Daily Media Links 7/7: Time to crack down on ‘dark money’, Why Nonprofits Get Away With Campaigning, Obama can get dark money out of politics with a swipe of his pen, and more…

July 7, 2015   •  By Brian Walsh   •  
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Free Speech

Bloomberg: Why Nonprofits Get Away With Campaigning

Noah Feldman

Admittedly, the distinction was always a bit tenuous as a matter of logic. If the First Amendment protects anything, it protects citizens’ political speech. In a democracy, political speech should logically matter most around election time, because speech then is most likely to affect voting outcomes, thereby translating spoken opinion into political results that matter to elected officials. And campaign speech costs money…

Taken in its broadest sense, the court’s doctrine has been allowing more and more people to speak about campaigns without regulation, and more and more speech connected to elections to go unregulated.

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Tribune-Review: Another IRS ‘oops’: Hardly credible

The Tribune-Review

Backup computer tapes of the sought emails later turned up. But — oops! — about 24,000 emails might have been permanently lost to erasure, The Washington Times reports. Of the 1,000 recovered emails that the IRS didn’t turn over to Congress, none pertain to the targeting, according to the IG. Imagine that.

Why, nobody “did anything intentionally to hinder our investigation,” said Democrat Rep. Elijah E. Cummings.

A crashed hard drive. Now erased backup tapes. It is not unreasonable to suspect the destruction of evidence amid a succession of excuses during a two-year investigation. Congress must redouble its efforts to get to the bottom of this.

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CNN: Secret spenders face challenge in 2016

Theodore Schleifer

And for 501(c)(4) organizations, the ground may be shifting beneath their feet: The IRS is currently drafting new rules to regulate these so-called “dark money” groups, though they are not expected to be ready to govern the 2016 elections.

Marc Owens, who used to head the division of tax-exempt organizations for the IRS, cautioned that election attorneys should be careful given the agency’s current skepticism toward the nonprofits’ claims that their primary purpose is not politics.

They’re on watch and issue ads aren’t fooling anyone, Owens says.

“The IRS sees through that fairly transparent effort,” he said.

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National Review: Wisconsin’s Shame: ‘He Could Have Been Shot. Over Politics’

David French

It was still dark outside when “Jonah” (not his real name) heard the pounding on his front door. As luck would have it, he was awake — or mostly awake. He’d gotten up at 4:00 a.m. on October 3, 2013, to see his parents off to the airport. They were leaving on a quick trip to raise money for the children’s charity his father runs. Jonah was 16 at the time, old enough to stay home alone for a short time, but not old enough to deal with what awaited him on the other side of the door.

The pounding continued, and Jonah peered out the window to discover its source. To his horror, he saw uniformed officers, their guns drawn. “Police,” they yelled. “We have a warrant.” An officer shined a flashlight on a document Jonah couldn’t read. Unsure what to do, but unwilling to defy the authorities, he let them in.

The officers sat him down, read him the entire search warrant, and ordered him not to tell anyone about the raid — not even school officials. He asked if he could call his parents. They said no. He asked if he could call a lawyer. They said no.

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Independent Groups

Washington Post: Here are the secret ways super PACs and campaigns can work together

Matea Gold

But those who defend the current system say that broader rules could infringe on rights to free speech.

“Every discussion you have cannot trigger illegal coordination,” said Lee E. Goodman, a Republican appointee to the FEC.

“I understand some people look at relationships between candidates and independent spenders and sense that those relationships are too cozy,” he added. “Yet the courts have said that you cannot prohibit friendships and knowledge of each other.”

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The Hill: Obama can get dark money out of politics with a swipe of his pen

Cristobal J. Alex

We play by the rules that exist. But it is time for the rules to change so that the voters are the ones electing candidates, instead of mega-donors like the Koch brothers.

That is why we need, more than ever, for President Obama to issue an executive order requiring disclosure of these donations so the public knows exactly who they’re dealing with, and provide a more level and transparent playing field. We cannot afford to wait any longer for Congress to act, because this Congress simply won’t do it. The president campaigned on this issue and has repeatedly made reference to getting dark money, which “pulls us into the gutter” out of politics, as recent as his 2015 State of the Union address.

Would Latinos continue to turn out in large numbers to the LIBRE Initiative’s “community festivals” if they knew the massive role the Koch brothers played in trying to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which has helped over 4 million Latinos gain access to affordable healthcare?

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CNBC: Time to crack down on ‘dark money’

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse

Here’s how it works: Corporations and wealthy individuals funnel money through organizations with names like “Americans for Prosperity” and “Crossroads GPS,” which are classified as nonprofit “social welfare” organizations by the IRS. This classification enables them to buy campaign ads without disclosing their donors. As a result, the public never knows who is really behind those commercials trying to influence their vote.

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The Guardian: Donald Trump’s self-financed campaign could squeeze rivals’ ads off TV’

Ben Jacobs

Most GOP candidates are delegating many of their key campaign functions to Super Pacs, which are not subject to campaign finance restrictions, but Trump’s effort is being funded entirely by the real estate mogul’s personal fortune.

This means Trump enjoys key advantages under federal communications law, which gives political campaigns special privileges over all other potential television advertisers – including Super Pacs, which are not considered political campaigns under federal law and whose commercials are no different legally from those for soap, laundry detergent or beer.

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Candidates and Campaigns

The Guardian: ‘Grassroots movement working’: Bernie Sanders gains on the Clinton machine

Lauren Gambino and Ben Jacobs

Harvard University professor Lawrence Lessig, who founded a Super Pac to end Super Pacs, said Sanders’ renouncing Super Pacs is tantamount to “bringing a knife to a gunfight”.

“I regret the fact the Bernie Sanders has embraced the idea that he’s going to live life like the Vermont snow, as pure as he possibly can, while he runs for president, because it weakens his chances – and he’s an enormously important progressive voice,” Lessig said.

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National Journal: This Critical New Hampshire TV Station Won’t Sell Its Ads to Marco Rubio – Yet

Shane Goldmacher

Still, it is unusual for a station to say no to booking television time. It could set a precedent for other stations in politically saturated areas, including Iowa and South Carolina during the primaries or Ohio in the general election, to hold out on any reservations until prices spike.

WMUR’s Parker declined to comment on the decision, pointing to the station’s publicly disclosed letter to Rubio.

“In light of the fact that you represent a federal candidate,” said his June 26 letter to Rubio’s ad buyers at the Smart Media Group, “we will work with you to clear as much of your order as is possible once we are able to project inventory availability and pricing for the classes and amounts of time and program areas you wish to purchase.”

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The States

Deseret News: My view: Campaign finance system is broken

Lauren Howells

Last June, Alliance for a Better Utah (ABU) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) seeking an investigation of Sen. Mike Lee, former attorney general John Swallow and businessman Jeremy Johnson for violations of campaign finance laws. The FEC responded to ABU’s call last week by filing formal charges against Jeremy Johnson for illegal campaign donations to Sen. Lee, Mark Shurtleff and Harry Reid. It serves as another reminder of the broken system of campaign finance that allowed corruption to flourish in the first place. The writing on the wall couldn’t be clearer; we can’t keep treating campaign finance laws as if they were meant to be broken.

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Just for Fun

USA Today: Test your knowledge of Campaign Finance

Try it here

Brian Walsh

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