Don’t bogart my petitions, man

The U.S. Supreme Court could decide the petition privacy case Doe v. Reed as soon as Thursday. Many organizations on the left were upset that a conservative group seeking to thwart gay marriage rights in Washington state would seek to cloak their members in a shield of anonymity reminiscent of the authors of the Federalist Papers.

Some of the same liberal blogs, though, reacted with horror when an interdepartmental goon squad killed the buzz of pot activists in Washington by bogarting their petitions, howling about invasion of privacy.

Last month, a federally-funded, multi-jurisdictional task force called WestNet raided a medical marijuana dispensary in Tacoma, Wash. looking for evidence of the illegal sale of marijuana. While the raid turned up 70 marijuana plants (15 is the legal limit in Washington per medical marijuana patient), WestNet seized 200 signed petitions supporting Initiative 1068 (I-1068) which would legalize the sale, use, and possession of marijuana by persons 18 and older. The federal agents photocopied the petitions, keeping the names and addresses of Washington residents who favor legalization.

The episode has brought charges by the left that WestNet violated the petition signers’ First Amendment rights by seizing the petitions. Phillip Dawdy, spokesman for I-1068, said he understands police procedures about seizing potential evidence, but he worries that such a confiscation might have a “chilling effect” on future signature-gathering. The progressive news site Fire Dog Lake (FDL) started its own petition to have the seized petitions returned and FDL contributor Michael Whitney wrote that the federal agents engaged in a “clear act of intimidation designed to scare potential supporters of legalization from signing on to petitions.”

Filed Under: Blog, Washington

Insiders racket

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Filed Under: In the News

GOP sponsor may withdraw support for campaign finance bill

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Filed Under: In the News

Law against false statements in campaign ads is troublesome

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Filed Under: In the News

‘Stand By Your Ad’ and Independent Expenditures, in 1996

It’s the first day of summer. An ideal time to be reading documents from the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. Here’s an excerpt from the draft Department of Justice letter to Senator Trent Lott, assessing the constitutional issues presented by the reform bill of the day, S. 1219 (the Senate Campaign Finance Reform Act of 1996). Section 302 of that bill would have required that independent expenditures contain the permanent street address of the funder, and that candidate advertisements contain an audio self-identification bit—basically a Stand By Your Ad requirement.

This is what the Clinton DOJ said in their draft response, found at p. 4 of this PDF:

By requiring those making independent expenditures to publicize their permanent street address and forcing candidates literally to speak or to make an appearance, each of these requirements places a burden on speech at the core of the First Amendment’s protection. If these requirements place a substantial burden on protected speech and do not materially advance a governmental interest, the provision would fail to pass constitutional scrutiny.

I guess this should come as no surprise. After all, it was President Clinton who appointed Brad Smith to the Federal Election Commission…

UPDATE: The Clinton administration also considered the law’s rescue fund provision unconstitutional. The provision would have raised the contribution limit if a publicly funded candidate was outspent by his opponent. On page 7 of the PDF, the DOJ wrote that the bill “would effectuate a speaker-based distinction that is based on the communicative impact of speech and that forces a candidate to choose between not speaking in excess of the voluntary limits or triggering a higher contribution limit for his or her opponent.”

Filed Under: Blog

Another privileged speaker unaffected by DISCLOSE Act

Imagine if the DISCLOSE Act had passed several months ago, and were now in place. Now imagine if the following ad—let’s say it were, hypothetically, Democracy 21 paying for the ad—had begun running today in Congressman Chris Van Hollen’s Maryland district, where he has a Sept. 14 primary:

“Announcer: Chris Van Hollen is leading an effort to pass reform legislation that is effective. He’s being challenged by interest groups in Washington, D.C. who do not want to disclose their donors while they make campaign-related expenditures.

Congressman Van Hollen is challenging this an anti-reform position, and now he’s being attacked for being too much of a reformer.

Call Congressman Van Hollen and tell him to continue to oppose the anti-reformers ‘Alice in Wonderland’ view of Washington DC.”

Now, imagine that instead of running an ad, the head of Democracy 21 were instead to simply get on the phone with a reporter from Roll Call writing an article about last week’s collapse of the DISCLOSE Act, and provide pretty much the same commentary to appear in a news story:

Wertheimer defended Van Hollen’s performance. “He is leading an effort to pass reform legislation that is effective, and he’s being challenged by interest groups in town who, bottom line, do not want to disclose their donors while they make campaign-related expenditures. That’s a non-viable position from a policy perspective,” Wertheimer said. “That is an anti-reform position, and if Rep. Van Hollen is challenging that and being attacked for being too much of a reformer, then it tells me we’re living in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in this city.”

