Daily Media Links 8/26

August 26, 2019   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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In the News

Washington Examiner: FEC vice chair who fought internet regs resigns, leaves agency in limbo

By Paul Bedard

Matthew S. Petersen told Secrets that he submitted his letter of resignation (shown below) to the White House Monday morning. It said that he will leave the agency by the end of the week.

“It’s just the right time,” said Petersen, who has won wide praise for his steady and thoughtful approach to election issues, his dedication to the First Amendment, and battles to fend off the regulation of technology and the internet.

“During the course of my tenure, I have always taken very seriously my obligation to safeguard the First Amendment rights of the American people when taking regulatory action,” said Petersen, nominated to the board in 2008 by former President George W. Bush…

Matt Petersen is a true gentleman-scholar and tireless defender of Americans’ First Amendment rights. Matt is a consummate professional and a good friend to all – he will be sorely missed,” Hunter told Secrets.

Former FEC Chairman Lee Goodman said, “Matt’s thoughtful and analytical approach to the law influenced virtually every major decision of the Commission over the past decade. In addition to his analytical approach to the law, Matt was always a gentleman commissioner, a consummate professional, and a calming personality on a body often at philosophical odds.”

Institute for Free Speech said in a statement, “We wish to congratulate Matthew Petersen on a successful eleven-year tenure at the Federal Election Commission. Throughout his time at the FEC, Commissioner Petersen demonstrated a commitment to fair and effective enforcement of campaign finance laws. His respect for First Amendment rights and Supreme Court precedent should serve as a model for future commissioners. Commissioner Petersen’s faithful execution of the FEC’s mission is all the more impressive in light of the shrill and misleading criticisms often levied at the Commission. His presence at the FEC will be missed.”

Center for Responsive Politics: Resignation leaves election watchdog FEC paralyzed ahead of 2020

By Karl Evers-Hillstrom

The Federal Election Commission is about to be down to three members instead of six, thwarting its ability to enforce campaign finance law as the 2020 election draws closer.

Republican commissioner Matthew Peterson told the Washington Examiner Monday he will resign at the end of August, ending his 11-year career on the FEC.

With just three commissioners on board, the FEC cannot conduct meetings, meaning it will be unable to take enforcement action against actors suspected of violating election law. The FEC needs four commissioners to reach a quorum, and specific actions require four affirmative votes.

“Without a quorum, certain Commission activities will not take place. For example, the Commission will not be able to hold meetings, initiate audits, vote on enforcement matters, issue advisory opinions, or engage in rulemakings,” Republican commissioner Caroline Hunter said in a statement Monday.

FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub said in a statement that committees will still have to file their required reports, and the FEC will continue to investigate complaints. If the commission wants to take action over a complaint, it will need a quorum, she said…

“The three remaining commissioners were appointed by President George W. Bush and are all long past the end of their terms. It is imperative that congressional leaders and President Trump work together to fill the vacancies at the FEC,” former FEC Chairman Bradley Smith, now leading the right-leaning Institute for Free Speech, said in a statement. 

National Review: Political-Donor Disclosure Rules Need Reform, in the Age of Twitter Mobs

By John Fund

Earlier this month, Representative Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, Texas, took to Twitter to shame some of his constituents…

Castro refused to apologize. “No one was targeted or harassed in my post. You know that. All that info is routinely published,” he insisted. There is a difference, however, between campaign-donation information being available on a website and having that data sent by a member of Congress to his 208,000 Twitter followers – many of whom will further distribute it.

Sure enough, several Trump donors were harassed as a result of Castro’s tweet, though few wish to discuss it publicly for fear of encouraging more abuse…

As Brad Smith, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, told me, “it’s hard to imagine that Castro was trying to do anything other than say ‘Go make life miserable for these people.'” …

As part of Democrats’ umbrella election-reform bill, they would further expose the private information of political donors. Abuses would be inevitable.

Instead, we should encourage bipartisan efforts to minimize abuses such as those of Joaquin Castro and also to ensure that voters have the transparency they need to hold elected officials accountable.

Rick Hasen, an election-law professor at the University of California at Irvine, strongly disagrees with my views on voter fraud and many other election issues. But we agree that we all face new privacy concerns in an Internet age. The Castro tweet, however, does not amount to any “unconstitutional harassment” of donors, he asserts.

“The Internet has changed the calculus,” he told CNN. “As part of policy, we might well raise the disclosure threshold to $1,000 or $2,000, so people of modest means who are making small contributions don’t get caught up in these strong policy debates in our very polarized society.”

New from the Institute for Free Speech

Statement on Resignation of FEC Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen

The Institute for Free Speech released the following statement regarding today’s announcement that former Federal Election Commission (FEC) Chairman and current Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen is resigning from the Commission, effective August 31st.

“We wish to congratulate Matthew Petersen on a successful eleven-year tenure at the Federal Election Commission. Throughout his time at the FEC, Commissioner Petersen demonstrated a commitment to fair and effective enforcement of campaign finance laws. His respect for First Amendment rights and Supreme Court precedent should serve as a model for future commissioners. Commissioner Petersen’s faithful execution of the FEC’s mission is all the more impressive in light of the shrill and misleading criticisms often levied at the Commission. His presence at the FEC will be missed.

