Daily Media Links 6/24: Flag-desecration and First Amendment hypocrisy in the US Senate, About Those Missing Emails, and more…

In the News

Washington Examiner: Flag-desecration and First Amendment hypocrisy in the US Senate

By Luke Wachob

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., explained her opposition to the flag desecration amendment by saying, “I cannot support an Amendment to the United States Constitution which would, for the first time in our nation’s history, narrow the reach of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech.”

Where once there was humility, now there is hubris. Senators Durbin, Boxer, and Mikulski are all co-sponsors of the Udall amendment that narrows the reach of the First Amendment.

The delusion that Congress can improve on the 45-word eloquence of the First Amendment is apparently contagious.

Udall, who also voted against the flag amendment then, announced last summer, “I am proud to be introducing this amendment to change the way we do business in Washington and get money out of a broken system that puts special interests over people.”

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Wall Street Journal: About Those Missing Emails

By Kimberley Strassel

Or consider the extraordinary interaction between congressional Democrats and the IRS. Some of it was in a recent complaint filed to the Senate Ethics Committee by the Center for Competitive Politics against nine Democratic senators. It details their many letters and statements (that we know of) demanding the IRS shut down specific organizations that posed a threat to their Democratic House and Senate majority in the 2010 election.

Sen. Carl Levin, the head of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, exchanged at least 12 letters (that we know about) with the IRS in 2012 alone. IRS officials, including Ms. Lerner, met with Sen. Levin’s staff in 2013. And former IRS Acting CommissionerStephen Miller testified that the IRS acted in part because Sen. Levin was “complaining bitterly” to the agency. In what forums? Were email conversations also taking place, behind the scenes, between the Levin office and Ms. Lerner and other IRS officials?

We do know that email conversations were common. A new and comprehensive House Oversight Committee report this week—about how politics drove the IRS affair—reveals fascinating details about just how chummy Democratic staff was with the IRS.

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Colorado Independent: Gardner championed obvious dark-money group in IRS probe

By Susan Greene

Earlier this month, the conservative Center for Competitive Politics filed an ethics complaint against nine Democratic senators –- including Colorado’s Michael Bennet — who in 2012 signed onto a letter urging the IRS to examine how much “social welfare” work politically motivated nonprofit groups were doing during an election season. CCP and other conservative organizations say that letter led to increased scrutiny of right-wing groups by the IRS.

The ethics complaint says the senators “misused official resources for campaign purposes… interfered with executive branch agency proceedings, created the appearance of impropriety and engaged in conduct that reflects discreditably upon the Senate.”

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The Augusta Chronicle: Purely partisan ‘reform’

Editorial

The other senators listed in the Center for Competitive Politics’ complaint: Carl Levin, D-Mich.; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; Al Franken, D-Minn.; and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

“Richard Nixon faced impeachment charges for attempting to use the IRS for political purposes,” said David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics. “To varying degrees, each of these senators did exactly this kind of conduct.”

Americans can see plainly what’s going on here. The ham-fisted attempt to “restore integrity in our election system,” as Udall says, is a naked attempt to muzzle the voice of conservatives by restricting their campaign activities.

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CCP

Experts respond to “The New Soft Money”

By Luke Wachob

Wednesday, as part of George Washington University’s Political Law Studies Initiative, a panel of campaign finance and election law experts met to discuss a new report by Ohio State University Law Professor Dan Tokaji and Graduate Research Fellow Renata Strause titled, “The New Soft Money.” CCP Research Fellow Scott Blackburn analyzed the report’s findings yesterday on our blog, and CCP Chairman Brad Smith took part in the Wednesday GW panel discussion along with former FEC Chair Don McGahn, Campaign Legal Center’s Lawrence Noble, and election attorney Brian Svoboda.

Panelists generally praised Tokaji’s and Strause’s extensive work documenting campaign finance history and presenting data on independent spending. However, they also had significant criticisms of the report.

McGahn noted that the study is built around the subjective statements of just 43 individuals who self-selected to participate. These individuals, unsurprisingly, tended to be recently defeated politicians with a negative view of independent spending. In addition to the biased sample, McGahn felt the report gave an incomplete picture of the trends in campaign finance by failing to consider the changing role of party committees. He described this role as declining since FECA, and suggested raising contribution limits to bolster candidate control of campaign messaging amidst rising independent spending.

