Daily Media Links 9/27

September 27, 2019   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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The Courts

Courthouse News Service: Arkansas Asks Panel to Toss Challenge to Campaign-Finance Law

By Joe Harris

An attorney for the state of Arkansas argued before the Eighth Circuit on Thursday that a woman challenging the constitutionality of a state campaign donation law lacks standing to do so because her preferred candidate has not made an official campaign announcement.

Peggy Jones filed a federal lawsuit over an Arkansas law prohibiting campaign donations for statewide offices more than two years before the election. Jones claims the law infringes on her First Amendment rights by preventing her to donate now to politicians she wants to support in the 2022 election cycle, namely state Senator Mark Johnson, R-Conway.

In June, U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. issued an injunction blocking enforcement of the law until its constitutionality could be decided. Arkansas then appealed to the St. Louis-based appellate court, prompting Moody to lift the injunction – allowing the law to remain in effect – until the Eighth Circuit ruled on Jones’ standing…

Chad Pekron, who represented Jones, argued that whether Johnson publicly announced his candidacy is not the point.

“The conversation between Senator Johnson and Ms. Jones, that’s an affirmative step,” Pekron told the court. “This case is not hypothetical. It is not speculative. There is concrete evidence that Ms. Jones has suffered an injury as a result of the blackout period.”

He argued that the $2,700 should be enough to prevent campaign finance corruption without the blackout period.

New York Post: Here’s what will get you blocked by AOC on Twitter

By Andrew Denney

An aide to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday said the freshman congresswoman blocks people on Twitter if their input isn’t “constructive” – but a federal judge demanded that she come and explain that herself.

Campaign manager Rebecca Rodriguez laid out Ocasio-Cortez’s online habits as part of a hearing in a lawsuit filed by former Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who claims the Democratic darling wrongfully blocked him online over his “criticism” of her.

Hikind, a longtime Jewish leader, is among more than 20 people Ocasio-Cortez has muted online, a decision she makes “if she feels the posts start reaching a point where it’s not constructive, where it’s an attack and where the person becomes so polarizing that she cannot have a conversation with them and they’re amplifying their platform,” explained Rodriguez…

But Brooklyn federal Judge Frederic Block wants to hear directly from the prolific tweeter herself.

“I think she has to testify,” the judge said. “Her point is that this was an A-OK thing to do … she has to explain.”

Hikind said he was blocked by Ocasio-Cortez after he tweeted at her about her controversial comments in June comparing migrant centers at the border to concentration camps.

“That comment from her, I found so incredibly outrageous,” Hikind, who is also a Democrat, said at the hearing.

“I was shut out basically from having a conversation,” he said after he was blocked…

Ocasio-Cortez has previously said she blocks people on Twitter “for harassment, not for political views.”

FEC

Election Law Blog: FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub Releases Draft Letter Setting Forth Her View of FEC Law that Candidates Soliciting Opposition Research Not at Market Rates Violate the Federal Law

By Rick Hasen

This cannot be acted on by an FEC without a quorum, and surely this would divide the commission along party lines, but Ellen Weintraub’s analysis seems solid.

Congress

Roll Call: Democrats press Senate to take up overhaul of campaigns and ethics

By Kate Ackley

As House Democrats pursue an impeachment inquiry based largely on possible campaign finance violations against President Donald Trump, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House Democrats sought a fresh spotlight for their stalled political money, ethics and elections overhaul measure.

The House passed the bill by a vote of 234-193 along party lines on March 8, 200 days ago, the California Democrat noted.

“We sent this legislation over to the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and it’s been sitting there in his grim reaper role,” Pelosi said at a Friday news conference flanked by several House Democratic freshmen who ran on many of the proposals included in the measure. “We’re saying to him, ‘You may think this is dead over there, grim reaper’ – what a nice thing to say about yourself – but it is alive and well in the public.”…

The measure’s lead sponsor, Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, acknowledged that the Senate was unlikely to take up the bill under McConnell’s leadership, and he said it would remain a signature proposal for his party’s congressional and presidential candidates in the 2020 campaigns.

