Daily Media Links 8/14: Lerner slammed ‘evil and dishonest’ GOP inquisitors, More Money, More Democracy, and more…

August 14, 2015   •  By Brian Walsh   •  
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In the News

Delmarva Public Radio: High Court Could Hear Challenge to Delaware’s Election Disclosure Law

Don Rush

The Washington-based Center for Competitive Politics says it intends to appeal a decision that the Delaware disclosure law is constitutional in a lawsuit brought by the conservative group Delaware Strong Families.

Before the law, organizations would only have to give up their donors if they directly supported or opposed a candidate.

Delaware Strong Families prints a voter guide and argues that the law overreaches and would be burdensome.

The federal law only applies to broadcast advertising.

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Wilmington News Journal: Donors are part of election system


We think it is a good law. So did the U.S. Court of Appeals. Now the Center for Competitive Politics, representing Delaware Strong Families, says it will appeal that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Delaware Strong Families issues candidate ratings and appraises their performance, potential, etc. The group, however, believes it should not have to disclose who pays for the ratings publication.

Our belief is clear. If you enter the election system, either as a candidate or as a donor, you have entered the public arena. You voluntarily joined the election system. Your candidacy or your donation is public business.

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Politico: Lerner slammed ‘evil and dishonest’ GOP inquisitors

Katy O’Donnell

When she was under investigation by Congress, she offered a blistering critique of her inquisitors. In a March 6, 2014, email, Lerner told a friend: “They called me back to testify on the IRS ‘scandal,’ and I too[k] the 5th again because they had been so evil and dishonest in my lawyer’s dealings with them…”

Overall, the Finance Committee’s investigation mostly confirmed what was already known about the scandal, though it added new detail and more supporting evidence than any previous investigation. It firmly established that Lerner, the former director of the Exempt Organizations unit, held and discussed liberal views. And it confirmed that more conservative than liberal groups ended up in the IRS’ cross hairs. Whether the first led to the second is the crux of the difference between Republican and Democratic conclusions over the broader investigation.

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Independent Groups

Texas Tribune: More Money, More Democracy

Ross Ramsey

Money gets candidates like Perry to center stage even if they can’t muster enough small donations from regular people to keep a traditional campaign going. A dozen years ago, the condition Perry is currently in — not paying staffers on a presidential campaign in August of the year before the election — would be enough to make vultures circle.

Now, it’s just a mark of a change in strategy. The former governor’s campaign is out of money, but aides are spinning like crazy to explain why he can continue. One reason is obvious: His super PAC, built mainly with the largess of three rich donors, has collected some $17 million.

If you can get on stage, it doesn’t matter whether you have $10 or $10 million in the bank. Voters will have a roughly equivalent chance to see everyone. Instead of farming that part of the job out to a bunch of people at a state fair in the Midwest or a diner in New England, the nation’s voters can get a number of people on stage to see how they measure up. Voters outside those early states might actually get a look at every candidate’s bid for office, their ideas and promises, the way they speak.

That is, of course, the goal of people who promote public financing of campaigns: to level the financial field so that voters can see all of the candidates and pick the one they like best.

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CPI: Federal Election Commission finally names top lawyer — sort of

Dave Levinthal

Daniel A. Petalas, associate general counsel for enforcement, will serve a 120-day stint as the FEC’s acting general counsel following a unanimoius vote by the agency’s six commissioners. His temporary appointment is effective Aug. 24.

The decision ends a protracted stalemate among the commissioners — three Republican and three Democratic appointees — who’ve gone without anyone leading their legal department since former general counsel Tony Herman resigned on July 5, 2013.

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Government Abuse

The Federalist: Conservatives Beware: The Speech Police Are Coming For You

Paul Jossey

But it is the coordination issue where the most danger for government mischief lies. The Justice Department—which has prosecution powers that make potential arbitrary abuse especially scary—has been positively itching to resume its role in the speech-targeting game. After Citizens United, its Public Integrity division discussed prosecuting conservative nonprofits it viewed as too political. This led it to illegally collect donor information on certain conservative groups. And according to a House Oversight Committee report, the DOJ and the FBI maintained an investigatory “dialogue” about pursuing political-speech prosecutions, although they never put their plans into action.

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Political Parties

New Orleans Advocate: Louisiana Republican Party sues over campaign contribution limits to state political parties

Marsha Shuler

“There is no justification for restricting funds that political parties receive for independent campaign activity,” said James Bopp Jr., the Indiana attorney leading the state GOP court fight. He said it is particularly true when super PACs can solicit unlimited contributions “and spend enormous amounts to influence political races. … Political parties are constitutionally entitled to compete equally with them with their own independent campaign activity.”

