Daily Media Links 9/6

September 6, 2019   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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In the News

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Group asks in on Arkansas donation-law suit

By Linda Satter

The Institute for Free Speech has asked a federal appeals court to let it weigh in on a dispute over Arkansas’ campaign contribution blackout period.

The nonprofit group that defines its mission as promoting and defending First Amendment rights announced Thursday that it had filed an amicus, or friend-of-the-court brief, at the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis…

In its news release Thursday, the institute noted that attorneys for the state have asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed because Jones hasn’t been penalized by the law, or threatened with being penalized, which means she doesn’t have legal standing to pursue the case.

“States cannot put unconstitutional laws on the books and then tell citizens that they cannot challenge those laws in court,” said Allen Dickerson, the institute’s free-speech legal director. “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.”

The institute said that if the state’s argument 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 a contribution to avoid liability for herself and Sen. [Mark] Johnson.”…

“The Institute’s brief explains that courts have relaxed requirements for First Amendment challenges to prevent precisely this sort of outcome,” the institute asserts.

Its news release said the state “is incorrect in asserting that the only way to show a reasonable fear of prosecution is to have an actual prosecution. One need not await prosecution to challenge a statute imposing liability.”

It said the only harm Jones must show is “in the form of curtailed expressive activity due to the statute’s existence,” adding, “Here, she has plainly done so.”

Gazette Chicago: Congressmen, activists look to overturn Citizens United decision

By Igor Studenkov

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA-28), chair of the House’s Select Committee on Intelligence, on May 8 introduced an amendment that would use a constitutional amendment to undo the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision…

Earlier this year, Representatives Theodore Deutch (D-FL-22), James McGovern (D-MA-2), Jamie Raskin (D-MD-8), and John Katko (R-NY-24) introduced their own proposal that goes even further. Besides giving federal and state governments power to limit campaign spending, it specifically says those laws “may distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.”…

A proposed amendment by Move to Amend, a Sacramento, CA, based coalition of political and social advocacy organizations and labor unions, is pushing for the most significant change, however…

[B]oth Schiff’s and Deutch’s proposals say that governments “may” regulate campaign spending, while Move to Amend’s proposal says “shall.”…

Rep. Jayapal Pramila (D-WA-7) introduced the amendment in the current Congressional session on Feb. 22…

The Institute for Free Speech, an Alexandria, VA, based nonprofit, has been advocating against regulations on campaign spending and restrictions on “political speech.”…

Luke Wachob, the institute’s director of communications, said his organization sees the matter as a free speech issue.

“Our democracy works best when voters are free to speak, hear from others, and decide for themselves which candidates to support,’ he said. “Letting the government decide who can speak, and how much, is a dangerous path.”

IRS

The Hill: IRS issues proposed rules to reduce donor disclosure requirements following court ruling

By Naomi Jagoda

Under the proposed rules, certain tax-exempt groups – including organizations such as the National Rifle Association and American Civil Liberties Union, as well as labor unions and business leagues – would no longer be required to provide the names and addresses of major donors on annual tax forms.

The tax-exempt groups would still have to report the amounts of contributions from each substantial donor, and would have to keep the names and addresses of the donors in their files in case the IRS needs the information on a case-by-case basis.

Charities that have tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, as well as political organizations, would still be required to report the names and addresses of donors.

The IRS had previously issued guidance reducing the donor disclosure requirements in 2018 in the form of a revenue procedure, meaning there wasn’t a notice of proposed rulemaking and a comment period. Montana and New Jersey, which both have Democratic governors, filed a lawsuit challenging that guidance.

In July, Judge Brian Morris, an appointee of former President Obama in a federal court in Montana, ruled that the revenue procedure be set aside because it hadn’t gone through a notice and comment period…

Republican lawmakers have generally been supportive of Treasury and the IRS reducing the donor disclosure requirements, arguing that doing so helps to protect taxpayers’ First Amendment rights.

But Democrats are strongly opposed, arguing that the move could make it easier for foreign governments to influence U.S. elections through illegal donations to “dark money” groups.

