In the News
By The Political Insider Staff
Saikat Chakrabarti, according to The New York Post, is being investigated for his oversight of a pair of political action committees (PACs), Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats.
The PACs, states a Federal Election Commission filing, “funneled more than $1 million in political donations into two private companies that Chakrabarti also incorporated and controlled.”
The private companies appear to have been set up as a means to muddy the waters when it comes to federal reporting, as they are not held to the same reporting standards on spending and fundraising disclosure.
Earlier this year, the Political Insider reported that a complaint had been filed by the National Legal and Policy Center on this very matter.
The complaint alleged that Chakrabarti engaged in “an elaborate scheme to avoid proper disclosure of campaign expenditures” and that the effort was “coordinated” with other “respondents,” including the congresswoman herself…
Former FEC Commissioner Brad Smith previously explained that if Chakrabarti, Trent, or even AOC, knew of the intent behind the scheme, that person or persons could be facing very serious penalties.
“If this were determined to be knowing and willful, they could be facing jail time,” Smith alleged…
“Even if it’s not knowing and willful, it would be a clear civil violation of the act, which would require disgorgement of the contributions and civil penalties,” he continued. “I think they’ve got some real issues here.”
New from the Institute for Free Speech
The Institute for Free Speech released the following statement in response to yesterday’s tweet by Congressman Joaquin Castro exposing Americans who donated to President Donald Trump’s campaign and targeting them for potential harassment and retribution.
“It’s a disturbing and irresponsible use of campaign finance laws. What worries me is that public officials now use these laws to monitor and bully Americans. It is hard to imagine a purpose for Rep. Castro’s tweet other than to incite harassment and retribution against these individuals and businesses.
“Rep. Castro and many in Congress now want to pass new laws to invade the privacy of supporters of groups advocating for social change. That’s a bad idea. Privacy isn’t just your constitutional right. It’s a vital protection for free speech,” said Institute for Free Speech Chairman Bradley A. Smith.
By Alex Baiocco
On August 6, Congressman Joaquin Castro publicly exposed on Twitter the names and employers of private citizens who donated to the re-election campaign of President Donald Trump. As Institute for Free Speech Chairman Bradley A. Smith said, “It is hard to imagine a purpose for Rep. Castro’s tweet other than to incite harassment and retribution against these individuals and businesses.”
This incident highlights the inherent risks in publicizing personal information in connection to support for causes and candidates. Below is a collection of notable reporting and commentary on this dangerous misuse of campaign finance data…
Washington Free Beacon: Watchdog Sues After Clinton Camp, Brock PAC Let Off Hook for Illegal Coordination
By Joe Schoffstall
A watchdog group has filed a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) after its commissioners dismissed a complaint alleging illegal coordination between Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and a Super PAC run by Media Matters founder and Clinton ally David Brock.
The Campaign Legal Center (CLC), a D.C.-based government ethics group, brought the litigation forward following a 2-2 vote by FEC commissioners where Republicans voted to clear Clinton’s campaign and Correct the Record, the Brock PAC, of wrongdoing while Democrats voted to punish the entities for their activities.
“In the 2016 elections, the Super PAC Correct The Record-notorious for its plans to ‘push back against’ Hillary Clinton’s critics online-declared that it would coordinate its activities with the Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Hillary For America,” the center writes. “CTR’s founder and chair, David Brock, even publicly stated that CTR was ‘basically under the thumb’ of the campaign.” …
The Campaign Legal Center, which says the current decision creates a new campaign finance loophole, is now asking a judge to order the commission to hold the campaign and Super PAC accountable for the alleged illegal activities. The group also previously targeted President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and a Super PAC over alleged violations.
The watchdog is seeking a “judicial declaration that the dismissal of their administrative complaint was arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law” and also seeks “an order requiring the FEC to conform with such declaration within 30 days,” according to the complaint filed to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
Goldwater Institute: Castro Weaponizes Campaign Finance Disclosure Against Ordinary Texans
By Matt Miller
Rep. Castro’s tweet is dangerous and ill-conceived-and it was only made possible because campaign finance laws require the disclosure of the personal information of anyone who donates more than $200 to a presidential campaign. Public databases make this information easily searchable, which is why Rep. Castro had such an easy time putting together his little list. (And let’s not kid ourselves: The list is tiny. Even though Rep. Castro complains that “so many” San Antonians gave maximum support to Trump, 44 people is 0.003 percent of San Antonio’s population.)
These kinds of disclosure laws have been common in the candidate context for a long time. Now, groups are pushing for disclosure requirements in the context of ballot measures and other legislation, too. The ultimate goal appears to be public naming of anyone who ever supported a candidate or cause. Did you give money to a nonprofit that supported or opposed a measure? Your name could wind up on a government list, just like the 44 people that Rep. Castro identified in his tweet. Donate money to support abortion rights? Your employer will know about it. Donate money to support the Second Amendment? Your neighbor will know that, too.
