Daily Media Links 12/29: Politicians ‘disinfect’ citizenry with dark money rules, IRS Targeted ‘Icky’ Conservative Groups, and more…

In the News

KTRH: Presidential Campaigns to Top $1 Billion 
By Nik Rajovic
While a billion dollars appears to be a sizable amount of money, David Keating at the Center for Competitive Politics insists elections cannot be bought and sold.
“All it does is buy people a voice, obviously some buy more ads than others, but in the end its going to come down to the wisdom of the voters,” says Keating.
FreedomWorks’ Noah Wall agrees.
“You can put an unlimited amount of money behind an individual candidate, but it won’t matter if you don’t have quality candidates that resonate with the  people of this country,” he says.
 
Sunlight Foundation: Influence Analytics 2014: IRS political regs, Keystone XL & cigars draw most comments 

By Nancy Watzman

That seemed to be the case for the comments about the IRS proposal to regulate political nonprofits. Most of the comments appeared to be organized by conservative groups opposed to the agency setting standards for what constitutes political activity by nonprofit organizations, our earlier reporting showed. Among comments where we found similarity of language, negative comments outweighed positive ones by a ratio of at least 17:1.
Organizing the letter writing were groups that could be affected by any new IRS regulations of nonprofit politicking. They included FreedomWorks, a tea party group that operates both as a 501(c)4 social welfare group and a super PAC. The super PAC spent $1.7 million on independent expendituressupporting and opposing more than three dozen candidates in this year’s mid-term elections, earning a return on investment of 58 percent. Others leading the anti-regulation campaign: the National Right to Work Committee, the American Family Association, as well as Americans for Prosperity, and the National Pro-Life Alliance. An analysis of a sample of the comments by the Center for Competitive Politics, which has been leading the opposition to the IRS taking action on defining political activity, concluded that most were of the comments were negative.
 
Independent Groups

Watchdog: Politicians ‘disinfect’ citizenry with dark money rules  
By Jon Cassidy
“Sunlight,” Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote, “is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
You’ll find the quote in the first sentence of the latest federal appeals court ruling on political speech, like many before it. The Supreme Court has said that it is politicians who need disinfecting. The danger of quid pro quo corruption – money for votes – is serious enough that the court has approved laws requiring politicians and their committees to publish detailed reports on their finances.
Politicians, however, seem to think it is the people who need disinfecting. In the name of combating “dark money,” elected officials are taking laws meant to hold them accountable to the public and using them to keep tabs on the people.
There are only three basic ways to regulate political speech. You can regulate the message, the medium or the speaker. No combination of the three singles out dark money. And so, in the end you must menace or control the speech of everyone.
 
IRS

Wall Street Journal: IRS Considered Tax on Donations to Political Groups 
By John D. McKinnon
Internal Revenue Service officials considered imposing a tax on large donations to many tax-exempt political organizations in 2011, recently released emails show, a move that could have disproportionately hurt conservative activists.
The discovery comes as part of Republican lawmakers’ broader investigation into the IRS’s treatment of conservative groups. It is further fueling GOP suspicions that some agency officials sought to suppress conservatives’ use of tax-exempt organizations for political speech.
The internal emails “demonstrate that the IRS sought to use the gift tax as one part of a larger effort to crack down on the political speech” of conservative tax-exempt groups, said Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
 
U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: The Internal Revenue Service’s Targeting of Conservative Tax- Exempt Applicants: Report of Findings for the 113th Congress
Flagrant and pervasive management failures by Washington officials contributed substantially to the misconduct. When asked to answer questions about allegations of IRS targeting, these senior officials – including former Commissioner Doug Shulman and Exempt Organizations Director Lois Lerner – covered up the wrongdoing by providing incomplete and misleading information to Congress. Shulman specifically gave Congress “assurances” that the IRS was not targeting Tea Party groups, when he knew at that time that those groups had been identified using inappropriate criteria, that they had been subjected to excessive delays, and that they had been harassed with unnecessary and burdensome questioning. Lerner, likewise, made several false statements to the Committee, and specifically defended to the Committee the IRS’s use of certain questions that the IRS had already identified internally as inappropriate.
 