Free Speech

The Guardian: The myth of the free speech crisis

By Nesrine Malik

As a value in its purest form, freedom of speech serves two purposes: protection from state persecution, when challenging the authority of power or orthodoxy; and the protection of fellow citizens from the damaging consequences of absolute speech (ie completely legally unregulated speech) such as slander…

The recent history of fighting for freedom of speech has gone from something noble – striving for the right to publish works that offend people’s sexual or religious prudery, and speaking up against the values leveraged by the powerful to maintain control – to attacking the weak and persecuted. The effort has evolved from challenging upwards to punching downwards…

Free speech as an abstract value is now directly at odds with the sanctity of life. It’s not merely a matter of “offence”. Judith Butler, a cultural theorist and Berkeley professor, speaking at a 2017 forum sponsored by the Berkeley Academic Senate, said: “If free speech does take precedence over every other constitutional principle and every other community principle, then perhaps we should no longer claim to be weighing or balancing competing principles or values. We should perhaps frankly admit that we have agreed in advance to have our community sundered, racial and sexual minorities demeaned, the dignity of trans people denied, that we are, in effect, willing to be wrecked by this principle of free speech.”

We challenge this instrumentalisation by reclaiming the true meaning of the freedom of speech (which is freedom to speak rather than a right to speak without consequence), challenging hate speech more forcefully, being unafraid to contemplate banning or no-platforming those we think are harmful to the public good, and being tolerant of objection to them when they do speak.

Disclosure

Fox News: Trump donors and their businesses face fresh wave of boycotts, public shaming

By Matthew Gagnon

The 2020 presidential election is already getting nasty — and not just for the candidates.

The mud-slinging and smear campaigns also are being directed at supporters and donors, namely those with the temerity to back President Trump. They’re facing a revived effort by Trump critics to name and shame them, with the apparent goal of hurting their businesses.

In one of the latest examples, a Facebook post on a page called simply “Ban Kenny Chesney from Pittsburgh” threatened to make public a list of almost 100 local businesses in the Pennsylvania city that are owned by Trump supporters. While the page has since been taken down, a new website has been promised that will include “a database of Trump supporter-owned businesses in the Pittsburgh area, as well as tips for how to get those specific businesses closed down,” according to local media.

“They want to cost people their livelihoods just because you don’t agree with them politically,” Sam DeMarco, Allegheny County councilman and chairman of the county’s Republican Party, told the local CBS affiliate. “It’s not just absurd, but I believe it’s dangerous.”…

A similar social media-driven boycott was directed at one of Connecticut’s most popular pizza parlors.

Facebook user Lorna Steele posted a message last month asking her followers to join her “in no longer funding his hate,” referring to Frank Pepe Pizzeria and co-owner Gary Bimonte, a Trump supporter. She posted her message alongside a picture of Bimonte holding a “Deplorables for Trump” sign and a message he posted thanking the president for the American steel piping being used in construction jobs.

FEC

FiveThirtyEight: What Happens When The FEC Can’t Do Its Job?

sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): Last Monday, Federal Election Commission Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen announced his resignation, leaving the FEC effectively shut down, as only three positions on the six-seat committee are currently filled and the agency is legally required to have four commissioners to be fully operational…

So here with us today to unpack what this could mean for the 2020 election (and campaign finance in general) is Dave Levinthal, editor and senior reporter at the Center for Public Integrity…

dave.levinthal: An FEC that effectively sat out the 2020 election would be monumental. It’d take us back to a pre-Watergate era of campaign-finance regulation in certain ways. (The FEC was created after Watergate to help defend against campaign money problems, irregularities and potential lawlessness.)

In fact, I’d say it’d be the most incentive Congress has probably had since Watergate to fundamentally change the nation’s campaign-finance regulation regime.

Congress

Common Dreams: Over 120 Groups Call on Congress to Back Constitutional Amendment Overturning Citizens United

By Jessica Corbett

More than 120 organizations on Thursday urged members of the U.S. House to support a constitutional amendment that aims to reverse the damage done to American democracy by Citizens United…

Major civil rights, environmental, labor, LGBTQ, and good government groups sent a letter (pdf) to lawmakers, which coincided with a national call-in day for constituents to pressure their representatives in Congress support the measure.

