In the News
Washington Examiner: The summer of political harassment shows why privacy is essential
By Luke Wachob
The summer of 2019 was the summer of harassment for people who support candidates and causes.
Rep. Joaquin Castro’s tweet doxxing constituents who donated to President Trump’s campaign rightly drew criticism of the Texas Democrat from people of all stripes. Then, unfounded accusations that Olive Garden donated to Trump’s campaign briefly captured the internet’s attention, and scorn, once journalists reported the inconvenient fact that corporations are legally prohibited from donating to candidates. Even Hollywood actress Debra Messing sparked controversy for seemingly attempting to name and shame Trump supporters before backing down…
What’s needed today is not more disclosure and exposure, more naming and shaming, but rather a return to privacy and free speech as pillars of American politics. Americans should hear more speech from more people, including moderate voices and those representing minority viewpoints. Often, moderates will be least likely to speak up if they experience harassment or public shaming.
To protect speakers (and listeners) and allow the greatest number of participants, campaign finance and disclosure laws ought to be dramatically scaled back. Employer information should be eliminated, and the threshold for public disclosure should be raised and indexed to inflation.
Our political system is meant to channel citizens’ energies and passions toward productive ends. To use campaign finance disclosure to bully certain voices out of public discourse violates our deepest principles. It also exercises the same nefarious “influence” over American politics that such laws were intended to curtail.
Bloomberg Government: Congressional Standoff May Delay Federal Election Oversight
By Kenneth P. Doyle
The Federal Election Commission’s paralysis on key campaign-finance matters could be extended indefinitely as leaders in Congress skirmish over how to appoint new commissioners.
Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), want to install six new commissioners. The move would fill vacancies and replace current commissioners, including Ellen Weintraub, the FEC’s Democratic chairwoman, who has frequently criticized President Donald Trump. A clean slate of members will go a long way toward fixing some of the perceived dysfunction at the commission, said a Senate Republican aide, who asked not to be named.
Democrats, meanwhile, say the Senate should move quickly to fill existing vacancies, restoring a quorum and allowing the commission to function fully. Democrats aren’t calling for immediate replacement of the current commissioners…
A candidate to fill the single Democratic vacancy on the commission has been recommended by Democratic Senate leaders but not yet approved for nomination by Trump, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said in an Aug. 31 letter to the president…
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) sent a letter to Weintraub and other FEC commissioners last month that included thinly veiled criticism of the Democratic chairwoman. Davis is the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over campaign finance and FEC matters. He warned that “partisan attacks only serve to undermine your work.”
“Weintraub ought to go,” said Brad Smith, who held a Republican seat on the FEC until 2005. Smith now heads the nonprofit Institute for Free Speech, which frequently challenges campaign finance regulations. He said in a phone interview that Weintraub should be replaced because her frequent public comments have raised doubts about her objectivity and confused the public about the narrow role of the FEC in regulating elections.
New from the Institute for Free Speech
The Institute for Free Speech yesterday filed an amicus brief asking a federal court to allow an Arkansas citizen to make campaign contributions, within legal limits, at a time of her choosing. Arkansas resident Peggy Jones is challenging an unusual blackout period in state law that prohibits contributions more than two years before a candidate’s next election. But the state seeks to have her case dismissed because she has not been threatened with prosecution for violating the law.
“States cannot put unconstitutional laws on the books and then tell citizens that they cannot challenge those laws in court. Most Americans will not exercise their First Amendment rights if they may be prosecuted for doing so, which is why courts routinely review unconstitutional laws before harm is done,” said Institute for Free Speech Legal Director Allen Dickerson.
Ms. Jones wishes to contribute to the campaign of State Senator Mark Johnson, who faces re-election in 2022. Under state law, this donation would be illegal until late next year. But the state also says Jones cannot challenge the law unless she is prosecuted for violating it.
If Arkansas is correct, states could chill the exercise of First Amendment rights by anyone who lacks the resources or willingness to fight back in court. Indeed, Jones has refrained from making such a contribution to avoid liability for herself and Senator Johnson. The Institute’s brief explains that courts have relaxed requirements for First Amendment challenges to prevent precisely this sort of outcome…
The case, Jones v. Jegley, is before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
The State is incorrect in asserting that the only way to show a reasonable fear of prosecution is to have an actual prosecution. As the authorities above demonstrate, one need not await prosecution to challenge a statute imposing liability. For pleading purposes, Ms. Jones need not allege that she is in fact harmed; she must allege harm in the form of curtailed expressive activity due to the statute’s existence. Here she has plainly done so. As noted, the Complaint alleges that the blackout period mandated by the statute chills Ms. Jones’s First Amendment rights to speech as it affects her ability to express support for the candidate of her choice in the manner of her choosing. The Complaint directly alleges that: Ms. Jones refrained from making a contribution because of the statute’s penalties; she worried she or those to whom she would donate would face the statute’s penalties; and she therefore feared to act. And, of course, Ms. Jones filed a supplemental affidavit at the district court’s invitation where she specified that she refrained from donating to the 2022 campaign of Senator Johnson because she did not want to subject herself or Senator Johnson to civil or criminal liability.
