Daily Media Links 7/9: The IRS Scandal Heads to Court, Dark Money Behind Campaign Finance Reform Push, and more…

July 9, 2014   •  By Brennan Mancil   •  
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IRS

Wall Street Journal: Opinion: The IRS Scandal Heads to Court

Foley & Lardner Partner Cleta Mitchell on why judges may force the IRS to explain why it targeted conservative groups before the 2012 election.

Watch…

The Hill: Conservative groups take the IRS to court

By Bernie Backer

Legal experts say grassroots conservative groups shouldn’t expect too much out of a pair of IRS hearings in federal district court this week.

Two conservative organizations – Judicial Watch and True the Vote – won hearings over the missing emails of Lois Lerner, shifting the center of action on the IRS investigation this week from the Capitol to a federal district courthouse.

Conservatives call the hearings an early step to getting IRS officials under oath to discuss why the agency was unable to recover all of Lerner’s emails from 2009 to 2011, something the IRS chalks up to a hard drive crash.

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Independent Groups

Free Beacon: Dark Money Behind Campaign Finance Reform Push

By Lachlan Markay

A liberal campaign finance reformer with ties to one of the left’s leading dark money outfits succeeded last week in raising $5 million to elect politicians who will pledge to reduce the influence of money in the American political process.

While Lawrence Lessig and others work to present the effort of his group, Mayday PAC, as bipartisan and politically neutral, Lessig’s most recent efforts as well as his past work with leading liberal activists and financiers suggest a more esoteric agenda.

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Candidates, Politicians, Campaigns, and Parties

Politico: Why the GOP is holding its convention early

By Byron Tau

Republicans will hold their 2016 national convention more than a month earlier than their 2012 event for one simple reason: money.

Two years ago, Mitt Romney raised $1 billion but found himself out of cash that August due to campaign finance laws that essentially force candidates to divide their spending between pre-and-post convention accounts. Moving the convention up, the GOP reasons, will help make those rules a non-issue.

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More Soft Money Hard Law: “Hybrids”

By Bob Bauer

Spectators of campaign finance are waiting for the next big case, and many bets have been placed on the RNC’s suit to lift the limits on contributions to party independent expenditure programs.  Now another entry into the sweepstakes: the question of whether an independent committee (or “hybrid”) can retain its independence if it also makes contributions, or functions within a family of related organizations that includes one making contributions.  See Carey v. FEC, 791 F. Supp. 2d 121 (D.D.C. 2011).  At issue is the capacity of the self-proclaimed independent committee to collect unlimited contributions.

Hybrid committees, or independent committees within a family of organizations that includes contribution-making committees, are here to stay.  The reason is simple: there is no basis in Buckley for the position that an organization making contributions can’t also make expenditures, or operate alongside related organizations that do.  Contrary to what is often alleged, the independence of consequence under the law is the independence of the expenditure—an independence that keeps the candidate from shaping or consulting on the expenditure and bolstering the chance that the committee will be spending to her liking, for which she will be indebted.  Committees can establish the “operational barriers” or “organizational divides” that protect against circumvention of this requirement.

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Point of Order: The Legislator-Lobbyist Privilege?

By Michael Stern

Next the House argues that the Speech or Debate Clause protects all activities within the “legislative sphere,” including committee investigations and oversight regarding matters within their jurisdiction. This statement is pretty much black-letter law. The House then explains that Speech or Debate protections do not merely apply to formal methods of investigation, such as issuing subpoenas and holding hearings, but to less formal methods of “information-gathering.” This gets a little dicier.

There is certainly language in the case law suggesting that informal information-gathering can be protected by the Speech or Debate Clause, and no one can fault the House for advancing this general proposition. But there is very little case law to flesh out exactly what is meant by informal information-gathering or the extent to which it is protected by the Clause. After all, a member or staffer could informally gather information virtually anywhere—at casual lunches with colleagues in the Longworth Cafeteria, in town hall meetings with constituents, at fundraising dinners with donors and, of course, in meetings with lobbyists. How exactly would one tell if these activities should be considered part of protected “information-gathering”? Is any conversation in which a staffer picks up a potentially useful tidbit of information therefore informal information-gathering? Or any conversation where the staffer mightpick up such information?

The House doesn’t say, but it seems to believe that conversations with lobbyists are a vital part of the informal information-gathering process and therefore should be either automatically or presumptively protected by the Speech or Debate Clause. Specifically, the House argues that any conversations between Brian Sutter, the staff director of the Ways & Means subcommittee, and a lobbyist for Greenberg Traurig (Firm Motto: “Jack Abramoff doesn’t work here any more”) are protected.

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FEC

Legal Newsline: Crowdpac seeks confirmation from FEC to collect fees on political donations

By David Yates

Instead of going to a candidate’s individual website to donate, Crowdpac wants to offer web surfers the opportunity to browse an array of candidates and donate on site.

However, the Internet service company is first seeking approval from the Federal Election Commission before it begins to collect an eight percent fee for routing donations to the nation’s political candidates.

Crowdpac recently filed a request for an advisory opinion with the FEC that states the company “was founded on the principle that individual campaign contributors are not heard enough in the political process at the expense of special interests and extreme voices that have seized an outsized role in the financing of federal elections.”

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State and Local

Louisiana – Nola.com: Super PAC offers David Vitter more than money: Jeremy Alford

By Jeremy Alford

While the Fund for Louisiana’s Future was originally introduced as a vehicle to help drive U.S. Sen. David Vitter to the Governor’s Mansion, it now appears the super PAC will not be a one-trick pony. Sure, the junior senator will likely benefit from the bulk of expenditures come the conclusion of the 2015 election cycle, but other issues and politicians are beginning to fall under its umbrella as well. Additionally, the end game of this broadening scope will help Vitter’s politics just as much as the direct spending.

A new web-only media buy from the Fund for Louisiana’s Future, overseen by Charlie Spies of the D.C.-based law firm Clark Hill, turns the spotlight on state Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon. The banner ads thank Donelon, who doesn’t seem to be facing any real opposition, for “standing up to the federal government and fighting to protect Louisiana families from skyrocketing flood insurance rates.”

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Brennan Mancil