Daily Media Links 6/6: Big Money Rearranges Its Election Bets, Dems on FEC vote to regulate political jokes, and more…

June 6, 2016   •  By Brian Walsh   •  
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Independent Groups

New York Times: Big Money Rearranges Its Election Bets

Editorial Board

One constant is the vast amount of money sluicing through the political system in what is certain to be the most expensive election in the nation’s history. Experts estimate that campaign spending, which has risen inexorably in recent years, will easily surpass the $6.28 billion record set in the 2012 federal elections and could conceivably reach $9 billion, much of it for political advertising.

Both parties are busy exploiting the power of barely regulated super PACs to accept unlimited six- and seven-figure donations for candidates. At the same time, campaigns are concealing the names of other rich donors in “dark-money” operations palmed off as tax exempt “social welfare” agencies supposedly dedicated to doing good, not to bare-knuckle politics.

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Buzzfeed: Koch Groups Are Still Spending Millions, But Choosing Door Knocks Over More Ads

Tarini Parti

The network’s six-figure digital and direct mail campaign against Ellmers marks the first time the group created by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch has openly jumped into a primary with the express intent of defeating a Republican member of Congress.

“It’s a warning shot to Washington that we don’t care if there’s an ‘R’ after your name,” said Donald Bryson, state-director of AFP-NC, before a round of door-knocking Tuesday morning.

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Free Speech

Atlantic: Mitch McConnell, a Politician in Full

Russell Berman

McConnell’s political mentor was the late Kentucky Senator John Sherman Cooper, who also supported civil rights. Cooper, McConnell wrote, was a practitioner of Edmund Burke’s approach to democracy, in which elected representatives should follow their own judgment and not simply cater to the views of the people who elected them. McConnell cites that philosophy in describing his opposition to a constitutional amendment to ban the burning of the American flag, which had popular support but which McConnell came to believe would infringe on the First Amendment. “I was not willing to cherry-pick on the issue, arguing that political speech should be protected while offensive speech should be limited,” he writes. “Speech is speech, and it’s certainly not the role of government to decide what is offensive and what is not.”

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Washington Examiner: Dems on FEC vote to regulate political jokes

Paul Bedard

We conclude that an objective listener would not reasonably have understood that Huckabee in fact solicited million-dollar contributions. Rather, he appeared, to be making a humorous aside in the course of his speech,” said the just released staff report that recommended that a complaint against the former Arkansas governor be dismissed.

But when the vote — also just released — was taken, Ravel and Weintraub balked. All three Republicans and the third Democrat on the FEC voted to dismiss the complaint.

The two Democrats backed legal enforcement of the claim that Huckabee was actively urging supporters to contribute more than the legal limits of $2,700.

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Citizens United

Daily Beast: The Christian Right Mastermind Behind Citizens United Says It’s Good for Democracy

Jay Michaelson

I asked Bopp what he would say to the many moderate Americans who feel that Citizens United has harmed our democracy by enabling huge corporations and organizations—often funded by a handful of super-rich donors—to spend unlimited amounts of money. Surprisingly, his response was that the case actually was good for democracy.

“Citizens United was about whether or not people of average means can come together in an organization, and by pooling their resources thereby be effective in doing things that rich people can do already,” he said. “Individuals have always been able to spend their own money to advocate the election of candidates. The problem with being a person of average means is you don’t have the money…. So your only outlet is to pool your resources, which means you join a group…. then you can do what a rich person can do, which is advocate for the election of a candidate.”

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Supreme Court

Wall Street Journal: At Last, A Supreme Court That Does Less

Cass R. Sunstein

Many observers, especially Democrats, have deplored the fact that the Supreme Court is now sitting with just eight justices, thanks to the partisan standoff over replacing the late Antonin Scalia. But the current situation has had an unexpected consequence: a significant increase in judicial “minimalism” and a big decrease in grand, far-reaching rulings. Both Democrats and Republicans should be celebrating—and hoping that the court continues to embrace the minimalist approach to constitutional law after the current vacancy is filled.

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Campaign Finance Enforcement

Los Angeles Times: Did this congressional campaign break federal election law?

Javier Panzar

A single campaign contributor can give a maximum donation of $2,700 toward each one of those elections. And those dollars need to be kept separate, meaning $2,700 given to support the general election in November can’t be spent on fliers to voters ahead of the June 7 primary.

That’s why state Sen. Isadore Hall (D-Compton) and his campaign for the 44th Congressional District have a problem.

His primary opponent Nanette Barragán, an attorney and former member of the Hermosa Beach City Council, has accused Hall of breaking election law by spending almost $100,000 of general election funds on the primary.

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Campaign Donors

Los Angeles Times: Who gives money to Bernie Sanders?

Seema Mehta, Anthony Pesce, Maloy Moore and Christine Zhang

Other donors, such as Connie Kazmer of Granada Hills, said they went on spending sprees any time they felt moved by the campaign. The 60-year-old sound editor said she watched every Democratic debate with her laptop open, ready to give when something riled her.