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“McCutcheon v. FEC: Two Books on the Supreme Court’s Latest Campaign Finance Case” (Video)

By Brennan Mancil

On June 18th the Cato Institute hosted a book forum featuring several renowned figures in the campaign finance community. Shaun McCutcheon, the eponymous plaintiff in McCutcheon v. FEC, promoted his book, Outsider Inside the Supreme Court: A Decisive First Amendment Battle, about his experience in the judicial process as a political neophyte. Professor Ronald Collins spoke about his new book, When Money Speaks: The McCutcheon Decision, Campaign Finance Laws, and the First Amendment, which he co-authored with David Skover to analyze the case and the ruling’s implications. Also sitting on the panel was former Federal Election Commission (FEC) Chairman Donald McGahn. Cato’s Ilya Shapiro moderated the event. 

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IRS

Daily Caller: IRS CANCELLED Contract with Email-Storage Firm Weeks After Lerner’s Computer Crash

By Patrick Howley

Sonasoft was providing “automatic data processing” services for the IRS throughout the January 2009 to April 2011 period in which Lerner sent her missing emails.

But Sonasoft’s six-year business relationship with the IRS came to an abrupt end at the close of fiscal year 2011, as congressional investigators began looking into the IRS conservative targeting scandal and IRS employees’ computers started crashing left and right.

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House Committee on Ways & Means: Camp Opening Statement: Hearing with IRS Commissioner John Koskinen

The IRS lied to Congress, and the American people.  In fact, this Committee has found that there is ample evidence to suggest the IRS violated the constitutional rights of taxpayers.

As of today, the investigation into the IRS’s intentional, organized targeting of Americans for their beliefs has been ongoing for over a year.  What we have found so far is outrageous.  

The IRS spent over three years responding to top Democrat complaints and calls to action to stop all activities of conservative groups.  The IRS in Washington, DC took their marching orders and subjected Americans to harassment – going so far as to question the content of their prayers and their political beliefs – while subjecting them to audits and leaking their personal taxpayer information. 

Read more..

Wall Street Journal: GOP Lawmakers Grill IRS Chief Over Lost Emails

By John D. McKinnon

Top Republican lawmakers sharply questioned the head of the Internal Revenue Service Friday over the agency’s treatment of conservative groups and said a recent disclosure of lost emails reflected a pattern of administration foot-dragging on information requests from Capitol Hill.

The heated congressional hearing was sparked by a recent IRS disclosure that a computer hard drive assigned to Lois Lerner —the retired agency official at the center of the controversy—had failed in mid-2011, destroying two years’ worth of emails sought by lawmakers. In addition, the IRS disclosed that a backup tape, which might have saved the messages, was erased after six months, per agency policy.

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Wall Street Journal (LTE): Loss of Lerner Emails Is Unfortunate—And Suspicious

The loss of the emails is eerily reminiscent of the gap of 18½ minutes of White House tapes during the Watergate investigation. Remember Rose Mary Woods, President Richard Nixon’s personal secretary, and her explanation of how she may have inadvertently erased a portion of the tapes? That explanation of 40 years ago has the same lack of credibility as does blaming the loss of Ms. Lerner’s emails on a computer crash.

Sen. Sam Ervin and the Senate Watergate Committee served the country well in investigating the Watergate break-in. And ringing so true today, as it did back then, is Sen. Howard Baker’s piercing question: “What did the president know and when did he know it?” Perhaps today’s successors to Sens. Ervin and Baker can find the answers to what was known and when.

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Wall Street Journal: Notable & Quotable: Paul Ryan

Ryan: I am sitting here listening to this testimony. . . . I don’t believe it. That’s your problem. Nobody believes you. The Internal Revenue Service comes to Congress a couple of years ago and misleads us and says no targeting is occurring.

Then it said it was a few rogue agencies in Cincinnati. Then it said it was also on progressives. All those things have been proven untrue. This committee sent a criminal referral of possible criminal wrongdoing, just a month ago, to the Justice Department and we’ve heard nothing. You bury, in a 27-page letter to the Senate, asking for them to conclude the investigation, that you’ve lost Lois Lerner’s emails during the time in question because of a hard drive crash. . . . Monday our investigators asked your agency whether any other hard drives crashed and we learn that six other hard drives of the people we are investigating were involved. . . . you didn’t tell us that!

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Independent Groups

NY Times: Soft Money’s Squishy Political Influence

By Derek Willis

To congressional campaign workers, the groups that can raise and spend unlimited donations can seem like unpredictable wedding guests: You don’t know when they’ll show up, what they’ll bring or whether their presence will prove a welcome distraction or a disaster.  

