

The Clean Campaign Act of 2019 will require “paid for by” disclaimers on communications to voters from any committee, including online communications. Any time a Coloradan sees a political ad from any candidate or political committee, on any platform, they will know who paid for it. This legislation also tightens Colorado’s laws on coordination between Colorado SuperPACs and candidates, and stops politicians who have not yet announced for office – and therefore are not beholden to contribution limits – from gaming the system by raising millions into SuperPACs that plan to support their future campaigns.

New York Times: Democrats in N.Y. Find Unexpected Foe in Campaign Finance Overhaul

By Vivian Wang and J. David Goodman

As New York’s progressive lawmakers fought a deadline last month to persuade the State Legislature to reduce the influence of money in politics, they hit an unexpected roadblock.

It was not opposition put up by billionaires or big corporations, but an 11th-hour warning issued by Mario Cilento, the president of the New York A.F.L.-C.I.O., an umbrella group of more than 3,000 affiliated unions.

“Now is not the time,” Mr. Cilento said in a statement.

The last-minute opposition helped derail a push to introduce a small-donor matching system to state candidates; lawmakers ultimately agreed to allow a nine-member commission to decide later on a framework for public financing…

The New York group’s stance contrasts with the view of the national A.F.L.-C.I.O., which has endorsed H.R. 1, a sprawling bill pushed by congressional Democrats to expand public financing of campaigns in House and presidential races…

“We understand the sentiment for public financing, but we don’t need that,” Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents New York City teachers, said in an interview…

One of the most vocal labor unions opposing public financing, the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents state workers, centered its opposition on the program’s projected $100 million yearly cost…

[Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo] used the term “dark money” to refer to spending by union super PACs during a radio interview this month.

“I don’t think there is any difference between Airbnb or 32BJ or charter schools,” the governor, a Democrat, said of labor’s super PAC spending at a news conference earlier this month.

A public financing system would not affect super PACs, which the Supreme Court granted significant leeway to spend freely on elections.

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette: Crawford defends pay-to-play ordinance

By Dave Gong

In a news conference today, Fort Wayne City Councilman John Crawford defended a 2017 ordinance limiting the amount of campaign money city contractors can give to local elected officials. 

The at-large councilman, who is a candidate for mayor in the Republican primary, said the ordinance was written carefully to avoid conflicting with campaign finance law. The ordinance was approved to prohibit business entities from bidding on city contracts if any officer, partner or principal who owns more than 10% of the company gave more than $2,000 to the political campaign of a person with responsibility for awarding contracts. 

“We wouldn’t even need this ordinance if candidates would do certain things,” Crawford said. “If I do prevail in the primary, I will not accept more than $2,000 whether the ordinance is upheld or not.” 

Kyle and Kimberly Witwer filed suit last week in Allen Superior Court claiming that the ordinance is unfair and forces business owners to choose between their business and political activism. Kyle Witwer is the owner of Witwer Construction Inc. 

Mayor Tom Henry vetoed both the ordinance and a later amendment, citing concerns that it was unconstitutional. Henry said he believed in the intent of the ordinance, but did not believe it would withstand legal muster. However, both of his vetoes were overridden by the Fort Wayne City Council. 

Additionally, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill wrote in a September advisory opinion that neither City Council nor the mayor has the authority to regulate campaign contributions in local races. Hill also stated that the ordinance likely runs afoul of constitutional protections and laws on public contracting. 

Alex Baiocco

Alex Baiocco