Daily Media Links 5/24: Instant Document Destruction at the IRS, Judge Merrick Garland and the rise of super-PACs, and more…

In the News

USA Today: Champion free speech by preventing IRS abuse

Bradley Smith

The potential for abuse is so great that the Internal Revenue Service itself is discussing whether to stop collecting this information from non-profits. Regardless of what the agency decides, however, Congress should move forward with Rep. Roskam’s bill. It is all but guaranteed to pass the House of Representatives if and when it comes up for a vote. Its progress is less assured from there: Neither Senate Democrats nor President Obama are supporters.

But their intransigence is likely short-sighted. Recent examples mostly involve Democratic politicians seeking this information, and conservative and free-market groups resisting their demands. But there’s nothing stopping Republicans from doing the same thing if given the chance — human nature doesn’t distinguish between the parties. This is especially worrying given the current tone of our national politics. There may be a Democrat in the White House today, but who’s to say a future Republican president won’t use the Internal Revenue Service to suppress his or her opponents’ First Amendment rights?

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IRS

Wall Street Journal: Instant Document Destruction at the IRS

Editorial Board

Cause of Action says that in 2010 the IRS struck a little-noticed agreement with the National Treasury Employees Union not to record employees’ instant messages. The watchdog group also says that in response to its Freedom of Information Act requests for text messages sent by senior IRS officials, the agency replied that due to “routine system housekeeping” and “spacing constraints,” IRS text messages are retained for only 14 days before they are deleted.

Both actions appear to violate the Federal Records Act that requires agencies to preserve all relevant documents. The agency says it retains emails, at least those that don’t disappear in mysterious computer crashes. But if employees can send text messages and not save them, they can avoid records retention. “No agreement with a union or any other party can supersede Americans’ right to know how the IRS makes decisions,” says Cause of Action. “In addition, the IRS is violating the law by regularly deleting all employee text messages as a matter of convenience.”

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Washington Times: IRS chief John Koskinen says he’s never spoken to Lois Lerner

Stephen Dinan

The Judiciary Committee hearing is being viewed by some House Republicans as the precursor to impeachment, with the House’s top investigator saying Mr. Koskinen defied a congressional order that demanded all of former IRS senior executive Lois G. Lerner’s emails be preserved as part of an investigation into tea party targeting.

But Mr. Koskinen, who said his schedule is too crowded for him to be able to appear on Tuesday, said the allegations against him are “unwarranted,” and no matter what, they don’t rise to the level of impeachment.

In a point-by-point refutation of the four counts of potential impeachment, Mr. Koskinen says he “acted in good faith” and was telling the truth as best he knew it when he told Congress all of the emails were preserved. He said he only became aware later that emails were lost after Ms. Lerner’s computer hard drive crashed and backup tapes stored at an IRS facility in West Virginia were erased.

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Independent Groups

The Hill: Judge Merrick Garland and the rise of super-PACs

Stephen R. Weissman

News media often note that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision “paved the way” for the District of Columbia Circuit Court’s unanimous judgment in SpeechNow. But this is a half-truth that lets the appellate judges, including, Merrick Garland, off the hook.

In January 2010, Citizens United ruled that corporations could spend as much as they wished to promote their preferred candidates and parties as long as they did not act in concert with their beneficiaries. It held that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

Two months later, SpeechNow went a great deal further.

It decreed that non-corporation political action committees (PACs) making only independent expenditures could accept unlimited contributions from individuals. That decision undermined almost all federal contribution limits. Wealthy individuals could now blow past legal ceilings for contributions to candidates, parties and PACs by making unlimited contributions to super-PACs, spending in behalf of their favorites.

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Dangers of Disclosure

New Yorker: Sting of Myself

Jane Mayer

Tom Steyer, the retired hedge-fund billionaire who runs the environmental-action group NextGen Climate and has been one of the Democratic Party’s biggest donors, is another target of America Rising Squared. Corenews.org has featured posts calling Steyer hypocritical, because he made a fortune investing in fossil fuels. America Rising Squared has accused him of self-interest in supporting green energy, as he has substantial investments in solar power. Steyer says that this is “complete and utter nonsense,” because his investments are held by trusts and structured in a way that any profits are transferred to charity. “They have to know they’re lying,” Steyer said. “It’s completely dishonest, unethical, and pitiful. And it’s creepy.” He says that the anonymously funded attacks won’t stop him, but he worries that such campaigns may deter others from engaging in activism. As he puts it, they “are another reason people are reluctant to get involved in politics.”

