Daily Media Links 7/26

July 26, 2019   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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Supreme Court

The Atlantic: Unlimited Donations to Candidates, Coming Soon?

By Richard L. Hasen

The Court has turned down numerous challenges to the soft-money portion of McConnell, which still stands. It has repeatedly turned down an attempt to reverse a 2003 case, which held that corporations cannot contribute money directly to candidates. (Citizens United concerned only corporate spending independent of candidates.) And just this past term, the Court turned down a case from the Ninth Circuit upholding strict Montana contribution limits, and another from the Fifth Circuit, upholding low contribution limits in Austin, Texas. The latter case garnered a scathing dissenting opinion from Fifth Circuit Judge (and former Thomas clerk) James Ho, who said that if people don’t like too much money in politics, the solution was to shrink the size of government…

Maybe Paul Clement can change that. He has just filed a petition, Thompson v. Hebdon, together with a conservative group, the Alliance Defending Freedom, asking the Court to review a Ninth Circuit decision upholding Alaska’s $500 contribution limits in candidate elections. The petition argues that the limits are too low under existing precedent, but Clement also drops a footnote suggesting that if existing precedent would allow such low limits, the Court should consider overturning such precedent. He hammers home the point, which Roberts reiterated in McCutcheon, that ingratiation and access are not a form of corruption…

If the Court takes this case and reverses the Ninth Circuit, it would not spell the end of all contribution limits immediately. But it could hasten a world in which individuals could give unlimited sums directly to candidates, buying all the ingratiation and access they want. The Court has been moving in this direction; the question is whether it wishes to act now, or delay the inevitable a bit longer.

The Courts

Courthouse News Service: Ham Breakfast Is Not a Constitutional Right

By Jeff D. Gorman

Civil rights protesters who were arrested and ejected from a ham breakfast at the Kentucky State Fair were not denied their First Amendment rights, a divided Sixth Circuit ruled Tuesday…

When the breakfast began, Fairness Campaign members left the protest zone and entered the breakfast area, with tickets. They stood silently together during a speech.

Hartman was arrested for disorderly conduct and failure to disperse. Most of the protesters left, but Wallace and DeVries remained and also were arrested for failure to disperse.

After the charges were dismissed, the protesters sued Thompson and two other state troopers, alleging false arrest, malicious prosecution and First Amendment violations…

U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Suhrheinreich wrote for the majority that the troopers did not establish the protest zone, so they did not violate the protesters’ First Amendment rights…

He agreed with the troopers that they had probable cause to arrest the protesters, who stood up together and displayed their grievances on orange T-shirts…

He added that with establishment of probable cause, the protesters other claims “fall like a house of cards.” …

U.S. Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore dissented on the claims of wrongful arrest and First Amendment retaliation.

“As articulated by Thompson, individuals who appeared to speak in favor of the KFB’s policies would not be placed in the protest area, because their views would not be ‘contrary to an event’ taking place in the South Wing,” she wrote.

Moore also asserted that the protestors established an issue of fact over whether Trooper Brian Hill had probable cause to arrest DeVries.

“A reasonable jury could determine that standing up silently in the back of a large, heavily populated room does not create a hazardous or physically offensive condition,” Moore wrote.


Breitbart: Paul Gosar Introduces Bill to Stop Online Censorship

By Allum Bokhari

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) has introduced a new bill to stop censorship by Big Tech, aimed at rolling back legal perks that allow Silicon Valley companies to suppress political speech with impunity…

In a series of tweets, Rep. Gosar made the case for his bill.

“The Stop The Censorship Act revokes unprecedented immunities given to Big Tech for censorship of ‘objectionable’ material but retains immunities when acting in good faith to remove unlawful content or providing users the option to filter: i.e, Twitter’s Quality Filter” said Rep. Gosar.

He continued, “Big Tech has demonstrated a clear bias against conservatives and censorship represents an existential threat to free speech, free markets and free elections.”

“Big Tech has been given blanket immunity by section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. They claim a ‘platform’s discretion for removing content but claim ‘publishers’ aren’t liable when they monetize their users’ content”

“Despite their claims, Big Tech does not always foreclose on violent/obscene behavior; in fact, they often monetize it-but they do police political speech. Big Tech’s immunity should strictly be for good faith efforts to remove actual unlawful material.”

“Stop The Censorship Act facilitates the option for a self-imposed safe space, or unfettered free speech, whichever the user chooses. Currently, the only content moderation options are versions of whatever material Big Tech wants you to see.”

“[The Act] ensures that there is no use of presumed ‘public’ desire not to be exposed to ‘objectionable’ material to justify the suppression of supposedly ‘objectionable’ political speech.”


Center for Public Integrity: A Republican Wants Old Campaign Cash To Fund His Nonprofit. A Democrat Might Show The Way.