The letter to House members says, “We are writing to urge you to cosponsor H.J.Res. 2, the bipartisan Democracy For All Amendment, which would restore the authority of Congress and the states to set commonsense rules for the raising and spending of money on elections to advance political equality for all Americans.”…

Introduced in January by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), the amendment is co-sponsored by 138 other members of the House. All but one, Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), are Democrats. The measure was introduced in the upper chamber by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) in July and is backed by the other 46 senators who caucus with the Democrats.

Independent Groups

Wall Street Journal: The Left’s Lucrative Nonprofits

By Kimberley A. Strassel

This year’s Democratic presidential candidates have a favorite whipping boy: “powerful interests.” Get ready to hear again in coming weeks how the National Rifle Association rules Washington, how the Koch empire dominates politics, how the right is pouring “dark money” into its agenda. And then remember that these are among the biggest whoppers of the 2020 election. One side will do battle with the aid of a huge and savvy nonprofit political empire-and it isn’t the right. Though the sooner Republicans understand that, the better.

A helpful tutorial arrived this week, “Power Grab,” a new book by Republican former Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah. Mr. Chaffetz has been digging into nonprofits since his time as House Oversight Committee chairman, and the book details how powerful the liberal nonprofit sector has grown…

In 2018 the nonprofit watchdog Capital Research Center analyzed grants handed out in the 2014 election year by six big foundations on the right (including the Bradley and Charles Koch foundations) versus six on the left (including the Open Society and Tides foundations). Liberal public-policy charities, organized under chapter 501(c)(3) of the tax code, bagged $7.4 billion of this foundation money in 2014. For conservative charities, the figure was a mere $2.2 billion. That $7.4 billion also dwarfed total 2013-14 campaign receipts to federal, state and local campaigns ($4.1 billion) and spending that cycle by independent groups ($830 million).

Mr. Chaffetz’s contribution is to refocus attention on the way liberal charities channel their huge funds into political work that benefits the Democratic Party…

The history of campaign-finance laws is largely a history of groups getting around them. As the power of liberal charities grows, so too will the calls for new rules or investigations.

Washington Post: From Cabinet to Campaign, McMahon Becomes Trump’s Big Money Boss

By Josh Wingrove and Jordan Fabian, Bloomberg

While America First has the blessing of the president, rival pro-Trump super-PACs have sprouted up and are trying to raise money from the same deep-pocketed donors McMahon is targeting — a common headache in campaign finance.

As a prominent Republican donor — McMahon gave $7 million to pro-Trump super-PACs during the 2016 election — she has experienced first-hand the confusion among donors when various groups claim to have special status for backing the candidate. In May, however, the campaign singled out America First as the “one approved outside non-campaign group” for fundraising.

“They wanted to make sure that everyone knew that this was sort of the official designated PAC,” McMahon told Bloomberg News in an interview Thursday in Washington, alongside colleague Brian Walsh, the president of America First Action. “From the donor community, there is — I won’t say a relief, but there clearly is an understanding that we are the place to go for that, so they don’t have to worry.”

But that hasn’t deterred competitor groups. McMahon said she even received a call from someone claiming to be from the official Trump PAC. Asked what message she had for other groups trying to get a piece of the biggest Republican donations, she deadpanned: “Pound sand? No.”

Fundraising 

New Republic: The Democratic Party’s Addiction to Dirty Money

By Libby Watson

The problem is far bigger than Joe Biden. Other candidates in the race have gamely attempted the same two-step, violating pledges to reject special interest money and hosting big-dollar fund-raisers. The machinery of the Democratic Party is primed to run on big piles of cash and showers its favor upon those candidates who reliably stack the green. Even as voters demand that the party shed the influence of plutocratic interests, much of the shift toward rejecting the status quo has been rhetorical, not substantive. The Democrats literally demand “dues,” or a certain amount in funds raised, from the congressional committee chairs who raise those funds from the industries they regulate-and they dole out the parliamentary perks to those who deliver the goods.