“Following Commissioner Petersen’s resignation, the FEC will no longer have a quorum to conduct business. The three remaining commissioners were appointed by President George W. Bush and are all long past the end of their terms. It is imperative that congressional leaders and President Trump work together to fill the vacancies at the FEC,” said Institute for Free Speech Chairman Bradley A. Smith.

FEC

Center for Public Integrity: Federal Election Commission To Effectively Shut Down. Now What?

By Dave Levinthal

“Despite the lack of quorum, I expect to be fully occupied while at the commission reviewing case files and preparing for new members to join the commission,” said FEC Commissioner Caroline Hunter, a Republican, who described Petersen as a “true gentleman-scholar.”

Hunter added that the agency’s various divisions “will still be on the job, answering questions, litigating cases, maintaining our website, conducting ongoing audits and processing complaints, disclosure reports, and other filings.”

FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, did not address the FEC’s loss of a quorum in a statement to the Center for Public Integrity, instead echoing Hunter’s praise of Petersen. “For 11 years, [Petersen] has been a gracious and steady colleague on the commission.”

Update, 2:56 p.m. Aug. 26: In a follow-up statement, Weintraub vowed that the FEC would attend to its duties to the best of its ability, despite losing a quorum of commissioners. “The FEC will still be able to shine a strong spotlight on the finances of the 2020 campaign.”

“Throughout my service, I have faithfully discharged my duty to enforce the law in a manner that respects free speech rights, while also fairly interpreting relevant statutes and regulations and providing meaningful notice to those subject to FEC jurisdiction,” Petersen wrote to President Donald Trump this morning in a resignation letter…

Trump has so far made a single nomination: Trey Trainor, a Trump-supporting Texas attorney and Republican. Trump first nominated Trainor to the FEC in September 2017. Since then, Trump has twice renominated Trainor after the U.S. Senate failed to grant Trainor a confirmation hearing.

The U.S. Senate has yet to take action on Trainor’s nomination.

The Fulcrum: The struggle is real: FEC stalled on regulations for online political ads

By Sara Swann

The Federal Election Commission has once again punted on establishing rules for identifying who is sponsoring online political advertisements. Thursday marked the fourth consecutive meeting in which the topic fell to the wayside without a clear path forward.

FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub revived debate on the topic in June when she introduced a proposal on how to regulate online political ads. In her proposal, she said the growing threat of misinformation meant that requiring transparency for political ads was “a small but necessary step.”

Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen and Commissioner Caroline Hunter put forth their own proposal soon after Weintraub, but the commissioners have failed to find any middle ground. At Thursday’s meeting, a decision on the agenda item was pushed off to a later date.

Weintraub’s proposal says the funding source should be clearly visible on the face of the ad, with some allowance for abbreviations. But Petersen and Hunter want to allow more flexibility for tiny ads that cannot accommodate these disclaimers due to space…

All political committees that advertise online must report their spending and include disclaimers on the ads about the sponsors – just like they would for print, television or radio ads. But the commission has not yet defined the regulations for small Internet ads that may not be able to include full funding disclosures.

The commission has been unable to move forward on how to add these regulations while still allowing political committees to have flexibility as online advertising adapts to changing technologies…

“We have tried every single day to see if there was something we could do, some way to move forward, some conversation we could have, and I can’t do it alone,” Weintraub said to her fellow commissioners at Thursday’s meeting. “I don’t know where to go from here, but let me assure you that my door remains open if you would like to have a conversation to get this rulemaking done.”

Candidates and Campaigns 

New York Times: The Shallow Cynicism of ‘Everything Is Rigged’

By Greg Weiner

Accusations of corruption are rooted in the assumption that one’s positions are so obviously correct that the only explanation for opposing them is that the opponent has been bought and his or her supporters have been brainwashed.

This corruption chatter, a mainstay of American political history that has accelerated in recent years, is unhealthy for political conversation. It is a film noir conception of politics, in which everyone is good or evil, mostly evil, and no one simply disagrees. It is also inaccurate. American politics has never been cleaner of classic corruption – of the cash-under-the-table Teapot Dome variety – than it is now. The bigger problem is that the political puritanism that sees corruption around every corner actually makes it harder to address the issues in whose name it is invoked.

The contemporary scandal, it is often said, is not that criminal corruption occurs but rather that the political system is legally rigged. It supposedly takes the form of campaign contributions that, Mr. Sanders says, enable corporations to “literally buy elections.” This is, literally, false. Money unquestionably influences elections. But the candidate with the most votes, a commodity that cannot be legally bought or sold, always wins (except when it comes to the presidency, a discussion for another day).

What Mr. Sanders means to say, of course, is that money allows those with an opinion on, or a stake in, a given issue to buy the means of persuading voters that the spenders are right…

But this “buys” elections only to the extent Mr. Sanders is claiming voters are passive automatons incapable of discernment. This is a paternal populism according to which voters need politicians to protect them from being duped by ensuring they are never spoken to in the first place.

