In the News
USA Today: Super PACs are not the problem: Opposing view
Bradley A. Smith
People hate political spending the same way that children hate spinach, but it turns out to be good to have. Studies show that spending increases voter knowledge and turnout, but it’s not cheap. One recent study showed it cost roughly $87 a vote to increase turnout. Unfortunately, current campaign-finance laws make it difficult for candidates to raise the money necessary to get their message to voters. Super PACs help fill that need. And that, in turn, means that candidates can spend less time fundraising and more time talking to voters.
Sacramento Bee: Nonprofits take privacy claims ever further
The Editorial Board
The Internal Revenue Service and states require that nonprofit corporations provide identities of donors when they file their tax returns. That’s part of the price they and their donors pay for receiving federal and state tax breaks. The tax returns are public documents, but donor lists are not.
In California, Attorney General Kamala Harris and the Department of Justice Division of Charitable Trust regulate nonprofits. Noticing that some groups had failed to provide donor lists, Harris sent letters last year insisting that they abide by long-standing law, or risk losing their tax-exempt status. To conduct that oversight, she has a reasonable claim to donor records.
Among the recipients of her letter was the Center for Competitive Politics, a Virginia-based nonprofit that regularly sues to unravel campaign finance law. True to form, the center’s lawyers sued to block Harris’ request.
Super PACs vs. the Smoke-Filled Room
It’s easy to see why party leaders want a fast primary. A lengthy primary creates more opportunities for candidates’ weaknesses to be exposed, and depletes the resources of Republican donors and candidates before they begin competing with Democrats.
It’s harder to see why their perspective should also be adopted. After all, if the goal is simply to have a quick, clean process that leaves the nominee unblemished, why not just gather a few party elites in a private boardroom, light up some cigars, and let them pick? Who needs primaries at all?
Oh, that’s right – the voters. (Funny how often they are forgotten in political journalism.) While voters undoubtedly want their party’s nominee to enter the general election in a position of strength, they care even more about making sure he or she is someone they actually want to vote for. Assuming we want candidates to be representative of and responsive to voters, Super PACs are a boon to democracy. Independent support allows more candidates to run viable campaigns, and to spend less time courting donors and more time appealing to voters.
In other words, Super PACs create more choices, and better choices, for voters. Of course party leaders don’t like that. They don’t want you to choose. They want to choose.
Comments on Colorado Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Rules Concerning Campaign and Political Finance 8 CCR 1505-6
The NPRM is, generally, a welcome effort to make Colorado’s obscure and complex campaign finance rules comprehensible to ordinary Coloradoans. Given existing vagueness, and the extraordinarily low levels of political involvement Colorado has chosen to regulate, any such attempt should be congratulated. However, in seeking to eliminate jargon, the NPRM sometimes leaves existing ambiguity intact, and in some cases makes the situation worse.
USA Today: 2016 presidential campaigns chase money, with no cop on the beat: Our view
The Editorial Board
Money has always been the dark force of politics, but it’s reaching a tipping point in the 2016 presidential election. Whoever wins will be more beholden than any recent predecessor to megadonors who write huge checks. Campaigns are skating up to, or over, ethical and legal lines to maximize the dollars.
There’s little worry about prosecution, though. The agency set up to enforce campaign laws after the Watergate scandals in 1974 — the Federal Election Commission — is mired in partisan stalemate on major issues, meaning there’s effectively no cop on the beat.
That leaves no one (except the news media) to police the flood of big money set loose by court decisions in 2010 that made it legal for corporations, labor unions and rich people to give unlimited amounts to “super PACs,” which can support candidates as long as they remain independent from them.
The Hill: Push to name donors in political ads hits FCC roadblock
Skeptics of the change ask if the FCC is the right agency to be regulating political donor disclosures, as opposed to the Federal Election Commission. They also ask if broadcasters should be on the hook for enforcing those disclosures. Others point to the practical considerations of naming a list of donors at the end of ads, which tend to run only about 30 seconds.
Washington Post: Hackers stole personal information from 104,000 taxpayers, IRS says
Lisa Rein and Jonelle Marte
Hackers gained access to personal information of 104,000 taxpayers this spring, downloading an online service the Internal Revenue Service uses to give Americans access to their past tax returns, the agency said Tuesday.
The information included several years’ worth of returns and other tax information on file with the IRS, Commissioner John Koskinen said in a press conference.
