Daily Media Links 5/15: How Congress Botched the IRS Probe, Holding Down the Fort or Tearing it down: Law Reform Projects at the FEC, and more…

May 15, 2015   •  By Scott Blackburn   •  
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In the News

Non Profit Times: Donor Disclosure Headed To Supreme Court
By Mark Hrywna
The Alexandria, Va.-based nonprofit on Wednesday filed a 70-page emergency application for an injunction with the nation’s highest court. On May 1, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had affirmed a lower court decision siding with Attorney General Kamala Harris.
“The court did not require the attorney general to meaningfully justify her demand,” CCP alleges in the court documents. “Instead, it declared that nonprofits must prove that they and their donors will suffer an ‘actual burden’ from the compelled disclosure. The decision shifts the burden of persuasion and establishes a presumption of government entitlement to bulk collection of private information unless an organization can demonstrate particularized harm.”
A 501(c)(3) educational organization, CCP engages in no political activity and the requirement would mean either violating the privacy of its donors or self-censoring, according to the application. “Either option will inflict significant constitutional harm.”
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Washington Examiner: Supreme Court could complicate Scott Walker’s campaign
By Sean Higgins
Bradley Smith, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, says there is a good chance that the justices will take the case. The Club for Growth’s petition involves First Amendment issues in political fundraising, which the court has delved into numerous times in recent years, and the claim that the state-level courts cannot resolve the issue fairly due to local politics.
“I think they have a very strong case,” said Smith, who is now chairman of the nonprofit Center for Competitive Politics, which has filed an amicus brief supporting the group’s position.
But it is far from a sure thing, Smith added. Even if a majority of the justices agree with the underlying argument in Club for Growth’s petition, they may still decide it is too soon to intervene because the case is still being appealed at the state level.
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IRS
Wall Street Journal: How Congress Botched the IRS Probe
By Cleta Mitchell
Neither has Congress done much about being lied to by the IRS. Mr. Issa’s oversight committee first subpoenaed Lois Lerner’s emails in August 2013, then issued another subpoena in February 2014. The committee conducted a hearing on the subject in March 2014, during which Mr. Koskinen testified that, finally, the IRS would produce the Lerner emails. However, as he testified in June 2014, the agency didn’t even begin to look for her emails until February 2014. Why didn’t the House seek to enforce its first subpoena when the IRS failed to respond in the fall of 2013? 
Congressional oversight has devolved into a series of show hearings after which nothing happens. No one gets fired for lying. No changes are made in the functioning of the agencies. No programs are defunded. Congress issues subpoenas that are ignored, contempt citations that aren’t enforced, criminal referrals that go into Justice Department wastebaskets.
If it is to function as a coequal branch of government, Congress should establish—either through the rules of each House, or by legislation, that it has standing to independently enforce a congressional subpoena through the federal courts. Congress also should use its purse strings to change specific behavior in federal agencies. Rather than across-the-board reductions, Congress should zero out specific departments and programs as agency misconduct is uncovered. It is the only way to stop the executive branch from running roughshod over the American people. 
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In case you missed it, here is a condensed version of the timeline of events surrounding the IRS political speech targeting scandal.
Candidates, Politicians, Campaigns, and Parties
Washington Post: Hillary Clinton’s litmus test for Supreme Court nominees: a pledge to overturn Citizens United
By Matea Gold and Anne Gearan
Hillary Clinton told a group of her top fundraisers Thursday that if she is elected president, her nominees to the Supreme Court will have to share her belief that the court’s 2010 Citizens United decision must be overturned, according to people who heard her remarks.
Clinton’s emphatic opposition to the ruling, which allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums on independent political activity, garnered the strongest applause of the afternoon from the more than 200 party financiers gathered in Brooklyn for a closed-door briefing from the Democratic candidate and her senior aides, according to some of those present.
“She got major applause when she said would not name anybody to the Supreme Court unless she has assurances that they would overturn” the decision, said one attendee, who, like others, requested anonymity to describe the private session.
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NBC News: Why Jeb Bush’s ‘Running For President’ Slip Matters
By Leigh Ann Caldwell
Paul S. Ryan, senior council with The Campaign Legal Center, a campaign finance watchdog group that has already filed challenges against four presidential hopefuls for alleged violations of campaign finance law, said Bush’s latest flub, however, is just more evidence that Bush is already a candidate.
“This is not a slip of the tongue but a slip of the mask, revealing what we all know to be true,” Ryan said. “He decided a long time ago and he’s playing a charade by evading campaign finance law by denying he’s a candidate.”