CNBC: The 2020 election: How to find out who’s bankrolling your favorite candidates

By Scott Cohn

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, says voters need to take the time to research candidates’ financial ties.

“It’s really a fundamental element to a vibrant and healthy democracy,” Krumholz told CNBC’s “American Greed.” “People need to trust in the integrity of our electoral system, and that includes knowing who’s paying for it.”

That can be a challenge in a system awash in so-called dark money from organizations like Super PACs and 501(c) organizations that are not required to disclose their donors. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was the largest beneficiary, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The pro-Clinton Super PAC Priorities Action USA spent $132 million, three times the spending of the two largest pro-Trump Super PACs combined.

But the Trump campaign had plenty of issues of its own, including revelations in the summer of 2016 that its chairman, Paul Manafort, had received millions of dollars from pro-Russian interests in Ukraine for his lobbying work on their behalf…

Krumholz said that despite all the dark money, there is still plenty of information that is disclosed, and it is enough to provide a detailed portrait of every candidate. That is particularly true at the federal level, where candidates are required to make disclosures to the Federal Election Commission.

“Voters can learn from the campaign finance information who the top donors are to any particular campaign or party committee or (political action committee); which industries or sectors of industry are the top sources of funding; where the money is coming from geographically,” Krumholz said…

None of this type of research would likely have tipped voters to the kinds of conflicts Manafort was engaged in, but Krumholz said his story shows why following the money is so important.

Fundraising 

Los Angeles Times: Bernie Sanders’ famed $27 donors are split in 2020’s sprawling Democratic field

By Seema Mehta, Anthony Pesce, Maloy Moore

The Times was able to take an unprecedented, granular look look at Sanders’ historic donors because of his use of a fundraising tool called ActBlue, which is required by federal law to disclose all donors regardless of the size of their contributions. (The candidates’ official committees only have to identify donors who give more than $200.)

Sanders – who famously and repeatedly noted at nearly every campaign stop in 2016 that his average donation was $27 – was the only major Democratic candidate that election cycle to use ActBlue. Now, nearly all Democratic presidential candidates are using the fundraising tool, which, coupled with their candidate committees, allows a close examination of where Sanders’ army of donors has gone.

Of the more than 2 million identifiable donors who contributed a total of $232 million to Sanders’ 2016 run, a Times analysis found that more than 370,000, or 18%, have donated to a Democratic presidential candidate this cycle.

Some are spreading their money around to multiple candidates.

The Media 

New York Times: Trump Allies Target Journalists Over Coverage Deemed Hostile to White House

By Kenneth P. Vogel and Jeremy W. Peters

[U]sing journalistic techniques to target journalists and news organizations as retribution for – or as a warning not to pursue – coverage critical of the president is fundamentally different from the well-established role of the news media in scrutinizing people in positions of power…

A. G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The Times, said in a statement that such tactics were taking the president’s campaign against a free press to a new level.

“They are seeking to harass and embarrass anyone affiliated with the leading news organizations that are asking tough questions and bringing uncomfortable truths to light,” Mr. Sulzberger said. “The goal of this campaign is clearly to intimidate journalists from doing their job, which includes serving as a check on power and exposing wrongdoing when it occurs. The Times will not be intimidated or silenced.”

In a statement, a CNN spokesman said that when government officials, “and those working on their behalf, threaten and retaliate against reporters as a means of suppression, it’s a clear abandonment of democracy for something very dangerous.”

The operation is targeting the news media by using one of the most effective weapons of political combat – deep and laborious research into the public records of opponents to find contradictions, controversial opinions or toxic affiliations…

It is targeting not only high-profile journalists who challenge the administration, but also anyone who works for any news organization that members of the network see as hostile to Mr. Trump, no matter how tangential that job may be to the coverage of his presidency. And it is being used explicitly as retribution for coverage.

Some reporters have been warned that they or their news organizations could be targets, creating the impression that the campaign intended in part to deter them from aggressive coverage as well as to inflict punishment after an article has been published.

The Hill:  Trump again lashes out at Fox News: ‘Not what it used to be’

By Justin Wise

President Trump on Sunday renewed his attacks against Fox News over its recent polls, saying that the network favored by conservatives is “only getting worse.”…

He then cited the network’s decision to hire former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazile as a contributor as an example of it not being what it “used to be.”…

He’s repeatedly lashed out at the network over its polling over the past two months. He knocked the network last week after a survey showed him losing to former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in hypothetical 2020 match-ups.

“I don’t know what’s happening with Fox,” he told reporters, adding that he doesn’t “believe” the polls.

“Fox is different. There’s no question about it,” he continued.

The remarks prompted a rebuke from Fox News anchor Bret Baier, who said that the network had not “changed.”

Howard Kurtz, the host of “Media Buzz,” backed up Baier’s assessment on Sunday, saying that the survey about 2020 match-ups was “very much in line” with other recent polls.

He later defended the fairness of the network and his Sunday show in a tweet.

Alex Baiocco

Alex Baiocco