Over the course of nine debates, Kazmer donated more than 100 times, topping $2,200 in contributions.

“I had to pace myself,” Kazmer said.

Jeremy Abramowitz, a recent graduate from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, gave Sanders’ campaign more than $5,000 in more than 200 separate donations.

Abramowitz, 31, started sending money after reading negative posts about Sanders on Facebook. He soon lost track of how much he was giving.

“When somebody said something that annoyed me, I’d give an extra dollar,” said the Williamsburg, Va., resident. “It all just added up.”

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Salon: Why the donor class still matters: An exclusive look at the insidious effects of money in politics

Sean McElwee

In a new study, discussed here for the first time ever, leading campaign finance scholars Jesse Rhodes, Brian Schaffner and Raymond La Raja shed some light on this confusion by exploring how donors differ strategically in their contributions. They argue there are four types of donors. Some focus on national elections and political parties, others focus on state and local elections, others on ideological groups and PACs and finally those who invest strategically. As the chart below shows, strategic investors dominate in most elections, though in midterms, locally oriented donors come close. They find the wealthiest, and most ideological donors tend to be strategic investors.

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New York Post: Sanders makes rare dig at Clinton over foreign donations

Marisa Schultz

“Do I have a problem with that? Yeah I do,” Sanders told “State of the Union” on donations to the private charity from the Saudi Arabia and others.

The Vermont senator said he’s concerned “a sitting secretary of State and a foundation run by her husband collects many millions of dollars from foreign governments, governments which are dictatorships.”

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Candidates and Campaigns

American Prospect: Clinton, Senate Democrats Plan Broad Democracy Reforms

Justin Miller

The big question is whether Clinton—who has drawn fire for her reliance on big donors and her tendency to push the boundaries of election law—would actually follow through with a sweeping reform agenda once elected. President Barack Obama, for one, promised to change how business is done in Washington but will leave office without much of a reform legacy.

“That’s an image problem that she’s going to have to overcome” admits Holman. “She has not yet succeeded at overcoming that. I believe that platform is designed to overcome that disconnect. It is in my opinion that she’s quite likely going to succeed.”

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The States

Sacramento Bee: Citizens United critics soaked in hypocrisy

Dan Walters

Citizens United merely aligned federal campaign finance law with what has been California’s law and practice vis-à-vis independent expenditures for many years.

In fact, California’s law is even more accommodating to corporate interests because it, unlike federal law, allows them to make direct contributions to politicians.

Moreover, California politicians who denounce Citizens United have not been shy about accepting direct corporate contributions themselves, or benefiting from independent expenditures that support their campaigns and attack their opponents.

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Charleston Post and Courier: Statehouse session ends without ethics reform

Cynthia Roldan, Gavin Jackson and Maya T. Prabhu

A measure to create an independent panel to investigate elected officials remained stuck as the clock struck the steadfast 5 p.m. close of business hour, leaving the bill’s author, Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, visibly frustrated as he chided senators for failing to act on what was called a brokered compromise.

“I don’t know where we can go, folks,” Pope told the House in the final moments of the afternoon. “We have given and given and given. But maybe they really want it to die.”

Senators preferred to say they were standing by their version of the bill that still give House and Senate ethics committees more control over when investigations can go public.

Lawmakers will continue working on the bill when they return for a special session June 15, as well as another one that requires elected officials to report sources of income.

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San Antonio Express News: Tea party groups to Texas leaders: replace half the panel that regulates state campaign finance laws

David Saleh Rauf

Several prominent tea party groups have asked Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus to make it a “priority action item” to appoint new regulators to the commission. Four commissioners remain on the panel as holdovers after their terms expired because they have yet to be replaced by state leaders.

The call for action on the appointees represents a further escalation in an on-going tug of war playing out for several years between the commission and some tea party groups with 501c(4) nonprofit status. The state regulator has taken an aggressive stance on so-called “dark money” disclosure, drawing fire from politically active nonprofits in a barrage of lawsuits.

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Orange County Register: Duel shows futility of ethics reform

Steven Greenhut

This brings us back to Measure A, which was the measure that sparked the latest Spitzer-Rackauckas battle. Spitzer is for it. Rackauckas is neutral. But does anyone think creating a new panel will take the toxicity out of the political process? Or will it just give dueling politicians another weapon with which to embarrass each other? Given this latest episode, I’m thinking the latter is a safe bet.

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Just for Fun

Newsarama: Official STAR WARS Super PAC Releases Princess Leia Attack Ad

Chris Arrant

The charged climate of the current election cycle seems to be infecting Lucasfilm, as official Star Wars YouTube channel has released a scathing political attack commercial against Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia circa Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Titled “Princess Leia: What Is She Trying To Hide?,” the critique hits on the princess/political figure overlooking Chewbacca in Star Wars’ awards ceremony, and the murder of Jabba the Hutt from Return of the Jedi.

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Brian Walsh

Brian is a Research Fellow at the Center for Competitive Politics.