Climate activist groups, like the Sunrise Movement, have lately had some success pushing candidates on climate change. Money tainted by fossil fuel profits is arguably worse than many other kinds of big bad donations, in part because of the dramatic urgency posed by climate crisis. The optics of heading from a climate forum to a fossil fuel executive’s fund-raiser are awful. And this kind of conversation-one in which the Democratic front-runner has to explain and defend his attendance at a fundraiser put on by a fossil fuel executive-is beneficial to the larger project of disentangling the Democratic Party from the control of the rich. (Though CNBC reported that Biden’s allies expected the fundraiser to go ahead as planned, with Goldman co-hosting.)

But don’t miss the bigger picture. It would be only slightly less appalling if Biden had gone straight to a fancy fundraiser with someone heavily invested in the pharmaceutical status quo, where poor people die from lack of access to drugs; or the hospital status quo, where hospitals can sue patients for the crime of getting sick; or the housing status quo, where housing and tenants are squeezed for the profits of investors.

The Media

Daily Beast: ThinkProgress, a Top Progressive News Site, Has Shut Down

By Sam Stein and Gideon Resnick

The outlet, which served as an editorially independent project of the Democratic Party think tank Center for American Progress (CAP), will stop current operations on Friday and be converted into a site where CAP scholars can post.

Top officials at CAP had been searching for a buyer to take over ThinkProgress, which has run deficits for years, and according to sources there were potentially three serious buyers in the mix recently. But in a statement to staff, Navin Nayak, the executive director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, said the site was ultimately unable to secure a patron.

“Given that we could find no new publisher, we have no other real option but to fold the ThinkProgress website back into CAP’s broader online presence with a focus on analysis of policy, politics, and news events through the lens of existing CAP and CAP Action staff experts,” said Nayak. “Conversations on how to do so are just beginning, but we will seek to reinvent it as a different platform for progressive change.”

A dozen ThinkProgress employees will be losing their jobs, a CAP aide said, as many who were on staff had already gone to work elsewhere and some were incorporated into the larger CAP infrastructure.

The States

Helena Independent Record: Montana ethics chief recommends bringing lobbying code ‘into the 21st century’

By Eric Dietrich, Montana Free Press

Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan told a legislative committee Tuesday that lawmakers should consider updating state lobbying rules to bring them “into the 21st century” by, for instance, requiring electronic filing for lobbying reports and clarifying whether regulations apply to “grassroots” lobbying like social media campaigns.

“You will find the word ‘telegraph’ in the current code as far as what lobbyists should be reporting – telephone and telegraph expenses. You won’t find the word ‘internet’ in there,” Mangan said.

Lawmakers on the State Administration and Veterans’ Affairs Committee voiced concern about the cost of administering new lobbying regulations, but voted to study the issue over the coming year and potentially draft bills for consideration in the 2021 Legislature.

New York Daily News: Sin of commission: What the state’s new campaign finance panel has gotten wrong already

By Editorial Board

The nine-member commission staffed by appointees of Gov. Cuomo and legislative leaders is up and running. High on its likely list of proposals is eliminating fusion voting.

That’s the perfectly fine system that allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines in a single election by getting cross-endorsed; the Working Families, Green, Conservative, Independence and other minor parties rely on it for their survival…

Cuomo and others would be more than happy to live without the WFP, a thorn in their left sides. So, before hearing a single word of testimony, panel chair Jay Jacobs – who, wouldn’t you know, also happens to be state Democratic Party chairman – announced that the commission plans to package all the panel’s proposals on public financing and fusion voting together for a single-or-up down vote by the Legislature (and automatic adoption if the Legislature never votes).

This is a raw deal. Let those who want to kill fusion voting choose to do that. Let those who want to create a public financing system or otherwise overhaul some pretty terrible campaign finance laws choose to do that.

Don’t dare tell New York State that if it wants to weaken the power of big money in political campaigns, it has to simultaneously destroy minor parties.

Alex Baiocco

Alex Baiocco