New York Times: I.R.S. Seeks to Define Political Activity for Nonprofits
The Internal Revenue Service could issue as early as next month new draft regulations governing political activity by tax-exempt organizations, according to a notice issued on Thursday. But it remains unlikely that the new rules would be in place before the 2016 election…
The proposed rules would amount to a mulligan: The agency’s first effort, in 2013, drew widespread criticism from liberal and conservative groups.
Election Law Blog: FEC Commissioner Ravel Responds to My Post About Commissioner Goodman and Partisan Bias
The FEC acts as the arbiters of all cases that come before the Commission. The FEC itself makes no distinction – any complaint which is filed will be reviewed. So for the Rs to refuse to handle matters that relate to one side or the other for partisan reasons is like a Judge refusing to handle cases because he or she thinks that the docket is skewed because too many cases being brought against men, or democrats, or whatever other distinguishing factor that they wish to impose.
Election Law Blog: Commissioner Goodman Responds to Commissioner Ravel on Partisan Bias
Those who work inside the FEC have seen how enforcement dockets and meeting agendas can be manipulated to focus on particular respondents or to sequence matters in ways that influence their substantive consideration. For example, matters can be sequenced to advance or avoid nuanced distinctions between cases involving similar facts and circumstances leading to disparate treatment of similarly situated respondents.
More Soft Money Hard Law: More Conflict at the FEC: The Question of Partisanship and the Problem of Finger-Pointing
One factor is the pace of change in the world of campaign finance. Enormous sums are being spent with increasing inventiveness. The surfacing of new forms of fundraising or spending may draw complaints (unless they just inspire imitation). The FEC is then faced with adjudicating cases of first impression, or difficult issues under the transformed constitutional law yielded by Roberts Court jurisprudence.
The FEC is ill equipped for this task. And maybe in these circumstances, agency humility, expressed in restraint, is justified. The FEC has enough of a job on its hands when administering the law as it is: sorting out what the law should be, puts the agency to the limits of its capacities, especially when partisans are bringing the claims and partisan interests are directly affected. An agency structured to provide each party with a check on the other will come to deadlock in these situations.
New York Times: Supreme Court Agrees to Settle Meaning of ‘One Person One Vote’
The court has never resolved whether voting districts should have the same number of people, or the same number of eligible voters. Counting all people amplifies the voting power of places with large numbers of residents who cannot vote legally, including immigrants who are here legally but are not citizens, illegal immigrants, children and prisoners. Those places tend to be urban and to vote Democratic.
Bloomberg: Presidential Candidates Continue to Take Shots at the Supreme Court
Of late, the U.S. Supreme Court has become a regular target for the current crop of presidential candidates, but for two decidedly different issues.
Candidates, Politicians, Campaigns, and Parties
Washington Post: GOP’s fight for 2016 nomination likely to drag on longer than party desires
Traditionally — that is, in the time before super PACs — the way that the field was winnowed was via fundraising. A candidate underperformed expectations in Iowa or New Hampshire (or both), the fundraising spigot dried up, and he or she was forced to acknowledge reality and drop from the race.
Now, though, your aligned super PAC can function as a sort of campaign life support — keeping candidates alive for as long as wealthy donors want them to be around.
Washington Post: The disenfranchisement of America’s center
Yet as we head toward the presidential nominating season, the voice of this broad center is barely audible. Politics is pulled toward the left and right by campaign-finance rules, redistricting and other issues discussed in countless essays and op-eds. This centrifugal force seems to increase in every election cycle, with a resulting paralysis in Washington.
Ackerman has launched a campaign dubbed Change the Rule to address one piece of this puzzle of American political dysfunction.
New Orleans Times-Picayune: Mary Landrieu takes job at Washington lobbying firm
In taking the job at Van Ness Feldman, Landrieu, who ended her 18-year Senate career as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is joining a long list of former lawmakers in the lobbying business.
Wall Street Journal: Illinois Governor Spends Big in Fight With Legislative Democrats
The war chest amassed by Mr. Rauner and his allies provides a way for the governor to press his agenda by going straight to the public through TV ads, mailings or backing for statewide referendums. The dollars also can be used to reward or punish legislators, with the $400,000 in campaign contributions an early signal of such a strategy.
Institute for Justice: Final Victory Against Restrictive Minnesota Campaign Finance Law
In a major victory for public participation in elections, Governor Mark Dayton signed a bill last Friday that repeals Minnesota’s “special sources limit.” Under the previous law, the first 12 individuals who contributed to a candidate were able to contribute twice as much as subsequent donors..