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Campaign Finance Enforcement

CNN: Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe under federal investigation for campaign contributions

Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz, and Pamela Brown

Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the FBI and prosecutors from the Justice Department’s public integrity unit, U.S. officials briefed on the probe say.

The investigation dates to at least last year and has focused, at least in part, on whether donations to his gubernatorial campaign violated the law, the officials said.

McAuliffe wasn’t notified by investigators that he is a target of the probe, according to the officials.

“The Governor will certainly cooperate with the government if he is contacted about it,” said Marc Elias, attorney for McAuliffe campaign, in a statement to CNN..

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FEC

More Soft Money Hard Law: Deadlock and Ominous Uncertainty at the FEC

Bob Bauer

As in the LLC case, the FEC could avert major confusions, and temptations, by putting out guidance on this and other aspects of the rules.  It could counsel against misunderstanding what the disposition of a particular enforcement case might suggest about the law.  It could restate the rules against coerced political giving and indicate how, as a matter of policy priority and interpretation, it would expect to enforce them.

And the fundamental issue here—the degree to which the law protects the voluntariness of employee political involvement– is about more than money.  The agency has already passed on the question of whether a company (as it happens, the same company) can require its employees to attend a political rally. Another deadlock, and more uncertainty.

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Free Speech

Acton Institute: Attorneys General line up to attack free speech

Bruce Edward Walker

ALEC, in fact, joins Acton and many other groups named in the subpoena, and leaders from these organizations have joined CEI in a strongly worded full-page advertisement that appeared in the New York Times last week:

This abuse of power is unacceptable. It is unlawful. And it is un-American.

Regardless of one’s views on climate change, every American should reject the use of government power to harass or silence those who hold differing opinions. This intimidation campaign sets a dangerous precedent and threatens the rights of anyone who disagrees with the government’s position – whether it’s vaccines, GMOs, or any other politically charged issue. Law enforcement officials should never use their powers to silence participants in political debates.

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Influence

Washington Post: Critics argued with our analysis of U.S. political inequality. Here are 5 ways they’re wrong.

Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page

In 2014 we published a study of political inequality in America, called “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.” Our central finding was this: Economic elites and interest groups can shape U.S. government policy — but Americans who are less well off have essentially no influence over what their government does…

Since then, a number of questions and criticisms have been raised about our work — some offering sensible critiques and alternative perspectives and others simply mistaken. We have responded in print to some of these, and will list some of those responses at the end of this post. Here we will respond briefly to the most important challenges to our research. In brief, we don’t believe that any of these critiques, individually or collectively, undermine our central claims.

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Candidates and Campaigns

New York Times: These Wealthy People Refuse to Give Donald Trump Money. Here’s Why.

Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin

Paul Singer:

Who He Is: Head of the New York-based hedge fund Elliott Management, known for his hawkish foreign policy views and support for gay marriage

Why He Matters: Has directed almost $28 million to Republican candidates and causes over the last three elections, backed Mr. Rubio

Why He Won’t Donate: He said in a recent speech that neither Mr. Trump nor Mrs. Clinton represented his conservative values, calling this a “bleak time in the political life of America.”

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New York Times: Donald Trump Meets With Woody Johnson, Jets Owner and G.O.P. Fund-Raiser.

Maggie Haberman

Donald J. Trump met privately on Monday with Woody Johnson, the New York Jets owner and a top Republican fund-raiser, as the presumptive nominee looks to secure the support of some of the party’s largest financial backers in order to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for his general election effort.

Mr. Trump confirmed the meeting in a brief interview with The Times.

“Woody’s a great guy,” Mr. Trump said. “Woody will support me. He’s a terrific guy, he’s been a friend of mine a long time.”

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Politico: Trump’s campaign dwarfed by Clinton’s

Kenneth P. Vogel and Isaac Arnsdorf

Through the end of last month, the period covered by the most recent FEC filings, Trump’s campaign spending was less than a third of Clinton’s ($57 million to $182 million) and Trump had assembled a staff about one-tenth the size of hers (70 employees to 732), and spent less on offices (Trump last month paid $101,000 in rent vs. $328,000 for Clinton), the analysis found…

He did little to assemble the trappings of a traditional campaign during a chaotic primary in which he dispatched 16 rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, many of whom ran more traditional, and expensive, campaigns.

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