Not much difference between the hypothetical ad and the quote in the news story, is there? Just two that seem important…

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, DISCLOSE, Disclose Act, Maryland

BINGO! PACs and expenditures in the news

The Washington Post reports that the Philip A. Hart Democratic Club takes in about $2 million a year in receipts, but donated just $500 to a candidate. Instead, the committee seems to be mostly devoted to the great game of bingo. One wonders what their tax returns look like.

In any case, the larger issue of how PACs can be used for the profit of insiders is something I wrote about in a chapter of this terrific book, which you should all go out and purchase immediately and make Jack Citrin a happy man. It is odd that the conventional reformer’s attention is drawn to the identification of donors and the identification of how groups spent their own money, yet not as drawn to the use of money by candidates and political committees.  

Don’t get me wrong—most PAC managers and treasurers are honest and dutiful fiduciaries. But because of the complexity of the law, and the fact that managing the money tends to be less fun that roaming around D.C. slapping backs, these folks can toil unsupervised, and occasionally succumb to temptation. Or can use the PAC form to employ their family and friends, where again the fog of complexity makes it hard to see the real purpose of a group—like this Democratic Club.

Filed Under: Blog

Oh those “shadowy,” “shady” crazy groups of summer!

Longtime campaign finance “reform” lobbyist Meredith McGehee has comments up at the National Journal’s “Under the Influence” feature, where she argues that the DISCLOSE Act is needed because of “shady” groups.  Meredith helpfully gives us an example: The Committee for Truth in Politics.  According to McGehee, ”without the DISCLOSE Act, Americans will never know who is funding the Committee for Truth in Politics.” Really?  As Meredith notes elsewhere in the same post, the Committee “was created by a North Carolina GOP operative… and is represented by lawyer James Bopp.”  And who is James Bopp?  Wow, this would take anybody a 0.1 second Google search to find out that he’s a prominent Republican conservative.

In other words, within a breath of telling us the group is “shady” and voters won’t know who is behind these ads, McGehee tells us that Republican “operatives” and conservative Republican lawyer Jim Bopp are behind the ads.  Wow!  How much shadier can you get?  How will voters ever be able to judge these ads without knowing exactly who is funding the ads? I mean, it’s one thing to know that the ads are run by a group founded by Republican operatives represented by a well known Republican lawyer, but until we know the exact identity of the funders, well…  who knows where these people are coming from?  Maybe it’s really an elaborate front by Democrats who disagree with the party’s agenda but don’t want to say so.  And if we knew that, well, … well what?  Oh, the humanity! 

But Ms. McGehee isn’t done.  She has another example of “shady” spending.  Why just last summer, there was some “shady” spending promoting President Obama’s health care bill, by what Ms. McGehee terms “ilk,” unknown groups ”able to keep the source of their funding hidden from the public and the press.”  Oh, two sentences notes later she notes that the source of fundes were “Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint.” 

If these guys are “shady,” they sure do a bad job of it.

Oh, by the way, if you need to know, the “Republican operative” who launched the Committee for Truth in Politics is Bill Peaslee of North Carolina, a former Political Director of the state party there. It’s just so hard to know what a group like this is doing. 

My own comments at National Journal can be found at http://lobbying.nationaljournal.com/2010/06/campaign-finance-legislation-k.php#1594846, below Ms. McGehee’s.

Filed Under: Blog

Al Greene: Campaign finance reform hero?

Over at the Politico’s Arena feature, a reader named Art Harman makes a good point:  Shouldn’t South Carolina congressional candidate Alvin Greene be the poster boy for campaign finance reform?  As Harman notes, “he did his best to conform to the liberal ideal of spending no money, raising no PAC money, running no expensive TV ads, and in general refusing to taint himself with the apparent evils of money.  And the voters rewarded his frugality and noble refusal to accept money from all those greedy corporations and fatcats with the trust of their nomination. Where’s the liberal applause?”

Not a bad point.  Others suggest that the unemployed Mr. Greene, who is facing felony charges for alleged obscenity violations, gained a lot of votes from name recognition, or name confusion as the case may be, from voters who identified him with the great soul singer Al Green.  Assuming he would waltz to the nomination, Greene’s opponent, Vic Rawls, didn’t spend much and apparently few voters knew who he was, or knew anything about his opponent, Al Greene.  Ah, the brave new world of low spending in campaigns, where name recognition rules the day.  (By the way, does anyone have the slightest idea if singer Al Green has any ability to be a good congressman?  If voters had been correct, would this have improved things?)

My own comments at the Arena on the issue are here.

Filed Under: Blog

FEC: Rep. Alan Grayson’s complaint is nuts

Okay… so that’s not really what the six wise men and women of the Federal Election Commission said in dismissing a complaint filed by the bombastic Florida Rep. Alan Grayson.

In any event, the FEC made public a finding that the Commission has “no reason to believe” that any aspect of Grayson’s frivolous complaint about a political opponent had any bearing in fact or law.

Filed Under: Blog, Florida