Daily Caller: BOMBSHELL REPORT: IRS Targeted ‘Icky’ Conservative Groups  
By Patrick Howley
2. Then-IRS commissioner Steven T. Miller almost broke down and told the truth about the tea party targeting at a July 2012 hearing, but Lerner’s sidekick Nikole Flax told him not to.
“I am beginning to wonder whether I should do [Chairman] Boustany[’s hearing] and affirmatively use it to put a stake in politics and c4,” Miller wrote in an email to Flax.
Flax replied, “[I]f the hearing is as generic as I recall, seems like you are too senior.  Would be silly to think the c4 issues won’t come up – but I think Sarah [Hall Ingram] could handle it fine as well.”
 
NY Times: Inquiry Into I.R.S. Lapses Shows No Links to White House 
By DAVID S. JOACHIM
WASHINGTON — An 18-month congressional investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s mistreatment of conservative political groups seeking tax exemptions failed to show coordination between agency officials and political operatives in the White House, according to a report released on Tuesday.
The I.R.S. has admitted that before the 2012 election it inappropriately delayed approval of tax exemption applications by groups affiliated with the Tea Party movement, but the I.R.S. and its parent agency, the Treasury Department, have said that the errors were not motivated by partisanship.
 
Candidates, Politicians, Campaigns, and Parties

More Soft Money Hard Law: “Partyism”
By Bob Bauer
In policy and legal academic circles, political parties have come back into vogue. If a New Year’s “in” list was constructed, the parties would have a fair chance of being included. In discussions of polarization, in particular, parties are increasingly thought to have something to offer to a solution or an improvement: stronger parties, better funded, would offer their leadership more control over their membership, and with that control might come the capacity to induce bi-partisan compromise and achieve better governance. 
But in an original paper just posted, Cass Sunstein warns about the spirit of contemporary “partyism”, a pathological version of partisanship that holds that the other party is not merely wrong but dangerous–so dangerous that it would be unacceptable to have one’s child marry into it.  Cass R. Sunstein, Partyism, University of Chicago Legal Forum (forthcoming December 14, 2014). Professor Sunstein is speaking to a fixed outlook or habit of mind, which he believes exacerbates conditions of polarization and gridlock. While he is not spinning a theory of party institutions, his view might have implications for arguments over party reform: stronger parties might risk spreading this toxin of partisan antipathy. One could imagine that invigorated parties would take full advantage of partyism, keeping their troops agitated, passionately engaged and giving plentiful sums of money.
 
Wisconsin

Wall Street Journal (LTE): Kafka Would Feel Right at Home 
By Brook Chambery
Your Dec. 22 editorial “Wisconsin Targets the Media” is correct in stating that the political targeting of media personalities, despite their First Amendment rights of free speech, “matters far beyond Wisconsin because it shows how far from the Constitution the campaign-finance police have wandered.” The IRS scandals are another example. However, it is important to realize that targeting of, and retaliating against, those who criticize government and regulatory actions occurs every day across state and federal agencies and involves citizens of all walks of life. These citizens may not have the resources to file suit, gain access to documents or get media attention. The problem is far greater than the general public is aware of or understands. Due to the ever increasing scope of regulatory controls over our lives and livelihoods, the probability of getting caught in one of these administrative webs is greater than ever.  
 
SEC

Wall Street Journal: Discord Brews Over SEC Campaign-Finance Rule 
By Rebecca Ballhaus
Critics say the SEC rule’s effectiveness could be blunted in 2016 by the rise of super PACs, which can raise money without contribution caps but can’t coordinate with or give to candidates’ campaigns, as well as politically active nonprofit groups. In particular, they point to the increasing number of super PACs that form to support only a single candidate. Critics argue that a contribution to a group that spends money on behalf of a single candidate is akin to giving to the candidate.
Others say the SEC rule should be eliminated, not expanded, with some noting that it creates an advantage for members of Congress, who aren’t subject to the rule, over governors in campaign fundraising. Some states have rules that are even more restrictive than the SEC’s.
Earlier this year, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by the state Republican parties of New York and Tennessee challenging the SEC rule on the grounds that it violated free-speech protections.