The lawsuit alleges that the law is unnecessarily rigid and violates the First Amendment.

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Washington Post: Are we headed for a four-party moment?

Charles Lane

In short, a lot of the energy in politics now comes from those who reject, well, politics, at least politics as we know it. They insist on simple solutions to complex problems — whether it’s Sanders’s call for free state college tuition, paid for by a tax on stock traders, or Trump’s promise to build a wall along the Mexican border, paid for by Mexico.

The likely scenario for 2016 is that Republicans and Democrats will hang together, though the specific ideological agenda that emerges from their respective primaries is still very much up for grabs. The incentives to avoid actual party crack-up are overwhelming; and the resources at the disposal of establishment Republicans and Democrats remain formidable.

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Wisconsin John Doe

Wisconsin Watchdog: Conservatives ask Abrahamson to turn over John Doe-related records

M.D. Kittle

On Wednesday, Abrahamson sent a letter to many of the parties in the legal proceedings involving the John Doe. She notes several John Doe-related communications she had received from July 30 to Aug. 7 while she was “in transit or outside the country.”

The request seeks records of communications between Abrahamson and employees of the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office, former John Doe Judge Barbara Kluka and former director of state courts John Voelker between Jan. 1, 2012 to the present.

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Shareholder Disclosure

Baltimore Sun: Budget ‘rider’ would protect secret money in elections

Lisa Miller

If House Republicans move forward with this unpopular attempt to block our right to know the special interests influencing our elected leaders, President Obama may be the last line of defense. He must listen to his party members in Congress and make clear that he will not sign any bill, whether this one or an omnibus spending bill if the appropriations process falls apart as is often the case, that prevents the SEC from increasing disclosure of corporate political spending.

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Candidates and Campaigns

CNN: Group accuses McCaskill of violating federal campaign finance laws

Eugene Scott

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a conservative government watchdog group, submitted a complaint to the Federal Election Commission saying that McCaskill attempted to illegally influence who would be her opponent in the Senate race by sharing valuable polling data with the Akin campaign.

“Senate McCaskill did not simply meddle in another party’s primary, rather she crossed the legal line and made a prohibited donation in violation of federal law,” said Matthew Whitaker, executive director of the group, in the complaint.

The complaint says McCaskill admitted to helping Akin win the Republican primary because she believed she could beat him in the general election. The Missouri senator wrote in a passage from her book “Plenty Ladylike” — which was excerpted in Politico this week — sharing how she spent $40,000 polling Missouri Republicans, and that staffers on the Akin campaign spoke with McCaskill’s pollster.

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Campaign Insider: Can Lessig Inspire More Campaigns to Crowdfund?

Sean J. Miller

“Raising money with a promise to return if he doesn’t meet the threshold, as opposed to seeking pledges could serve as a roadmap for other potential office seekers who want to crowdfund their own campaigns,” said Ryan.

One drawback to Lessig’s effort to foster broad-based support is his unusual pledge, should he win, to vacate the Oval Office after his electoral and campaign finance reform agenda is implemented and hand over power to the vice president. It’s also questionable what Lessig would be able to accomplish with a budget of only $1 million. As co-founder of the Super PAC Mayday with Mark McKinnon, Lessig, a Harvard professor, had earlier failed to influence key races in 2014 with a budget of $12 million.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Johnson hits Feingold for dropping past fundraising pledge

Craig Gilbert

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Russ Feingold said Thursday he will not operate in this campaign by the pledge he made in past races to raise the majority of his money from Wisconsinites.

“It makes no sense now,” Feingold said in an interview, arguing court rulings in recent years have transformed the political system, producing an “insanity” of huge, undisclosed contributions that are swamping elections.

Republicans accuse Feingold of abandoning his principles, including the promise he first made in 1992 to raise more than half his contributions from within the state.

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USA Today: Former lawmakers sit on tens of millions in campaign cash

Ledyard King and Donovan Stack

At least 141 former members of Congress retain campaign accounts containing a total of more than $46 million, a USA TODAY analysis found. Twenty are linked to campaign committees with more than $500,000 each. Nearly one-third of the ex-lawmakers have been out of office at least five years.

Federal election law doesn’t limit how long a campaign committee may remain open. Committees generally are closed at the candidate’s request, after any remaining cash has been doled out and any debts resolved.

Leftover campaign funds can be given to authorized charities, political candidates or parties but are not supposed to be spent for personal use.

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Brian Walsh

Brian is a Research Fellow at the Center for Competitive Politics.