Daily Media Links 12/19: Can’t Afford a Lawyer? No Free Speech for You., How the political rules changed in 2016, and more…

In the News  

Washington Examiner: Why we have to keep the Electoral College

By Brad Smith

In a country as large and diverse as the United States, a system that forces candidates to campaign away from the people who already control the nation’s financial, cultural and governmental hubs is a good thing. The Electoral College forces candidates to build broad-based coalitions that cover the country.

Our constitution is full of anti-majoritarian provisions. The Bill of Rights places limits on what popular majorities can do through government. Texas has more people than the six New England states combined, but federalism prevents Texans from imposing their tax and spending priorities on New England states. It’s hard to imagine this country holding together if pure majoritarianism was the basis of power.

The Electoral College does not assure that the president will have received the most popular votes, but it does assure that the president will have won with substantial popular support, and that his support will not be restricted to one region of the country or to a handful of coastal metropolises. This is ample reason to support a system that, in just five of 49 elections, has gone against the nominal popular vote winner.

Las Vegas Review-Journal: Going green

By Editorial Board

According to data compiled by the Center for Competitive Politics, the number of ads by Clinton and her supporters outnumbered the number of pro-Trump ads by 3-to-1. Meanwhile, outside groups raised and spent more than three times as much to tout Mrs. Clinton as to promote Mr. Trump.

Not only did the Clinton cash machine fail to deliver a win, the Democratic candidate actually did worse where her spending was highest. In the six states she directed the most financial resources – Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Iowa – Mrs. Clinton and her supporters ran 3.3 ads for every one supporting Mr. Trump. Yet Mrs. Clinton wound up losing all of those states except Nevada.

Excessive, fruitless spending wasn’t limited to the Clinton campaign. Each of the three biggest-spending super PACs supported candidates who lost. PACs backing Mrs. Clinton, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio dropped $275 million on the race, with Mrs. Clinton the only one who made it to the general… 

Democrats love to complain about political spending. But they’ve shown time and again that they’re willing to shell out as much as it takes to guarantee victory. Trouble is, money is no guarantee of anything.   

Free Speech 

Reason: Can’t Afford a Lawyer? No Free Speech for You.

By Nick Sibilla & John Kerr

In 2002, Coloradans voted in favor of Amendment 27, which enshrined a package of ambitious campaign finance regulations into the Colorado Constitution. But enforcing those laws was outsourced to the public at large.

Under the state constitution, “any person” who suspects someone may have violated Colorado campaign finance law can file a complaint with the secretary of state. Within three days, the secretary must forward the case to the Office of Administrative Courts, triggering full-blown litigation, where parties can subpoena and depose each other…

Proponents of campaign finance regulations cite the need to combat “dark money.” Amendment 27 was passed explicitly in part to curb the perceived power and influence of “wealthy individuals, corporations, and special interest groups.” But the sheer pettiness of so many complaints reveals that, in fact, the law invites intimidation and reprisals against those who try to exercise their First Amendment rights. The resulting burden falls hardest on the very people that campaign finance laws purport to protect: ordinary citizens, grassroots activists, and small groups.

Wall Street Journal: A Bill to Police Campus Speech

By Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman

Two weeks ago the Senate passed, by unanimous consent, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, an unquestionably well-intentioned attempt to protect Jewish students on campus. Unfortunately the bill runs afoul of the First Amendment. If passed by the House and signed into law, it would encourage the Education Department to further punish constitutionally protected free speech at colleges and universities.

The legislation, proposed by Sens. Bob Casey (D., Penn.) and Tim Scott (R., S.C.), would require the Education Department, when deciding whether to investigate incidents on campus, to consider the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism. This definition includes “rhetorical” manifestations, such as speech to “demonize Israel,” “delegitimize Israel,” or apply a “double standard for Israel.”      

FEC

Washington Free Beacon: House Conservative Leader Eyes FEC Funding Boost

By Lachlan Markay

Like most members of the House Freedom Caucus he now leads, Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.) wants to reduce overall federal spending. However, he told the Washington Free Beacon that it might be appropriate to increase the Federal Election Commission’s funding.