Bush can become an official presidential candidate in a variety of ways: one is to file papers with the Federal Election Commission and another is to publicly say that he is running for president.
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NY Times: Hillary Rodham Clinton Ups the Super PAC Ante
By Francis X. Clines
For all the candidates’ grand promises, it turns out the most creative area of the presidential contest so far has been the strategic rush to shift costly campaign duties from budget-tight headquarters to an armada of new super PACs. These groups are free to raise unlimited funds from big-check writers shopping for influence while supposedly operating independent of their candidates. It sounds like a neat trick, and legions of campaign lawyers are working on pulling it off.
Jeb Bush, the Republican frontrunner in sheer money raising, signaled the mushrooming role of the super PAC last month when his strategists indicated they were ready to shift key campaign functions from the central headquarters, where donations are tighter, to their “independent” Right to Rise super PAC for which Mr. Bush has already been raising tens of millions of dollars.
Not to be outspent, the campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton made clear last week that she would end her arms-length remove from her “independent” super PAC, Priorities USA Action, and personally court affluent donors at its V.I.P. fund raisers where political clout is the commodity. Clinton campaigners appeared to raise the stakes even higher this week by announcing they would be working closely with a new super PAC created from their existing rapid-response political defense operation, Correct the Record.
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Wall Street Journal: Russ Feingold to Run for Old Senate Seat, Rematch 2010 Victor Ron Johnson
By Reid J. Epstein
And yet Mr. Feingold’s brand of left-wing Democratic politics still has some currency, especially in liberal circles. He briefly considered running for president himself in 2008 and, as the co-sponsor of the since-gutted McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, has some authority to speak about the perils of big money in politics – an issue that resonates with liberal donors.  
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FEC
More Soft Money Hard Law: Holding Down the Fort or Tearing it down: Law Reform Projects at the FEC
By Bob Bauer
In the War of FEC Commissioners, a Republican, Lee Goodman, has returned the fire of his colleague Ann Ravel and given his account of whether the agency has failed to enforce the law.  He says it’s not so. Much of the time, he writes, they agree, and where they don’t, the points of disagreement are focused on large issues like the definition of what constitutes a “political committee.” But he says more, giving examples of what he means, and the additional argumentation is illuminating.
Commissioner Goodman claims that in explaining deadlock, the Democratic side won’t credit their Republican colleagues with principled stands.  He cites Chair Ravel’s vote against continued enforcement of a rule governing paid Internet advertising. It is not up to a Commissioner, Goodman suggests, to use the enforcement process to score a point against a valid regulation or to pursue a respondent who has complied with it.
But he also notes another case of deadlock, which involved the enforcement of the Commission’s “candidate debate” regulations. And this example shows, and to some degree why, the Commissioners tend to fall out when it seems that unity would be within their grasp.
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State and Local
Montana –– Helena Independent Record: Legal team to draft rules for new campaign finance law
By Charles S. Johnson
Montana’s political practices commissioner on Wednesday assembled a team of lawyers to work with his staff and him to draft rules to implement a major new campaign finance law.
Besides drafting the rules for Senate Bill 289, the campaign finance law, the team will update and adjust more than a decade’s worth of the election, campaign finance and ethics rules administered by the office of the commissioner of political practices to reflect court decisions and office rulings.
“It’s a huge task we were given, and it’s a huge task force we’ve assembled to deal with the huge task,” said Political Practices Commissioner Jonathan Motl.
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Texas –– San Antonio Express-News: Dark money bill faces hurdles
By David Saleh Rauf
AUSTIN — Republican leaders in the Texas House, eager to shine a light on secret campaign spending, are hoping to pass a controversial proposal Thursday to prevent politically active nonprofits from hiding the identities of their donors.
But a legislative deadline could derail the disclosure effort for the session.
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Vermont –– Valley News: Shumlin Appoints Attorney To Review Sorrell
Tom Little, a former Republican lawmaker from Shelburne, Vt., who’s also an attorney, will review the claims made against Attorney General William Sorrell. Shumlin appointed Little because Sorrell can’t review complaints against himself.
“Tom has a well-deserved reputation for integrity and common sense in both his public and private life,” Shumlin said in a statement posted on the governor’s website. “I am grateful to Tom for taking on this role.” 
A complaint brought by Republican Party Vice Chairman Brady Toensing claims Sorrell took campaign contributions from private lawyers then joined them in a lawsuit against 29 oil and gas companies. It also claims Sorrell’s 2012 primary campaign improperly coordinated activities with a super PAC, and that Sorrell did not properly report campaign expenditures.
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Scott Blackburn

https://www.ifs.org/author/sblackburn/

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