Freshman Democrats such as Reps. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Joe Neguse of Colorado concurred.

They also said they could continue to work on their party’s legislative agenda while pursuing impeachment, saying they had an obligation to do both.

Wall Street Journal: NRA’s Ties to Russian Nationals Detailed in New Report

By Mark Maremont and Julie Bykowicz

National Rifle Association funds paid for lodging and travel of Russian nationals throughout 2015 and 2016, as part of a relationship that allowed foreign actors looking to influence the U.S. election, including now-convicted Maria Butina, to infiltrate the gun-rights group, a new report asserts.

The report, released Friday by Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee, also says NRA leaders traveled to Moscow in December 2015 partly on the NRA’s dime, even though some went there to pursue their own personal business opportunities. This raises questions, the report says, about whether they violated laws on how nonprofit funds can be used.

The trip to Moscow gave Russians an opening to the organization as the election was ramping up, as well as access to other events involving Republican party leaders, the Democrats say.

The committee’s Republican majority issued a rebuttal, saying the Democrats are using “facts and innuendo” about the NRA-Russia ties that “together demonstrate little to nothing,” and said the “extent of the evidence reviewed does not raise concerns the NRA abused its tax-exempt purposes when some of its high-ranking officials traveled to Russia in December 2015.”…

The report calls on Congress to “explore options to reform tax-exempt laws to protect against foreign threats,” but it is unlikely to provoke any immediate legislative impact. Republicans hold a majority of Senate seats, and the party has expressed its continued support of the NRA and has shown little interest in tightening restrictions on tax-exempt organizations.

Trump Administration

Wall Street Journal: ACLU Demands U.S. Drop Action Against Schools’ Middle East Studies Program

By Douglas Belkin

The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday demanded that the Education Department rescind a letter threatening the funding of a Middle Eastern studies program run by two universities, saying the action threatens constitutional protections of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

The demand follows allegations by the Education Department in August that the program run jointly by Duke University and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, doesn’t align with guidelines for a $235,000 federal grant it receives for international studies and foreign-language programs.

In their letter on Friday, ACLU leaders said the allegations had nothing to do with how the money was used and everything to do with political retaliation for what the Trump administration considered to be anti-Israel bias expressed at a conference.

“We are deeply troubled by this inquiry’s potential impact on curricula at other institutions,” wrote Ronald Newman, ACLU national political director, and Karen Anderson, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina.

The federal government rarely intervenes in the intricacies of college curricula, but the agency has broad authority to demand changes of schools that accept federal grants and financial aid. The department under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has taken an unprecedented role in addressing what the Trump administration has called pervasive anti-Israel bias at colleges and universities.

The Education Department’s allegations were the result of an investigation that found that the Duke-UNC program, which used Title VI funds, put “considerable emphasis” on the positive aspects of Islam, while not attempting to similarly demonstrate the positive aspects of Judaism and Christianity. The letter to the schools stated that the program’s offerings were unduly focused on “advancing ideological priorities.”

The department ordered the two universities to submit a revised curriculum, listing events it plans to host and the professors it employs.

Reason: Did Trump Commit a Crime by Seeking a Ukrainian Investigation of Joe Biden? And Does It Matter for Impeachment Purposes?

By Jacob Sullum

Like the bribery statute, the campaign finance law would apply to an arrangement between Trump and Zelenskiy only if the information discovered by a Ukrainian investigation of Biden and his son, Hunter, would qualify as a “thing of value.” And as Special Counsel Robert Mueller noted in his March report on Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, “No judicial decision has treated the voluntary provision of uncompensated opposition research or similar information as a thing of value that could amount to a contribution under campaign-finance law.”…

Furthermore, if the law were understood to cover the sharing of information, it would effectively criminalize constitutionally protected speech. Mueller noted that “such an interpretation could have implications beyond the foreign-source ban,” such as limits on campaign contributions by Americans, and “raise First Amendment questions.”…

[I]f information counted as a campaign contribution, any American who shared a potentially damaging tip about a political candidate with that candidate’s opponent would be subject to the limits imposed by the Federal Election Campaign Act. That understanding of the law would create formidable enforcement challenges. How much would, say, rumors of domestic abuse or a list of old, offensive tweets be worth? How could the Federal Election Commission assign a dollar value to such information, which would be necessary to decide when someone had exceeded the limit on individual campaign contributions? It does not seem like a stretch to suggest that such uncertainties would have a chilling effect on speech protected by the First Amendment.