By Dave Levinthal and Carrie Levine

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price asked the Federal Election Commission for permission to transfer $1.7 million in leftover campaign funds to a new nonprofit “social welfare” group he’s starting, setting off a sharp debate at the Federal Election Commission this week over whether the move would be legal.

But Price may find comfort from an unlikely source: former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who just made such a transfer. Her lawyers point to a provision in the law they say allows it.

In April, Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat who lost her 2018 bid for re-election and started the year with nearly $6.5 million still stashed in her campaign account, transferred $750,000 to One Country Inc., a nonprofit social welfare group she helped found earlier this year.

Lawyers with the law firm Perkins Coie, which represents the Heitkamp campaign, said the transfer complies with a section of the law that allows contributions to be used for “any other lawful purpose” – a clause one FEC commissioner brought up during the debate over Price’s request.

The law does specifically prohibit using the money to personally benefit the candidate, something both Heitkamp’s and Price’s lawyers stressed would not happen…

Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, said at an agency meeting Thursday that Price’s request is something the FEC hasn’t sanctioned before and “I’m not willing to do.”

Two Republican commissioners, Caroline Hunter and FEC Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen, disagreed and said the move would be legal. Independent Commissioner Steven Walther didn’t speak either way…

Weintraub didn’t respond to a request for comment on the Heitkamp transfer. 

Independent Groups

Politico: Dems launch secret-money ad blitz to back House majority

By Scott Bland

Top Democratic strategists are launching a new outside group that can raise and spend unlimited money to tout issues that helped candidates flip the House in 2018 and became early legislative priorities this year.

The group, a nonprofit called House Majority Forward, seeks to cut through media coverage of House Democrats focusing on White House investigations and a handful of outspoken freshmen. It formed quietly in March but will begin running its first TV and digital ads Thursday night…

The nonprofit will operate as an affiliate of House Majority PAC, Democrats’ flagship super PAC focused on House races. But unlike the super PAC, it will not have to disclose its donors and some details about its spending…

The inaugural ad, backed by a six-figure buy on national cable and online, features a woman pummeling a punching bag in a darkened gym, while a narrator ticks through bills to lower drug prices, expand gun control, give some undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship and curtail secret money in politics – which largely flows through 501(c)(4) nonprofits similar to House Majority Forward…

Going forward, House Majority PAC will share personnel with House Majority Forward, including executive director Abby Curran Horrell and president Robby Mook….

One of the early bills House Democrats passed this year was a sweeping government reform measure that targeted, among other things, “dark money” in politics. But Democrats involved in the planning for House Majority Forward said they weren’t concerned about using a secret-money group to back lawmakers who ran on getting secret money out of politics in the 2018 midterm election.

“It’s worse to tie an arm behind your back in the fight” by forswearing nonprofit groups, said one Democratic strategist who was involved in early discussions about House Majority Forward. “It’s kind of silly that Democrats didn’t have this weapon already.”

Candidates and Campaigns 

WCIA Illinois: Davis campaign volunteer poses as reporter to ambush Dirksen Londrigan press call

By Mark Maxwell

On Wednesday, July 17th, Dirksen Londrigan held a joint press conference call with a campaign finance reform group called End Citizens United…

WCIA has learned an unpaid volunteer working on behalf of the Davis campaign crashed the call…

Caller: “Yes, hello. Yeah, this is Jim Sherman from the Alestle, the newspaper at SIUE. So, my question is about the corporate PAC (political action committee) money that comes through the DCCC that you mentioned earlier. The DCCC has received $1.93 million from corporate, some of the biggest corporate PACs like Lockheed Martin, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, big Pharma companies, big coal companies. Betsy, will you vow not to receive any benefit through TV ads, through mail, not to except any of that corporate pack benefit that comes through an end run through the DCCC?”

Dirksen Londrigan: “I think you might be conflating a couple things there. You’re talking about third party things over which I have no control. I don’t know what kind of answer I can give you on that. But what I can tell you emphatically is my campaign is not accepting a dime of corporate PAC money…” …

Caller: “Just a follow-up to that question. So the DCCC gave Betsy $5,000 last quarter, so she can control the money she accepts there. So that’s one point. And then you mentioned third-party control over it. But campaigns all over the country team up with their party committees to have joint ads, joint mail. So will you vow not to accept any of those large contributions or joint campaign expenditures from the DCCC?”

Dirksen Londrigan: “What I am vowing is that on my report that I am in control of, I am not taking any corporate PAC money. That is what I am vowing to the people in central Illinois, and it is not just for the course of this campaign. It is also for when I get elected to Congress, I am going there to answer to the people, and not to corporate PACs.”

