Daily Media Links 8/3: Seattle’s democracy vouchers haven’t kept big money out of primary election, Pro-Issue 2 group demands identity of drug companies funding opposition, and more…

August 3, 2017   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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Did Dean Heller Really “Change” His Vote on Health Care Because of Donor Pressure?

By Joe Albanese

For one, the bill that Heller publicly came out against in June was not the same bill that he voted for in July. The so-called “skinny repeal” bill kept much more of the ACA intact, including its expansion of Medicaid. That is a significant policy difference. (Indeed, some conservatives also accused Heller of being “on the take” from “corporate America” for voting against a different repeal bill).

Setting aside that significant fact, there are several potential factors in Heller’s “aye” vote that are much more compelling than “donors made him do it.”

First and foremost is the pressure exerted by his own party. Republican leaders like McConnell and even President Trump (who had publicly threatened Heller in person for his vocal opposition) made it clear that health care is a legislative priority and that they would lean on potential defectors. As should go without saying, party leaders have a great deal of leverage to get their members to fall in line…

Second, Senator Heller’s past words and promises could have come back to haunt him. Congressional Republicans from all wings of the party had been united in their opposition to Obamacare basically since its inception…

Reducing the complexity of American politics to one simple explanation makes it harder to truly understand what is happening in government.  

The Courts

Bloomberg BNA: Public Officials on Social Media: How Does Free Speech Fit in?

By Alexis Kramer

Two Kentucky residents filed suit July 31 against Gov. Matt G. Bevin for blocking them from posting comments on his official Facebook page and Twitter account. One day later, four Maryland residents sued Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan for blocking them from posting on his official Facebook page.

The plaintiffs, represented by the Kentucky and Maryland chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, allege that their respective governors violated their rights to constitutionally protected speech.

In the meantime, President Donald Trump faces a suit in a federal district court in New York over whether blocking Twitter users from his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account violated the First Amendment.

The three complaints raise the question of how far the First Amendment extends to social media accounts maintained by government officials. A federal district court in Virginia recently addressed that question.

The Virginia court held July 25 that the chairman of the Loudoun County board of supervisors violated a resident’s free-speech right by banning him from the chairman’s official Facebook page, even though the ban only lasted 12 hours.  

Independent Groups

Politico: Outside groups prop up White House’s tax reform efforts

By Nancy Cook

Conservative and business-aligned advocacy groups plan to spend millions of dollars boosting tax reform in August, part of a coordinated effort with the White House and lawmakers to avoid the mistakes made during the bruising attempt to repeal Obamacare.

The push by Washington-based interest groups, President Donald Trump’s White House, the Treasury Department and Republicans on the Hill aims to get better results from tax reform by engaging stakeholders from the outset – and by pitching their plans to voters aggressively and early.

The American Action Network announced on Monday that it planned to spend $5 million in August alone – when lawmakers are usually back in their districts – and more than $20 million total on a tax push. The Business Roundtable, a group that represents CEOs of major companies, and the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity have also pledged to spend millions on TV and radio ads and social media campaigns and ensuring grass-roots turnout at town halls over the congressional recess. They would not confirm the exact amounts they will spend.


Bloomberg BNA: Maker of Clinton Sting Video Broke Campaign Law, FEC Says

By Kenneth P. Doyle

The FEC said in newly released documents that Laura Loomer, an employee of Project Veritas Action, appeared to violate campaign finance rules by taking money from a Canadian national to buy Clinton campaign merchandise.

An analysis written by the FEC general counsel’s office and unanimously backed by the agency’s commissioners accused Loomer of “knowingly providing substantial assistance to a foreign national in making a contribution.” However, the FEC said it wouldn’t seek any penalties in the case because of the small amount of money involved…

The FEC said Clinton’s campaign may also have violated the law by accepting a foreign contribution in the depicted transaction. It was unclear, however, how much campaign officials may have known about the contribution, the FEC said…

The newly released enforcement documents are among more than a dozen matters involving alleged foreign campaign money that FEC officials say have been pending at the agency since last year’s presidential campaign.


Huffington Post: Resistance Builds to Proposed Israeli Boycott Bill

By Stephen Zunes

If passed, the legislation would make it a crime to support or even furnish information about a boycott directed at Israel or the Israeli occupation supported by any entity of the United Nations, the European Union, or other “international governmental organization.”

And the penalties are draconian, including fines of up to one million dollars and up to twenty years imprisonment…

The American Civil Liberties Union has come out strongly in opposition, saying the bill “would impose civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs about Israel and its policies”; that it would “include penalties for simply requesting information about such boycotts”; and therefore “seeks only to punish the exercise of constitutional rights.”…

As a result of pressure from critics, some of the bill’s supporters may be backing down. Confronted about her support for the measure by constituents attending a town hall on July 31, Senator Gillibrand stated that she had not understood the implications of the bill and would urge them to rewrite it to be sure it “does not apply to individuals” and only targets companies.

The States

Seattle Times: Seattle’s democracy vouchers haven’t kept big money out of primary election

By Bob Young

Just three of 15 City Council candidates have qualified for vouchers at this point – all in Position 8 – and not all are happy about the hurdles they’ve faced.

As of Friday, less than 1 percent of the 2.1 million vouchers mailed to voters have been available for use by candidates…

Goueli, a doctor, said he could’ve financed his campaign with contributions from medical-profession friends outside Seattle and Washington. But he opted for democracy vouchers instead.

He said collecting signatures for his Seattle contributors took an “exorbitant” amount of time. “It’s the opposite of how democracy vouchers are supposed to work,” he said. “Instead of getting my message out, I’m trying to get democracy vouchers.”

Late Friday afternoon Goueli received an email from the city elections commission saying, “You are in!” He would get $14,775 in vouchers he had collected.

The news was bittersweet. He would have almost no time to use his vouchers to reach voters, many of whom had already marked their mail-in ballots by that time.

U.S. News & World Report: Campus Free Speech Laws Ignite the Country

By Lauren Camera

Over the weekend, North Carolina joined a handful of states with laws on the books regarding free speech on college campuses, banning so-called “free speech zones” and requiring campuses to sanction anyone who interferes with the free speech rights of others…

The wave of campus free speech legislation comes on the heels of a grueling school year for the First Amendment on campuses across the country. Violent protests largely against conservative speakers highlight the recent struggle colleges and universities are having walking a line between preserving free speech and acting as a space that showcases a variety of ideas, while at the same time protecting students – particularly those in demographic groups who may feel marginalized or threatened by the ideas espoused by a group or speaker.

The Tar Heel State is at least the fifth state – Colorado, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia are the others – with such a law. And other states have legislative proposals in the pipeline, including California, Illinois, Michigan, Texas and Wisconsin.

Columbus Dispatch: Pro-Issue 2 group demands identity of drug companies funding opposition

By Randy Ludlow

A drug industry-backed group opposing a fall ballot issue to cap the price of prescription drugs was accused Wednesday of illegally failing to disclose its “dark-money” donors.

Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices, which led the campaign to place the measure on the ballot, filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission asking that the Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue be forced to disclose the identity of its donors.

The opponents of the ballot issue formed a nonprofit to accept and forward $15.8 million in contributions, submitting a campaign finance report Monday listing its only donor as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the trade association representing drug makers…

Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue spokesman Dale Butland said the group is complying with campaign finance disclosure laws and has made no secret of where its money is coming from: the pharmaceutical industry…

The complaint asks the Elections Commission to order the disclosure of a complete list of donors and the amounts contributed to purchase the TV commercials that have flooded Ohio for weeks.

Alex Baiocco

Alex Baiocco