Daily Media Links 5/14: Federal court rulings prompt wave of states hiking campaign contribution limits, Slouching Towards California, and more…

May 14, 2014   •  By Joe Trotter   •  
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In the News

Washington Examiner: Federal court rulings prompt wave of states hiking campaign contribution limits

By Luke Wachob

The reaction in state legislatures demonstrates how litigation can leverage a legislative response. The court rulings in Citizens United and SpeechNow.org boosted First Amendment political speech freedoms, and now states are expanding them even further.  

Even with these liberalized limits, many states continue to impose low contribution limits. Thirteen states limit contributions from citizens to candidates for state representative (or the equivalent) at just $1,000 or even less per election cycle.  

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Empower Texans: Slouching Towards California

By Tony McDonald

The Center For Competitive Politics, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and defending First Amendment rights to free political speech, assembly, and petition has taken issue with the California rule and has filed suit to stop it.

The group argues that Federal Law prohibits the California Attorney General from making their request. Furthermore, the group points out that California has expressed no compelling state interest for why it should be allowed to inspect the confidential records of a private organization. The only justification put forward by the California Department of Justice so far seems to be that the state is interested in preventing fraud and abuse by charities.

However, the demand for private records which would be used to prosecute a charity if a violation were found smacks of the ancient “general warrant.” In revolutionary times, these took the form of “writs of assistance,” which empowered the King’s agents to inspect any person or business without limitation. These “hated writs” were so distasteful to our founders that they were specifically forbidden in the Fourth Amendment.

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USA Today: The media ignore IRS scandal

By Paul L. Caron

Today’s news media are largely ignoring the IRS scandal, and it is impossible to have confidence in the current investigations by the FBI, Justice Department, and House committee. I am not suggesting that the current scandal in the end will rise to the level of Watergate. But the allegations are serious, and fair-minded Americans of both parties should agree that a thorough investigation needs to be undertaken to either debunk them or confirm them.  

Step one should be to give Lois Lerner full immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony. And then let the chips fall where they may.  

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Independent Groups

National Journal: Why Democrats Are Afraid of a Man Who’s Giving Them Millions

By Clare Foran

Democrats have made casting conservatives as beholden to the ultrarich central to their 2014 strategy, and that makes it awkward when a billionaire of their own puts himself front and center. Steyer is far from media-shy: He frequently gives interviews, and last month went a step further in publicly challenging Republican-backing billionaires—and favorite Democratic targets—Charles and David Koch to a debate over climate change.

Steyer’s persona, the skeptics feel, opens Democrats up to charges of hypocrisy, and leaves too much of the party’s profile in the hands of a man who has been popularly elected to exactly nothing.

“Who nominated him to speak for anything?” said Douglas Schoen, a Democratic strategist and former adviser to President Clinton. “He’s entitled to make contributions, but the idea that he would step into the spotlight is just ridiculous.”

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NY Times: How PAC Spending Stays Secret

By Derek Willis

The American Heartland PAC hit the airwaves last week in Iowa with a television advertisement criticizing a Republican Senate candidate, Mark Jacobs, as a “Texas millionaire” who supported Democrats in the past. The super PAC, which lists a Washington address, spent $140,000 on the ad.

So where did it get the money?

You’ll have to wait until July 15 to find out. Oh, and the Senate primary, in which Mr. Jacobs faces State Senator Joni Ernst and three other candidates, will be held on June 3. It’s a textbook example of how political professionals would want to structure an independent expenditure campaign: no disclosure until after the election is over.

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Sunlight: FCC Chair Tom Wheeler taking “seriously” complaint about political advertisers

The Federal Communications Commission on Monday gave 11 television stations across the country two weeks to respond to a complaint that they allowed political advertisers to end-around public disclosure requirements.  

“We take political file complaints seriously,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement about the agency’s response to a complaint filed May 1 by the Sunlight Foundation and the Campaign Legal Center. The organizations are being represented by Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation.  

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Candidates, Politicians, Campaigns, and Parties

Bloomberg: Obama Lacks a Corporate Foe to Rile Up Democratic Base

By Julianna Goldman

The White House is missing something in this election season: a corporate bad boy to rail against and whip up the ire of Democratic voters.

Oil companies, Wall Street executives and even the political action committees that draw unlimited donations are off-limits to President Barack Obama because of unique political dynamics in the 2014 midterms.

That’s left him with the most generic of adversaries, the Republican Party.

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State and Local

Texas –– Washington Times: A speech trap in Texas


Lois Lerner has competition in Texas as the undisputed queen of harassment. For the past two years, the Texas Ethics Commission has been harassing Empower Texans and seven other conservative organizations with an order, renewed last month, demanding that the groups hand over subscriber lists, the names of all contributors, bank records and correspondence. The commission hasn’t asked for Christmas card lists or favorite chili recipes, but it’s still early.

Ms. Lerner issued similar demands to Tea Party groups throughout the country from her position monitoring harassment targets at the Internal Revenue Service. A liberal Wisconsin prosecutor went after conservative groups with the same zeal until a federal judge ordered his investigation shut down.

Such outrages are expected in Washington and in certain blue states, but ham-handed pursuit of conservatives is not usually on the agenda in Texas.

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Connecticut –– The Hartford Courant: Campaign Reforms At Stake In Legal Fight

By Edmund H. Mahony

Connecticut election regulators and the state Republican Party are fighting a Democratic effort that could boost Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election war chest by removing restrictions on campaign fundraising and spending from the state’s landmark campaign finance reform laws.

The state Elections Enforcement Commission and the Republicans filed papers in U.S. District Court Tuesday opposing a suit by the Democratic Governors Association that challenges the law as an unconstitutional infringement of political free speech.

The DGA wants the federal court to overturn key components of the law that regulate coordination between candidates and groups that raise money and spend to influence elections . In the meantime, the DGA is asking for an speedy court order blocking the state from enforcing the parts of the law the DGA wants set aside.

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Massachusetts –– AP: Coakley: Super PACs should disclose donors earlier

BOSTON — Attorney General Martha Coakley called Monday for a change in state campaign finance law that would require super PACs disclose their donors and expenditures more frequently.  

Under current state regulations, the super PACs aren’t required to reveal their donors until about a week before the September primary. Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money but must operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign.  

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Joe Trotter