Daily Beast: Ex-Pols Took Your Cash. They Used It to Help the Saudis and the Qataris.

By Lachlan Markay

Moran is one of at least 17 former members of Congress who are registered as U.S. agents of foreign governments and have also kept their campaign committees active since retirement-or converted them, along with their cash reserves, into other types of committees that can disburse funds to political allies. And according to a joint investigation by The Daily Beast, the Campaign Legal Center, and the Center for Responsive Politics, at least nine of those former members have used those committees to donate to the same legislators they’ve reported lobbying on behalf of their foreign government clients.

“It is common knowledge that some politicians leave Congress and head to K Street, where they leverage the connections with former colleagues and insider knowledge developed during public service to promote their lobbying clients’ interests,” CLC writes in its report accompanying the investigation. “But the Congressional revolving door and cash-for-access systems become even more concerning when politicians-turned-lobbyists use leftover campaign funds to promote the interests of foreign governments-not to mention their own lobbying careers.” …

Regardless of former lawmakers’ particular roles in the influence-peddling ecosystem, CLC says the lack of rules governing how their leftover campaign funds can be used invites efforts to steer that money towards post-public service professional pursuits.

“This is why the FEC should prevent former officeholders from keeping their dormant campaign committees open indefinitely, in addition to clarifying permissible uses for the funds while the committees do remain active,” the group writes in its report. “As former members get farther and farther from their time in public office, the universe of plausible officeholder-related expenses shrinks ever smaller, so keeping campaigns open for years can invite abuse.”


Politico: How conservative operatives steered millions in PAC donations to themselves

By Maggie Severns and Derek Willis

After recruiting thousands of donors for the American Conservative Union – the powerful organization behind the annual CPAC conference – a Republican political operative pushed the same contributors to give millions to a PAC that promised to go after then-President Barack Obama, but then steered much of their donations to himself and his partners.

The PAC, called the Conservative Majority Fund, has raised nearly $10 million since mid-2012 and continues to solicit funds to this day, primarily from thousands of steadfast contributors to conservative causes, many of them senior citizens. But it has made just $48,400 in political contributions to candidates and committees. Public records indicate its main beneficiaries are the operative Kelley Rogers, who has a history of disputes over allegedly unethical fundraising, and one of the largest conservative fundraising companies, InfoCision Management Corp., which charged millions of dollars in fundraising fees.

The saga of how politically connected fundraisers used one of the nation’s leading conservative organizations as a springboard for fundraising that mainly benefited the fundraisers themselves sheds light on the growing problem of so-called scam PACs…

In late 2018, the FEC formally asked Congress to take action against “fraudulent PAC practices” by some PACs. “These committees solicit contributions with promises of supporting candidates, but then disclose minimal or no candidate support activities while engaging in significant and continuous fundraising, which predominantly funds personal compensation for the committees’ organizers,” the commission wrote…

Election law experts have proposed changes that would discourage scam PACs by broadening anti-fraud provisions in federal election law or enacting an anti-self-dealing provision that prohibits PAC operators from turning an excessive profit. Smaller changes, such as expanding the requirements for PACs to disclose more information to donors who visit their websites, could also help curb the number of scam PACs operating in the political space.

The Media

Media Research Center: MSNBC Hates Special Interests Ruining Politics – Well, Not Every Special Interest

By Alex Christy

MSNBC’s Jacob Soboroff and Katy Tur have a new docuseries coming out this Sunday on MSNBC entitled American Swamp where the two lament the influence of money and special interests in politics. They joined Stephanie Ruhle on Wednesday’s MSNBC Live to discuss the series…

Tur lamented “The more you look, the swampier it gets. A murky mix of powerful corporations, special interest groups and a handful of staggeringly wealthy individuals are buying our elections. And it is all perfectly legal.”

That’s overwrought. They don’t “buy elections,” they merely spend money to influence elections….often by advertising. Advertising on….cable news networks like MSNBC…

Soboroff alleged that in “Arizona, the sunniest state in the union, a tiny, tiny fraction of the citizens of Arizona have solar power on the roofs of their homes, why is that? Because of the obscene amount of dark money spent in the Arizona political system so we have to figure out — it is a no-brainer, why wouldn’t you have solar panels in Arizona.” Unfortunately for Soboroff, Tur unwittingly undermined the argument that special interests are hampering solar panel purchasing when she cited the ability to “get a rebate check” as one of the benefits of purchasing solar panels.

In fact Energy Sage, a company that bills itself as the company that helps you find the solar panels right for you, says that “Arizona’s solar incentives are some of the best in America.” Such incentives include a 25% reimbursement up to $1000, exemption from state income tax on the purchase of your system, and immunity to any additional property taxes that may result from increased home value as a result of solar panels.

Alex Baiocco

Alex Baiocco