Supporters of disclosure claim that the information will help voters make better decisions about candidates and ballot measures. Opponents point out that-in the age of social media-putting people’s names, addresses, and employers on a government list is dangerous because it exposes them to potential ideological harassment and intimidation.
Rep. Castro has proven disclosure skeptics right. His tweet does not serve any kind of benign “informational” purpose. It is designed to intimidate and stir the pot. Does it matter that the people he named could suffer harmful consequences because of what he wrote? Apparently not. The tweet remains up at the time of this writing.
Washington Examiner: Federal Election Commission investigating ex-AOC chief of staff Chakrabarti
By Alana Goodman
Two organizations linked to Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her outgoing senior aides are the subject of a Federal Election Commission investigation into alleged campaign finance violations, the Washington Examiner has learned.
The FEC opened an official case on March 7 to examine complaints against Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress, two campaign committees started by Ocasio-Cortez’s former chief of staff Shaikat Chakrabarti, according to an FEC confirmation letter disclosed to the Washington Examiner. The matter was assigned a case number and remains open. Ocasio-Cortez also sat on the board of Justice Democrats from December 2017 to June 2018, the Daily Caller reported.
The original FEC complaint was filed by the National Legal and Policy Center, a government watchdog group, and claimed the Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress PACs were engaged in “an elaborate scheme to avoid proper disclosure of campaign expenditures.” …
An FEC spokesperson said the agency can not discuss the status of ongoing reviews. Justice Democrats provided the FEC with a response to the initial complaint in the spring. FEC investigations can take months or years to complete, particularly in cases that are financially complex.
The New York Post also reported on Saturday that an unspecified federal body is investigating possible campaign finance violations by Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress. It is unclear if that report refers to a separate probe.
Ocasio-Cortez’s House office has not received notice of a separate federal investigation and has not been asked to turn over documents at this time, according to source close to the congresswoman.
Online Speech Platforms
Wall Street Journal: Don’t Let Google Get Away With Censorship
By Dennis Prager
Conservatives who defend Google or merely oppose any government interference argue that Google is a private company, and private companies are free to publish or not publish whatever they want. But Google, YouTube and Facebook choose not to be regarded as “publishers” because publishers are liable for what they publish and can be sued for libel.
Congress gave Google and other social media an exemption from such lawsuits in 1996, with the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 of that bill provided these companies with immunity against defamation and some other legal claims. The clear intent of Section 230-the bargain Congress made with the tech companies-was to promote free speech while allowing companies to moderate indecent content without being classified as publishers.
But Google and the others have violated this agreement. They want to operate under a double standard: censoring material that has no indecent content-that is, acting like publishers-while retaining the immunity of nonpublishers. When YouTube puts PragerU’s content on the restricted list, when Twitter bans conservative actor James Woods, they are no longer open forums…
The unwillingness of some conservatives to confront some of the most dangerous attacks on free speech in American history is disturbing. Do they think Google, Facebook and Twitter-the conduits of a vast proportion of the free world’s public information-don’t act on their loathing of conservatives?
If the four major U.S. airlines announced they would not allow passengers carrying The Wall Street Journal to travel to some American cities, would any conservatives or libertarians defend the airlines’ right, as private companies, to do so?
By Joe Anuta and Sally Goldenberg
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s struggling presidential campaign benefited from a six-figure boost unavailable to candidates who set up routine exploratory committees and the move has already resulted in formal complaints to the Federal Election Commission.
A POLITICO analysis found the mayor accepted roughly $234,000 in additional contributions from 37 donors who had already given the maximum permissible amount to his campaign account – $2,800 for a primary race. Those donors went above the federally-established limit by giving to two political action committees that assisted in the presidential effort, but were not governed by the same rules…
Those 37 donors – largely representing New York City’s real estate, finance and legal circles – gave a total of about $341,000 to the three entities: de Blasio’s 2020 campaign account and a federal and state PAC he established in 2018, purportedly to help Democrats win races around the country…
“This was a scheme through three separate committees to allow a small number of donors to give above and beyond the legal contribution limits,” Brendan Fischer of the watchdog organization Campaign Legal Center said in an interview Tuesday.
Fischer’s nonprofit is planning to file a complaint against the de Blasio campaign…
“As you look at it, it seems self-evident what was going on here,” Fischer said. “This seems like an effort to allow a small number of wealthy donors to give thousands above the contribution limits, and the de Blasio campaign seems to have some sort of theory for how that’s permissible.”