“You can’t expect them to do more with their current staffing,” Meadows said in an interview this week.

His support for an increase in funding depends on the passage of legislation that would eliminate limits on individual contributions to federal political candidates and committees…

The legislation, sponsored by Meadows and titled the Super PAC Elimination Act, would also require donations over $200 to be disclosed to the FEC and made public available within 24 hours…

The new disclosure requirements, and their accompanying increase in paperwork, would likely impose significant additional burdens on a thinly stretched FEC, which oversees financial disclosures by candidates and independent political groups.

Independent Groups

PoliticusUSA: Democrats Fight Back To Protect President Obama’s Legacy With New Super PAC

By Jason Easley

A group of Democratic operatives who were behind the movement to draft Vice President to run for president is starting a new super PAC to help Democrats fight back against President-elect Trump, and protect the achievements of President Obama.

In a press release, William Pierce, senior advisor to Restore the Majority PAC, said:

“We must begin the fight now to defend the legacy of the Obama administration and stand in opposition to the dangerous, backward policies we can expect from a Trump administration.”…

While Democrats largely support campaign finance reform, campaign finance laws are likely to be completely wiped out under Republican control. Super PACs can be powerful tools for the opposition, and no matter how one feels about campaign finance, the message that Democrats need to come together to fight Trump is one that must be acted upon.

It is time for Democrats to use every tool in their toolbox to fight the Trump agenda.  

Trump Administration

The Guardian: Donald Trump will violate the US constitution on inauguration day

By Laurence H. Tribe

The US constitution flatly prohibits any “Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States]” from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State”.  

Known as the emoluments clause, this provision was designed on the theory that a federal officeholder who receives something of value from a foreign power can be tempted to compromise what the constitution insists be his exclusive loyalty: the best interest of the United States…

Trump’s continued interest in the Trump Organization and his steady stream of monetary and other benefits from foreign powers put him on a collision course with the emoluments clause. Disentangling every improper influence resulting from special treatment of Trump’s business holdings by foreign states would be impossible…
Because Trump would take office in blatant violation of the constitution, the electoral college would be fully justified in concluding that he is unsuited to the presidency.    

Candidates and Campaigns

Washington Examiner: How the political rules changed in 2016

By Michael Barone

Money doesn’t seem to matter so much any more. “Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” the legendary California Assembly Speaker Jess Unruh said half a century ago. But some winning campaigns this year operated on what Unruh might have regarded as low-lactose diets, notably President-elect Trump’s.

The Trump campaign spent somewhat more than half as much as the Hillary Clinton campaign, but won nearly half again as many electoral votes. And that’s not counting the spending of super PACs supporting the Democrat… 

TV spots don’t matter so much any more, either. In the 1970s, campaigns ran television ads because it was the best way to reach voters…

Today old-line network audiences are a fraction of what they used to be, and technology allows people to skip TV ads altogether. A zero-cost tweet gets more attention and a YouTube video can get more votes than a $10 million ad barrage.

A corollary is that the Democrats’ obsession with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing corporate political communications is utterly beside the point.

The States

New York Times: De Blasio Is Fined $48,000 for Campaign Finance Violations

By J. David Goodman

Mayor Bill de Blasio was fined nearly $48,000 on Thursday by the New York City Campaign Finance Board for improper spending and other campaign finance violations recorded during the 2013 mayoral race.

Hours later, the City Council passed a bill to limit the activities of outside nonprofit political groups, a measure aimed squarely at the Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit political group created by Mr. de Blasio and his aides…

The campaign finance board, which oversees the disbursement of public matching funds and audits how the money is spent by campaigns, also voted to fine the 2013 mayoral campaign of Christine C. Quinn $13,000 and the 2013 campaign of Comptroller Scott M. Stringer $10,514. The board fined Anthony D. Weiner, the disgraced former congressman, $65,000 this month.

The bill passed by the City Council prohibits donations exceeding $400 from lobbyists or those who do business with the city to nonprofit groups controlled by local elected officials or their staffs – the same limit for such donations directly to candidates – and would require donations to be disclosed.

