Daily Media Links 8/25: Bernie Sanders’s Post-Campaign Political Revolution Is Already Imploding, Cuomo signs this year’s ethics bill, highlighting Citizens United reform, and more…

August 25, 2016   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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Independent Groups

USA Today: Even Trump and Clinton need big-money donors

Richard L. Hasen

None of these things — Trump courting super PAC donors, Clinton getting paid by the wealthiest companies as a private citizen, or Clinton as secretary of State giving access to big donors to her foundation — amounts to criminal activity or even what we might term corruption. In the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Court, declared that “ingratiation and access are not corruption.”

But there’s still something wrong with a political system in which access goes to the highest bidder. The Clinton team is quick to argue that there’s no evidence the meetings Clinton gave to big donors led to any official actions. But those donors get more than just a picture with a candidate; they get a chance to make their pitch for the policies they want pursued or blocked…

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CPI: Liberal billionaires bankroll Hillary Clinton’s super PAC attack dog

Michael Beckel

The 2016 presidential election’s most powerful super PAC is the one backing Democrat Hillary Clinton.

That group, known as Priorities USA Action, has aired about 36,000 TV ads since mid-May, according to data provided to the Center for Public Integrity by ad tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.

Fully 100 percent of them have attacked Clinton’s Republican rival, celebrity businessman Donald Trump…

This week alone, this anti-Trump attack dog is out with two new ads. Both target residents of Florida and Ohio, as well as voters in Iowa, Nevada and North Carolina.

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Vanity Fair: Bernie Sanders’s Post-Campaign Political Revolution Is Already Imploding

Abigail Tracy

A chief concern of Our Revolution’s discontents was reportedly the group’s tax status. In the Democratic primary, Sanders made campaign-finance reform a cornerstone of his platform and regularly railed against the current system, which allows nonprofit political organizations to accept unlimited donations from anonymous sources. Our Revolution, however, was designated a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, allowing it to accept the same “dark money” that Sanders has vehemently condemned. This did not sit well with a faction of the group’s staffers, who suggested the tax status was not only hypocritical, but would restrict the team’s ability to communicate or coordinate with any candidates or elected officials. The issue has incited a wave of criticism for Sanders. “He preaches transparency and then he tries to set up the most shadowy of shadowy fund-raising organization to support his causes,” Brady Toensing, vice chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, told the Times. “What I’m seeing here is a senator who is against big money in politics, but only when it’s not his big money,” he added.

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CRP: Outside groups, secret money far more prominent than ever before

Robert Maguire

While candidates have always been, and still are, responsible for the majority of ads run in a particular cycle, that majority is being whittled away with each passing election. That’s evidenced, the study notes, by the fact that some competitive House and Senate races are already seeing instances where outside groups, not candidates, are running the majority of ads “that mention or picture the candidates on the ballot.”

The two main proponents of the growth in outside groups’ overall share of election advertising are super PACs and politically active nonprofits. The former only came into existence in 2010, and since then has come to dominate the field, accounting for more than 72.7 percent of all outside group advertising so far in the 2016 cycle.

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Regulation

Pillar of Law Institute: The Price of Political E-mails in Vermont

Stephen Klein

Though Sanders’s e-mail list is no doubt valuable, the complaint struggles to argue merely how it should be valued— by its total value, value per use, or other factors. Far worse, there is no definitive guidance under Vermont law as to how anyone would measure value for reporting or contribution limits…

In one of the most sheepish interviews of an attorney general ever filmed, Sorrell muses “how do you value… that?” while mulling the very valuable, but monetarily unmeasurable, technological advances in online fundraising. But this does not merely question new technology. Candidates—particularly incumbents—have long used their established prominence to raise money for other candidates and causes, whether through established campaigns or speeches. Some of these activities have ascertainable value, some do not. And though all are unquestionably valuable, it does not draw them into the realm of campaign finance law.

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Free Speech

Concurring Opinions: Snapshots of David Cole #2: Chipping Away at Citizens United

Ronald K.L. Collins

This is the second post concerning  David Cole, the ACLU’s New National Legal Director. In this post the focus is on Professor Cole’s views on the First Amendment and campaign finance laws, with a particular focus on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010).

This past April Professor Cole published an article in The Atlantic entitled “How to Reverse Citizens United.” Here are a few excerpts from that article…

“Scholarship could similarly lay the groundwork for a new approach to campaign finance. One promising critique of the Court’s recent rulings concedes that spending restrictions limit First Amendment rights, but maintains that the constitutional interest in protecting speech is outweighed by other compelling considerations. Although the Court’s most recent rulings assert that the only legitimate basis for restricting campaign spending is curtailing bribery—what the Court calls ‘quid pro quo corruption’—a number of scholars are persuasively pressing a broader understanding of the state’s interests.