Accordingly, Ms. Jones alleges an intention to engage in a course of conduct prohibited by the statute: exercising her First Amendment right to express support for Arkansas politicians. The statute specifies a criminal sanction for that conduct, and the state boldly states that both Ms. Jones and those who receive her donations two or more years before an election would be subject to criminal sanction. She thus credibly alleges fear of state sanction and her allegations plainly meet the pleading standards just outlined.
Importantly, the Supreme Court has explained that standing requirements are somewhat relaxed in First Amendment cases, and here Ms. Jones is a proper party to bring such claims as both she and those to whom she would donate face alleged harm under the statute…
By U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer
With the next presidential campaign in full-swing, and the 2020 election just over a year away, leaving these seats vacant is unacceptable. Congress and the Trump administration should take action immediately.
First and foremost, as I wrote in a letter along with a bipartisan group of my colleagues to President Donald Trump in 2018, it’s time to fill the vacancies on the commission with qualified Republicans and Democrats as has been the practice since the agency’s founding.
But as important, Congress should move to enact legislation to make the commission function better. Earlier this year, I sponsored the Restoring Integrity to America’s Elections Act, a bipartisan bill to fundamentally reform the FEC and enable it to more effectively carry out its mission to oversee and enforce campaign finance laws.
One of the core tenets of the bill would be the reduction of the number of commissioners from six to five, thus eliminating stalemate decisions. The bill would mandate that one member could not be affiliated with either party (not unlike our own state’s Redistricting Commission), ultimately increasing the independence of the commission.
In addition, the bill would prohibit recent politicians from serving as commissioners to preserve the independence of the commission and establish an advisory blue ribbon commission to develop recommendations on nominees to fill vacancies on the commission as they arise. The bill even creates a clearer job description for commission appointees so those who serve have the independence and experience to make judgments related to campaign finance violations.
This bill has already passed the House as part of broader democracy reform bill (known as H.R. 1). The Senate should take action on this bipartisan proposal and make meaningful, lasting progress to protect our democracy.
By Shawna Thomas and Morgan Baskin
Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub knows the agency could have done more to prevent the Russian interference in the 2016 election – but ideological differences in the agency made it impossible to get anything done…
On Tuesday, VICE News spoke with Weintraub, the longest-serving member of the commission – and the body’s lone Democrat – who is in her third separate stint as the FEC’s chair.
In an hour-long interview, Weintraub defended the organization’s productivity, but also acknowledged that the FEC has failed to make critical new campaign finance rules, including laws that would help determine whether a foreign entity was trying to interfere in U.S. elections.
By Craig Holman
In ordinary times, Public Citizen would call on the president to nominate and the U.S. Senate to immediately confirm new commissioners to fill the vacant FEC positions, restoring the quorum and allowing the agency to act.
But who are we kidding? We already know they won’t.
President Donald Trump and many Senate Republicans-chief among them, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)-are openly contemptuous of campaign finance limits or electioneering rules of any kind.
Republican politicians have shown time and again that they’re eager to lie, cheat, steal and rig elections to keep themselves and their party in power. Why would Trump or McConnell put a cop on the beat?
The few so called Republican “moderates” that remain won’t lift a finger either. The most we can expect is for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to wring her hands in a practiced display of feigned disappointment, like she always does.
When you step back and look at the big picture, what’s happening at the FEC is part of a long-term project by the right. For decades, anti-government extremists have tried to shut down watchdog agencies and put billionaires and big corporations in charge. Now they’ve succeeded…
The question is whether Senate Democrats, the press and the public will raise holy hell to put a campaign finance cop back on the beat. Or will they meekly acquiesce to yet another Republican scheme to shut down a vital public interest watchdog in government and rig the political system in their favor?
The stakes couldn’t be higher. Whether you call it a democracy or a republic, our system of self-government is in existential danger from of a hurricane of Big Money spending. Representative government cannot and will not survive wave after wave of barely regulated spending by multimillionaires, billionaires and giant corporations. In its wake will be an endless swamp of legalized corruption and bribery with self-serving autocratic cretins like Trump as king.
By Jason Chaffetz
Activists are weaponizing charitable giving, transforming nonprofits into tools of division and blatant partisanship.
Given the evidence I have reviewed, which you can read about in my new book “Power Grab,” these are the organizations the IRS should be auditing.