Independent Groups 

New York Times: Anxious Biden Allies May Unleash Super PAC

By Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin

Allies of Joseph R. Biden Jr., concerned about his slipping poll numbers in the Democratic presidential primary and an onslaught of attacks from President Trump, are weighing whether to mobilize a super PAC supporting Mr. Biden and have held conversations with wealthy donors to gauge their interest in contributing money.

Mr. Biden and his campaign aides have said since the start of the race that they would not welcome an outside spending effort on his behalf, and every other major Democratic candidate has sworn off super PACs for the duration of the primary. A spokesman for Mr. Biden on Thursday reiterated that he opposed super PACs and would reject any such group that attempted to support him.

Yet several former staffers of Mr. Biden and political donors backing his candidacy have held conversations in recent weeks about moving ahead with a super PAC, and said Mr. Trump’s furious, and often unsubstantiated, allegations about the former vice president had convinced them it was imperative they act.

“For me, this week puts everything into stark relief,” said Larry Rasky, a former aide to Mr. Biden who is now a political fund-raiser and public relations executive. “And I was already thinking the campaign was being a little naïve about the resources we’d need to fight this.”

The States

Westfair: NY comptroller asks corporate chiefs to withhold PAC funds from anti-LGBT politicians

By Phil Hall

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has sent letters to 41 companies asking them to reevaluate their corporate political action committee donations to politicians who are perceived as being hostile to the LGBT community.

DiNapoli’s letter follows a request from the advocacy group Zero for Zeroes, which seeks to influence companies that publicly stress their LGBT inclusivity and support from making PAC contributions to politicians that have made comments and supported legislation aimed against LGBT Americans.

Zero for Zeroes stated that it identified 49 companies that received a 100% rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index contributed $5.8 million to members of Congress that received a zero rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard.

In his letter to the CEOs of the companies, DiNapoli called on them to review their “policies and procedures for making corporate political expenditures to determine whether spending is aligned with corporate strategy and values. This review would help ensure that such expenditures are consistent with its public stance on issues that pose heightened misalignment risks, like LGBTQ rights, thereby mitigating the financial ramifications of misalignment.”

Center Square: Polis administration takes heat for asking newspapers to unpublish story

By Derek Draplin

On Wednesday, The Center Square reported on emails it obtained through an open records request that show Polis Press Secretary Conor Cahill asking editors at the Kiowa County Press and The Chronicle-News in Trinidad to remove the Sept. 4 story from their websites. The Center Square allows other media to republish its content.

“I see you have run a recent article published by The Center Square which is not a reputable news source,” Cahill emailed to editors. “Would you consider removing it?”

“No. I see no issue with the story,” The Chronicle-News Editor Eric John Monson responded in an email. “Very surprised you would make such a request.”

Chris Sorensen, publisher and online editor of the Kiowa County Press, responded to Cahill’s emailed request saying, “Pending clarification, I suspended the article from the website. Is there a factual error that needs to be corrected?”

Cahill responded only with a link to an opinion piece published on a left-leaning advocacy website inaccurately describing The Center Square. Sorensen said he republished the story after Cahill did not present evidence of a factual error.

Polis’ office on Thursday defended itself for pressuring newspapers to remove the news story, described as “straightforward” by other news outlets and media observers, in statements to other media.

“The people of Colorado deserve quality, objective news they can trust so they can make their own informed decisions,” a statement from the governor’s office, first reported by Colorado Politics, said…

Jon Caldara, president of the free market Independence Institute, questioned Polis’ support for free speech rights.

“I thought Jared Polis supported the First Amendment,” he said. “I am surprised and disheartened by this heavy-handed attempt to pressure any news outlets from the governor’s staff.” 

Alex Baiocco

Alex Baiocco