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Influence

Wall Street Journal: Criticism of Hillary Clinton Mounts Over Access for Foundation Donors

Peter Nicholas and Colleen McCain Nelson

For the higher-education policy dinner in August 2009, she invited officials from a range of institutions, including Yale University, Cornell University and Houston Community College. The shortlist of 20 guests also included Joseph Duffey, senior vice president of Laureate Education, Inc.

The network of for-profit universities spread across 25 countries has been both a donor to the Clinton Foundation and an employer of Mr. Clinton.

Clinton Foundation donor records show that Laureate International Universities gave between $1 million and $5 million to the organization.

Mr. Clinton served as Laureate’s “honorary chancellor” for five years.  He left that role in April 2015, the same month that his wife launched her bid for the White House.

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The Hill: Clinton aide: AP cherry-picked meetings in ‘outrageous’ report

Rebecca Savranksy

“By our count, there were over 1,700 other meetings that she had,” Robby Mook said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“She was secretary of State. She was meeting with foreign officials and government officials constantly, so to pull all of them out of the equation, cherry-pick a very small number of meetings, is pretty outrageous.”

The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that at least 85 of the 154 people who met with or had phone conversations with Clinton had donated to the Clinton Foundation — either directly or through companies or groups.

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RealClearPolitics: Obliging a Donor Is Not Necessarily Criminal

Ruth Marcus

In the Clintons’ world, as in that of many politicians, the lines blur to the point of invisibility: between donor and friend, between present role and past (or future) utility. Did Hillary Clinton have “time to spare” for Maureen White based on her $75,000 check to the foundation — or because White was a State Department adviser on humanitarian issues, or because she was a major Democratic fundraiser and Clinton’s 2008 finance co-chair?

Did SlimFast founder S. Daniel Abraham get an immediate 15 minutes with Clinton because he’d donated millions to the foundation — or because Abraham has a long-standing involvement with the Middle East, or because he is one of the Democrats’ biggest donors and a former Hillary Clinton bundler? Abraham has given $2 million this election to a super-PAC supporting Clinton.

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Candidates and Campaigns

Politico: Hillary Clinton’s run-out-the-clock strategy

Anne Karni

In the campaign’s view, the emails that surfaced this week do not advance the foundation storyline; while emails obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch shed light on the open line of communication between Clinton’s top aides and foundation officials, there is no proof positive that donors received special access or treatment from the government.

Plus, the campaign thinks Clinton’s commanding lead over Donald Trump in both national and battleground state polls gives her freedom to not comment — indeed, largely ignore — the disclosure this week that the FBI found nearly 15,000 new emails Clinton did not voluntarily hand over to the State Department last year.

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Politico: McCain rips major Trump donor, warns of future campaign finance scandals

Burgess Everett

If McCain is reelected and former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) beats incumbent Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, there could be an opportunity to rewrite campaign finance laws in 2017. But McCain said that there will need to be an impetus to do so.

“It depends on the environment. It’s gotta be ready. One of the major reasons we were able to do McCain-Feingold was the Abramoff scandal. There’s gotta be some kind of catalyst. Right now all the politicians are happy with a super PAC and the status quo,” McCain said. “But there will be a scandal. That’s history. And it does repeat himself.”

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The States

Albany Times Union: Cuomo signs this year’s ethics bill, highlighting Citizens United reform

Chris Bragg

Facing a deadline today to sign an ethics bill passed by the Legislature in June, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced by press release this afternoon that he had indeed signed it.

The release plays up the fact that the bill would pass strong measures to combat the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, while giving shorter shrift to measures that have drawn criticism requiring much more disclosure from nonprofit lobbying groups…

The bill was printed and passed late in the final night of the legislative session with little public discussion of several major measures. In the wake of the Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos trials, it did not address issues such as lawmakers’ outside income or the LLC loophole.

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Albany Times Union: Deadline approaching, good-government groups urge ‘ethics reform’ veto

Chris Bragg

The signatories of the letter to Cuomo are the heads of New York good-government groups – Dick Dadey of Citizens Union, Susan Lerner of Common Cause, Dare Thompson of the League of Women Voters and Blair Horner of NYPIRG – as well as Steven Choi of New York Immigration Coalition…

 “Yet, with no demonstrated evidence of a problem and no evidence of any meaningful problems in New York State (evidence, which if it existed, you could have brought to light in a public debate) you assert that such a problem exists,” they wrote. “As a result, these Parts generally harm charitable organizations in the state through their lack of clarity and astoundingly broad reach. Rather than being targeted, the bill would impose onerous requirements on many nonprofits and inhibit contributions to nonprofits seeking to carry out charitable work, and could jeopardize the ability of many nonprofit organizations to operate in New York.”

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Alex Baiocco

Alex Baiocco