We’ve long known that social welfare nonprofits, known by the IRS designation 501(c)(4), have become a conduit for dark money political campaign contributions. Donors can give unlimited amounts without disclosure. The nonprofit then packages those donations and contributes to other advocacy groups, who need only disclose the name of the nonprofit donor rather than its original donors.
But new questions are raised by information found in the 990 tax filings of some 501(c)(3) charities – the type that provide tax write-offs and are prohibited from political activity. This information suggests that donations meant for charity may be finding their way to political activities despite strict campaign finance regulations on charities…
The time has come for the IRS to crack down on the political efforts of nonprofits. If they don’t, America may find that some of our most prodigious nonprofits use their original purpose as little more than a side hustle…
The bottom line is this: Much of the campaign finance activity that is now illegal in the campaign world has shifted to the nonprofit sector. If this activity is allowed to proliferate, partisan political activity may swing the results of elections using the very methods Congress has criminalized on the campaign side.
The IRS has a duty and obligation to crack down on flagrant abuses of nonprofits’ favorable tax treatment.
Online Speech Platforms
By Tony Romm and Ellen Nakashima
Federal law enforcement officials huddled with Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter on Wednesday to discuss election security ahead of the 2020 presidential race, according to several U.S. and industry sources, amid heightened concerns that social-media sites are still vulnerable to the spread of disinformation online.
The meeting at Facebook’s headquarters in Silicon Valley included security officials from each of the four tech companies as well as representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence and the FBI, the sources said, requesting anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the meeting on record.
In a statement, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said the goal was to “build on previous discussions and further strengthen strategic collaboration regarding the security of the 2020 U.S. state, federal, and presidential elections.” He said they discussed ways to “improve how we share information and coordinate our response to better detect and deter threats.”
Google, Microsoft and Twitter each confirmed their attendance, without elaborating on the subject of their discussions.
The gathering marked the first such meeting involving industry and government of its size this year to address 2020 election security, according to one of the sources familiar with the proceedings. There “was a high degree of interest” to do similar meetings in the future and continue the joint coordination that began last year to prepare for the midterms, the person said.
Bangor Daily News: No one should be targeted for supporting a political candidate
By Matthew Gagnon
About a month ago, Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas made a controversial decision when he began releasing the names of Trump supporters that were residents of his San Antonio-based district…
The message he sent by doing this was pretty clear. If you support Donald Trump, a sitting congressman – and the brother of Julián Castro, a presidential candidate – will use his perch and his platform to bring attention to you, with the express intent of shaming you publicly.
That can then open you up to verbal or even physical confrontation of you and your family, an attack on a business you own, or many other forms of intimidation that can be used to keep you silent and afraid.
Castro could do this, of course, because donations to political candidates are transparent…
So why be upset at Castro?
Well, for starters, because the publishing of federal political campaign contributions is intended to help keep a watchful eye on the integrity of the candidates themselves…
They are not about giving the government a weapon to use against people for expressing support for political candidates…
A few days ago, actress Debra Messing reacted to news that Trump would be coming to Beverly Hills for a fundraiser by publicly demanding the names of the attendees. “Please print a list of all attendees please,” she tweeted…
Interestingly, actress Whoopie Goldberg – no conservative by any stretch of the imagination – was the one to educate Messing on the foolishness of what she was doing.
“Listen, the last time people did this, people ended up killing themselves,” Goldberg said, in reference to the Hollywood blacklists of the McCarthy era. “Your idea of who you don’t want to work with is your personal business. Do not encourage people to print out lists because the next list that comes out, your name will be on and then people will be coming after you.”
Washington Examiner: Will & Grace stars backtrack calls to out and boycott Trump backers in Hollywood
By Mike Brest
“I want to be clear about my social media post from last week, which has been misinterpreted in a very upsetting way. I absolutely do not support blacklists or discrimination of any kind, as anyone who knows me would attest,” McCormack’s statement began.
“I’d simply like to understand where Trump’s major donations are coming from, which is a matter of public record. I am holding myself responsible for making educated and informed decisions that I can morally and ethically stand by and to do that, transparency is essential,” it concluded.
Following McCormack’s apology, Messing tweeted that she agreed with his message and added that his statement “perfectly explains the intent behind each of our posts concerning the fundraiser. I am posting it here because, honestly, I couldn’t have said it better.”
By Eli Rosenberg
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution Tuesday declaring the National Rifle Association a “domestic terrorist organization” and urging the city to examine its financial relationships with companies that do business with the group…
“The National Rifle Association musters its considerable wealth and organizational strength to promote gun ownership and incite gun owners to acts of violence,” it read. “The National Rifle Association spreads propaganda that misinforms and aims to deceive the public about the dangers of gun violence, and … the leadership of National Rifle Association promotes extremist positions, in defiance of the views of a majority of its membership and the public, and undermine the general welfare.” …
New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, is investigating the group’s finances over its tax-exempt status as a nonprofit group.
