Daily Media Links 3/15: Liberals Put Political Money in Spotlight of Gorsuch Fight, ‘Dark money’ bill hits snag in SC Senate panel, and more…

In the News                                       

PJ Media: South Carolina Bill Attacks Free Speech, Forces Donor Disclosure

By Tyler O’Neil

On Tuesday, South Carolina’s Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing about S.255…

This bill is one of a number of disclosure laws which seek to fight “dark money” by requiring the disclosure of donors to issue-focused nonprofit groups which speak out on political issues…

“Politicians, in concert with activist groups, desire to make it more difficult for all but the most well-connected organizations to speak about public policy,” Scott Blackburn, research fellow at the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP), told PJ Media in an email statement.

“These type of bills are often aimed at silencing speech by exposing Americans to intimidation and harassment for voicing their opinions on issues they are passionate about,” Blackburn explained… 

He laid out the formula behind such legislation: “Politician X doesn’t like a group criticizing his votes, and telling voters about it. He tries to pass a law to undermine their efforts, so that they won’t do it again. The bill affects far more speech and activity than anyone thought. Politician X doesn’t care, so long as it is harder to criticize him.”

Free Speech                                       

Wall Street Journal: The Middlebury Aftermath

By Editorial Board

Amid the icy Nor’easter that hit the east coast Tuesday, a clear ray of intellectual sunshine emerged: Professors Robert George of Princeton University and Cornel West of Harvard University posted online, for national signatures, a petition in defense of freedom of speech…  

Their statement-“Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression”-follows on the heels of last week’s remarkable free-speech statement by professors at Middlebury College, which now has more than 100 signatures at that small Vermont institution…

For years, Professors George and West, the former a conservative and the latter a socialist, together taught a class at Princeton on how to listen to contrary points of view. Middlebury’s violence drove home what many in academia have come to see more clearly now-that the most basic tenets of free inquiry and exchange are under unprecedented pressure in the U.S., not least at universities.

The George-West statement stands as a forceful rebuttal to the all-too-frequent attempt to stigmatize opponents into silence. We hope it gains the national support it deserves.

Supreme Court                                      

Roll Call: Liberals Put Political Money in Spotlight of Gorsuch Fight

By Kate Ackley

Democratic lawmakers and liberal interest groups are intensifying their pressure on senators to probe Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s views on campaign finance law during his confirmation hearings next week…

Even though House Democrats have no say in Gorsuch’s confirmation, more than 100 of them sent a letter Tuesday pressing senators to ask specific questions of the federal appeals court judge next week, such as how he would have ruled in the controversial 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case that helped pave the way for big-money super PACs.

“He hasn’t written a lot explicitly on this topic, but he’s written enough to signal that he seems to be moving in the wrong direction here,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat who spearheaded the letter, during a news conference call Tuesday…

Liberals view campaign finance matters as potentially their best shot at derailing Gorsuch’s nomination. It would give moderate Democrats, in particular, a reason to oppose him without touching on more politically controversial issues such as abortion or gun rights that would not play well in conservative states.

Huffington Post: New TV Ads Hit SCOTUS Nominee For Putting Corporations Over People

By Jennifer Bendery

Days before Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch gets his Senate confirmation hearing, a Democratic group is going up with national television ads calling him out for his record of siding with corporations over everyday Americans.

Constitutional Responsibility Project will begin running 30-second ads on Wednesday in Arizona and Nevada – states with vulnerable Republican senators up for re-election – and in Washington, D.C. The spots will air on cable and broadcast TV, including during the Sunday political shows, as part of a seven-figure ad campaign against Gorsuch.

The ads open with ominous music and a narrator highlighting some of Gorsuch’s rulings as a federal judge on the 10th Circuit.

“Why did he side with corporations in 91 percent of pension cases? Why did he make it harder to hold Wall Street accountable, or for women to get birth control?” asks the narrator. “Tell senators, ‘No answers, no confirmation.'”

Common Dreams: How SCOTUS Campaign Finance Rulings ‘Distorted’ US Democracy

By Lauren McCauley

With the pending confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch shaping up to be a referendum on the role of money in politics, a new study published on Tuesday highlights the actual impact of campaign finance rulings on the 2016 election.

Published by public policy organization Demos, Court Cash: 2016 Election Money Resulting Directly from Supreme Court Rulings quantifies for the first time the direct impact of the Supreme Court’s four most significant money-in-politics cases..

According to the report, the Supreme Court’s rulings in Buckley v. Valeo (1976), Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee v. FEC (1996) and Citizens United v. FEC (2010) led to more than $1.3 billion in spending on the 2016 presidential election, which is equivalent to 49 percent of the total cost…

“In addition,” the study notes, “2014’s McCutcheon v. FEC allowed 1724 wealthy donors to contribute $274 million in ‘McCutcheon Money’ in 2016-money that went beyond what would have been permitted by the previous ‘aggregate’ contribution limit.”

Congress                                     

Washington Examiner: Being in Congress is still all about fundraising, and voters are tired of it

By Zach Wamp

Members of Congress are getting an earful from constituents in town halls across the country about their passions and gripes with government. But it was a woman protesting outside while waiting to speak with her senator who best summed up voters’ frustration with Washington: “They spend a lot of time with lobbyists and fundraising. We wish they would spend that much time with us – all their constituents.”

As a former member of Congress, I have the same truth-telling luxury as that constituent, but I’m armed with insider-knowledge of the “rigged” political system. To the majority of the 535 lawmakers on Capitol Hill, money and re-election have come to play more prominent roles in the decision-making process than million-person marches, constituent calls or protest-filled town halls…

For too long, the size and scope of our government have ballooned to unsustainable levels, and the resulting “incumbent protection program” means too few lawmakers have the stomach to do anything to fix it. “Drain the Swamp” shouldn’t just be a campaign slogan, but inspiration and guidance for policymaking throughout Washington.