Wall Street Journal: Grand Juries Probe New York City Mayor’s Campaign Fund Raising

By Corinne Ramey, Rebecca Davis O’Brien, and Mara Gay

Federal and state grand juries are hearing testimony in the corruption investigations into fundraising operations of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, people familiar with the matter said.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office been examining whether Mr. de Blasio or his allies broke campaign finance law by using fundraising dollars marked for upstate New York political committees to direct hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates instead.

Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, are examining whether donors to the mayor’s 2013 campaign, or his now-defunct political nonprofit known as the Campaign for One New York, received special favors…

Mr. de Blasio has said he and his aides have done nothing wrong, and followed all laws. He hasn’t been accused of any crime, and it is not clear whether the grand jury testimony presented by prosecutors will lead to indictments.

New York Post: De Blasio slams media for grilling him on campaign finance probes

By Rich Calder and Bruce Golding

Mayor de Blasio got testy Friday over the two grand juries probing his administration – and accused the news media of holding him to a higher standard than opponents of his progressive agenda.

De Blasio said the “hedge-fund donors” who blocked his planned tax on incomes over $500,000 never got the same sort of grilling he has faced over his fund-raising efforts.

“I think a lot of people should ask this question [of] the media: Are you ever going to look at all the wealthy and powerful people who spend endless amounts of undisclosed money? Is that ever going to interest you?” Hizzoner griped during his weekly appearance on WNYC radio.

“Look at the column inches on that versus the column inches on this and you’ll ­understand my frustration.”

Alaska Dispatch News: New Alaska House leaders embrace loophole to raise campaign cash from lobbyists

By Nathaniel Herz

The Republican leaders of Alaska’s incoming House majority coalition are embracing a fundraising loophole that allows them to collect cash from lobbyists, who are otherwise restricted from donating to legislators and candidates.

House Democrats, who joined with the Republicans to form the majority coalition, have been some of the most vocal supporters of legislation to limit the flow of special-interest money into the state’s campaigns.

But they’re now collaborating with the fundraising efforts of their new GOP colleagues…

Majority members said they weren’t enthusiastic about soliciting money from lobbyists or anyone else. But they characterized the new fundraising tactic as a way to give lawmakers a bigger voice in their own campaigns after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened up unlimited elections spending by corporations and unions.

“It’s a tiny attempt to level the playing field,” said Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara, who has sponsored campaign finance reform legislation in the past. “I totally support people trying to defend themselves when Outside corporations want an all-Republican state.”

Charlottesville Daily Progress: Free speech ideal receives vindication

By Editorial Board

Earlier this year, Albemarle County resident Joe Draego sued Council after his speaking time was cut short at a meeting in June. He was forcibly removed from chambers by two police officers after then lying on the floor in an act of civil disobedience.

At the time, Council had a new rule – one of many – against “group defamation.” Mr. Draego had launched into a lecture against Muslims and Muslim immigration into Charlottesville, triggering the Council’s censorship…

The suit claimed that the rule was not content neutral, as has been held necessary in previous First Amendment rulings; that it was overbroad; and that it violated both the Virginia Constitution and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In November, federal Judge Norman Moon agreed that the Council’s regulation was unconstitutional, saying that it offends the First and 14th Amendments. He issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the Council from enforcing the rule.

Council instead said that it would drop the rule, rather than simply decline to enforce it.

Fitchburg Massachusetts Sentinel & Enterprise: Campaign finance among bills passed

By Bob Katzen

House, 146-10, and Senate, 34-6, approved a new law that requires the names of the top five contributors who donate more than $5,000 to a super Political Action Committee and other groups or political committees to be listed on all campaign billboards and mailers. Prior law required the listing of the top five donors only on television, internet and print ads… 

House, 151-0, (no Senate roll call) approved a new law that allows donors to contribute the maximum $1,000 twice per year to a candidate who runs for the Legislature in a special election and a regular election in the same year. Prior law only allowed donors to give a maximum of $1,000 in any calendar year. The new law was in effect for the 2016 election.