Lawrence B. Glickman, professor of history at Cornell University, said it was unusual for governments to orchestrate boycotts of private entities.
“Municipalities in the era of the American Revolution called for ostracism or boycotting of individuals who violated the non-importation movement by using, for example, British tea,” he wrote in an email. “Those might be the clearest antecedents for the SF Board of Supervisors decision.”
By Spencer S. Hsu
Former Vice President Joe Biden was seemingly unaware that one of the co-hosts of a campaign fundraiser he is scheduled to attend on Thursday is the co-founder of a fossil fuel company – at least until he was asked about the fundraiser at a CNN climate town hall on climate change Wednesday night.
The man in question is Andrew Goldman, a co-founder of the Houston-based company Western LNG, which produces and transports natural gas. Goldman was a senior adviser for Biden when the 2020 Democratic frontrunner was in the US Senate, and is co-hosting one of two high-dollar fundraisers for Biden in New York on Thursday.
Asked by audience member and Bernie Sanders supporter Isaac Larkin whether the public could trust Biden’s pledge not to accept money from fossil fuel companies when he was attending a fundraiser hosted by Goldman, Biden quickly shot back that Goldman is “not a fossil fuel executive.”
CNN moderator Anderson Cooper challenged Biden to answer Larkin’s question, saying, “If you’re going to a fundraiser given in part by this company that is pulling up natural gas, are you the right guy?” Biden responded he would have to do more research.
“I didn’t realize he does that,” Biden said of Goldman. “If you look at the SEC filings, he’s not listed as an executive. That’s what we look at. The SEC filings.”
Asked by Cooper whether he’d still plan to attend the fundraiser, Biden said, “I’ll look at what you told me and find out if that’s accurate, yes.”
Later in the CNN town hall, Cooper clarified that Goldman was a co-founder of LNG and doesn’t currently have day-to-day responsibilities.
“What I was told by my staff is he did not have any responsibility relating to the company,” Biden said. “He was not on the board, he was not involved at all in the operation of the company at all. But if that turns out to be true, I will not in any way accept his help. We check every single contribution.”
By Rob Davis
The Oregon Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a request to delay arguments in a major campaign finance case, a decision that leaves open the possibility that political donations could be capped in statewide races next year — even though lawmakers have stumbled in their own attempts to set them.
Business groups wanted the state’s top court to postpone hearing a case to decide the legality of limits adopted by Multnomah County voters in 2016. The groups argued it was inappropriate for the court to rule on limits with voters set to do the same thing next November. Supporters of limits characterized the request as an attempt to allow unlimited contributions to dominate another election cycle.
In a three-sentence order, Chief Justice Martha L. Walters denied the industry groups’ request without specifying why. A previous order said the court would only change its schedule “upon a showing of extraordinary circumstances.”
The Multnomah case gives a fresh set of justices a chance to decide whether their predecessors got it right in their landmark 1997 opinion, Vannatta vs. Keisling, which concluded that contribution limits violate Oregon’s constitutional free speech protections…
Campaign finance is on the ballot, too. Legislators in the 2019 session sent a measure to voters allowing them to decide whether to make limits legal.
Business groups, including the Portland Business Alliance and Associated Oregon Industries, said the court should leave the decision to voters.
“While we are disappointed the court did not wait for voters to speak on a precedent that is decades old,” said Amy Lewin, an alliance spokeswoman, “we will continue doing our best to protect the people’s right to free expression and ensure any new campaign finance laws treat all community members the same.”
By Scott Shackford
The dumb drama around this past weekend’s “Straight Pride” march in Boston has taken an increasingly bizarre turn, as a Boston judge has taken it upon himself to overrule both prosecutors and defenders who want to drop charges against some people arrested during the parade.
It’s hard to decide where to begin when describing this roiling hornet’s nest of culture-war madness. The story includes not just the typical performative conflict between alt-right marchers (complete with Milo Yiannopoulos on hand as parade grand marshal) and leftist counterprotesters, but also conflicts with police unions, reformist district attorneys who want to ease up on overly harsh penalties for nonviolent crimes, and the tough-on-crime types who want to stop them.
On Saturday, around 200 tiresome alt-right trolls put on a “Straight Pride” march in Boston. They were vastly outnumbered by counterprotesters-some of which were allegedly members of antifa-and things, unsurprisingly, got messy. A confrontation between cops and counterprotesters ensued, and some officers were recorded using pepper spray on some of the crowds…
By the end of the day, 36 people had been arrested. (It’s not clear from the information made public whether these were all counterprotesters or if the number also includes marchers or others on the scene.) Four officers sustained non-serious injuries.