Trump Administration                                    

The Hill: The curious case of President Trump’s ethics executive order

By Craig Holman

The Office of Government Ethics is requiring all appointees to sign new ethics agreements in light of the Jan. 28 executive order, but these agreements are non-descript pledges to abide by the executive order without explaining its revolving door restrictions. George David Banks, for example, a lobbyist recruited into the Trump administration told ProPublica that he had signed the ethics pledge but no one in the White House counsel’s office contacted him about the ethics restrictions nor even the restrictions that apply to lobbyists.

This highlights another problem: the authority to implement and enforce the ethics agreements lies with White House Counsel Don McGahn, who made a law career specializing in evading campaign finance and ethics rules. Unlike the Obama administration, Trump has no ethics czar charged with making sure everyone knows about and complies with these rules. Significantly, the ethics executive order has been issued by a president who mocks such conflict of interest rules for himself, setting the tone for the rest of the administration.

CNN: Trump rallies: Campaign-funded, for a reason

By Jeremy Diamond and Jeff Zeleny

Presidents typically rely on federal funds when they head out to sell their agenda and turn up the political pressure on members of Congress. Their reelection campaigns don’t begin to pick up the tab until opponents start to crop up. Trump, in contrast, has filed legal forms allowing his campaign committee to fundraise for his reelection, but has not yet publicly announced his intention to run.

The decision to hold campaign-funded rallies will give Trump more flexibility — from deciding who’s allowed in to helping the campaign build out its database of supporters’ contact information…

Jim Messina, campaign manager for Obama’s re-election bid, said the Trump campaign rally was highly unusual. But official government events come with some restrictions, which Messina said Trump’s aides likely didn’t want to abide by…

The campaign’s funding of the event also gives Trump more leeway in what he says on the stump, keeping him out of legal trouble if he delves into talk of his reelection bid or urges supporters to endorse or oppose any candidate for political office. 

The States

New Mexico In Depth: Legislature passes campaign finance reform years in the making

By Sandra Fish

It’s now up to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez whether New Mexico’s campaign finance disclosure laws will be modernized.

The Senate agreed to House amendments to Senate Bills 96 and 97 Tuesday.

The House approved the two measures Monday night.

SB 96 has the greater impact, aiming for more disclosure from independent spending groups during campaigns. But it also doubles the donation limits for legislators to $5,000 for each primary and general election cycle.

SB 97 refines and clarifies state law on public financing, which applies to judges and public regulation commissioners.

Martinez spokesman Chris Sanchez said in an email the governor doesn’t yet have a position on the measures…
But Paul Gessing, executive director of the Rio Grande Foundation said he hopes Martinez vetoes SB 96…

“The definition of independent expenditure is so broad that it would cover many activities that have no relation to express advocacy for or against a candidate,” Gessing wrote in an email. 

South Carolina State: ‘Dark money’ bill hits snag in SC Senate panel

By Avery G. Wilks

An effort to require so-called “dark money” political groups to reveal their donors hit a snag Tuesday when right-leaning advocacy groups asserted it would discourage S.C. residents from criticizing politicians.

A state Senate panel put off voting on the bill, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, after two hours of testimony – most of it from groups who said the Florence Republican’s proposal would set up their donors for retaliation.

“I’m prepared to accept the consequences of being out in public,” said Talbert Black Jr., president of S.C. Campaign for Liberty. “But there are many people who care deeply about issues in this state but don’t want their names out there, who fear for their jobs, who fear for their livelihood. … They should not be subject to that retaliation and intimidation.”…

Leatherman’s bill’s would require political groups to disclose the names, addresses and employers of donors who contribute more than $1,000. It also would require the groups to disclose how they spend money.  

Rapid City NBC NewsCenter1: Daugaard signs 9 ethics bills to replace IM 22

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard has signed four ethics bills to replace concepts of Initiated Measure 22, which were supported by the public. The bills are in addition to the five IM 22 replacement measures signed into law last week.

“State officials on both sides of the aisle worked together to deliver on the promise of replacing Initiated Measure 22 with constitutional, workable legislation,” Daugaard said…

SB 151 creates an ethics complaint process for elected officials and other public employees and gives the Secretary of State the authority to levy penalties and refer repeated violations to the Division of Criminal Investigation.

Daugaard also signed Senate Bill 54, which includes a number of clean up and clarification provisions. The bills also establish prohibitions on the use of campaign money…

The two other measures signed Tuesday, Senate Bill 171 and Senate Bill 27, create a task force on campaign finance and allow tougher criminal penalties for conflict of interest cases where a public official used public money illegally.

Lexington Herald-Leader: Lawmakers approve flurry of bills as end of legislative session looms

By Daniel Desrochers and Jack Brammer

The House narrowly passed Senate Bill 75, a bill that doubles the amount individuals and PACs can donate to a campaign, state executive committee and caucus campaign committee, along with other changes to state campaign finance laws.

Opponents and proponents agreed that dark money in political campaigns has gotten out of control, but each had a different approach for how to address the problem.

Supporters of the bill said the legislation was necessary to increase the number of transparent donations and give regular people a chance to run for office against candidates funded by PACs.

“It evens the playing field,” said Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington. “It makes things more accountable.”

Opponents of the bill argued that raising the limits created the wrong impression and that the general assembly should be attempting to curb dark money donations instead.

“It continues to eviscerate the public trust that people have in government and institutions,” said Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville.

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