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Politico: Inside the vast liberal conspiracy

By Kenneth Vogel

Picture this: millionaires and billionaires gathering under tight security in fancy hotels with powerful politicians and operatives to plot how their network of secret-money groups can engineer a permanent realignment of American politics. 

Only, it’s not the Koch brothers. It’s the liberal Democracy Alliance.   

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SCOTUS/Judiciary

Wall Street Journal: A Free Speech ‘Scheme’

Editorial

So the national press corps has finally decided to pay attention to the John Doe probe into the political allies of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Having ignored the story when two judges ruled against the prosecutors’ theory of the case, the press now broadcasts that theory as if it were a fact, not a discredited accusation. The episode further underscores the injustice at the heart of this politicized investigation.

The news reports are jumping on snippets of some 266 pages of documents that the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals released to the public on Thursday. The breathless page-one stories claim that prosecutors believe Mr. Walker and his allies were part of a “criminal scheme” to coordinate their activities and thus violated campaign-finance laws.

The key point to understand is that this isn’t an indictment, and it isn’t even evidence built into a legal case. It is merely a prosecutorial theory floated to justify a secret grand-jury fishing expedition. The documents have been under seal. The Seventh Circuit released them only because they are related to a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the Wisconsin prosecutors that has already resulted in a federal judge stopping the John Doe with a preliminary injunction.

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CT Mirror: DGA withdraws remaining count in campaign finance lawsuit

By MARK PAZNIOKAS

The Democratic Governors Association has withdrawn its remaining legal challenge of state campaign finance law. The withdrawal was filed without comment or explanation.

The action was not unexpected as it followed a federal judge’s denial nine days ago of the association’s request for an injunction blocking the enforcement of state campaign finance laws. She concluded that its speculation of possible unconstitutional enforcement action gave it no legal standing to sue.

At issue was the question of potential illegal coordination between the DGA, which is expected to spend millions of dollars to support Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election this fall, and Malloy, who has been raising money for the association in Connecticut and elsewhere.

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FEC

More Soft Money Hard law: FEC Deadlocks and the Role of the Courts

By Bob Bauer

Critics of campaign finance enforcement, or the lack of it, continue to be infuriated by the FEC’s record of deadlocks in major cases, and they are further troubled by the obstacles to judicial review.  When complainants stymied by deadlock appeal to the courts, they must still overcome the “deference” generally granted to the agency’s expertise, except where the law is clear or the agency is acting arbitrarily.  In these cases, the courts review the agency’s action by examining the stated position of the Commissioners voting against enforcement.  This is the so-called “controlling group” of Commissioners—the ones whose refusal to authorize enforcement controlled the outcome.

Two FEC Commissioners, Ann Ravel and Ellen Weintraub, now argue that this is all wrong, and have called for the courts to reconsider the process by which deadlock decisions are reviewed. They want an end to the “controlling group” analysis; the courts, the Commissioners contend, should review deadlocks on a de novo basis. So if the FEC dismisses a complaint because the Commissioners cannot agree on what sort of an organization constitutes a regulated “political committee,” the court would take it from there—disregarding the Commissioners’ disagreement and proceeding to judge the issue from scratch.

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CPI: FEC struggles to appoint top lawyer

By Dave Levinthal

The Federal Election Commission soon marks a dubious anniversary: one year with nobody directing its legal department.

That’s no trifle for an agency tasked with regulating and enforcing the nation’s campaign laws.

But for the FEC’s most recent general counsel, Tony Herman, who officially resigned from the agency July 5 to re-enter private practice after a turbulent two-year tenure, the leadership vacuum is predictable.

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State and Local

Wisconsin –– NY Times: Wisconsin Governor at Center of a Vast Fund-Raising Case

By MONICA DAVEY and NICHOLAS CONFESSORE

CHICAGO — Prosecutors in Wisconsin assert that Gov. Scott Walker was part of an elaborate effort to illegally coordinate fund-raising and spending between his campaign and conservative groups during efforts to recall him and several state senators two years ago, according to court filings unsealed Thursday.

The allegations by five county district attorneys, released as part of a federal lawsuit over the investigation into Mr. Walker, suggest that some of the governor’s top campaign aides directed the political spending of the outside groups, most of them nonprofits, and in effect controlled some of them.

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