Daily Media Links 7/7: National group targets campaign spending plan, Student Group Sues Macomb Community College Over Speech Policy, and more…

In the News

Carlsbad Current-Argus: Secretary of State’s power grab on nonprofit privacy

By Bradley Smith and Paul Gessing

This spring, the New Mexico Legislature considered imposing new donor disclosure rules on nonprofit organizations. The measure was vetoed by Governor Martinez over privacy concerns. Now Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is attempting to impose those rules by bureaucratic fiat, using a regulation to enact what couldn’t be done through the normal lawmaking process.

Bureaucratic rules can serve an important function. They help to implement and clarify laws that are passed by the legislature.

But here, instead of implementing the law, the Secretary of State’s Office is enacting rules that were rejected in the constitutional lawmaking process. Although pitched as “political disclosure,” as Governor Martinez wrote in her veto message in April, “the broad language in the bill could lead to unintended consequences that would force groups like charities to disclose the names and addresses of their contributors in certain circumstances.”

Furthermore, the rules, if adopted, will almost certainly be challenged in court…

Governor Martinez wisely chose to avoid this course of action for New Mexico. We should be cautious when considering proposals that restrict or chill charitable giving. We should especially not impose such policies through a subversion of the democratic process. 

International Business Times: How Republicans Protect Anonymous Donors And Their ‘Dark Money’ Groups

By Josh Keefe

Lawmakers in the current Congress have slipped language into two spending bills to protect so-called “dark money” nonprofits from IRS scrutiny. The provisions prevent the IRS from examining or defining the nebulous rules that govern those groups, which are not required to disclose their donors. Critics say those groups are taking advantage of a broken campaign finance system – and charge that Republicans in both Congress and the Federal Elections Commission are making sure the system doesn’t get fixed.

“Dark money” is a term used to describe spending by nonprofit “social welfare” organizations, usually 501(c)(4) organizations, which are named after the section of the tax code that created them. They are called “dark” because they don’t have to disclose their donors, due to a 1958 Supreme Court decision that ruled the NAACP didn’t have to disclose its donors to the state of Alabama…

Those who defend the practice on free speech grounds believe the term “dark money” is sensationalist, and argue that it accounts for less than five percent of total campaign spending.

A 501(c)(4) can engage in politics and still maintain its tax exempt status so long as politics is not its “primary activity.” 

Congress

USA Today: Why the Koch brothers want to kill an obscure Senate rule to help shape the federal courts

By Fredreka Schouten

The influential donor network tied to billionaire Charles Koch is taking aim at a longstanding Senate tradition that allows Democratic senators to block judicial nominees from their states, as conservatives race to seize on one-party control of Washington to rapidly reshape the federal judiciary.

Their target: The “blue-slip” process, which keeps judicial nominees from moving forward in Senate confirmation if a home-state senator raises an objection. Since Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 majority in the Senate, honoring the practice could give Democrats significant power to delay confirmation of President Trump’s nominees…

Trump had announced 22 nominees tor the lower courts, including nine to the appeals courts, considered a pipeline to the Supreme Court. Federal judges have lifetime appointments.

More lower-court nominations are on the way.

Leonard Leo, the executive vice president of conservative Federalist Society who has advised the White House on judicial picks, told USA Today that Trump already has signed off behind the scenes on a “few dozen” more still-to-be-announced nominees to the federal bench.

The Courts

CBS Detroit: Student Group Sues Macomb Community College Over Speech Policy

By Associated Press

A conservative nonprofit student group at a community college in eastern Michigan has sued the school, saying its policy of requiring permission for public speech violates members’ First Amendment rights.

Attorneys representing Turning Point USA say the Macomb Community College chapter is challenging the school’s expressive activity policy in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday at U.S. District Court in Detroit.

The organization has college chapters across the country. Officials say it trains students to “promote the principles of freedom, free markets and limited government.”

The complaint follows an April incident in which chapter members, including one in a T. Rex costume, said college police told them they couldn’t speak with other students, pass out literature or collect signatures on campus because they didn’t have administrators’ approval.

Reuters: U.S. judge allows Twitter lawsuit over surveillance to move forward

By David Ingram

A U.S. judge ruled on Thursday that Twitter Inc could move forward with a lawsuit that aims to free technology companies to speak more openly about surveillance requests they receive from the U.S. government.

The U.S. government had failed to show the kind of “clear and present danger” that could possibly justify restraints Twitter’s constitutional right to talk about surveillance requests, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland, California, said in a written order.

“The government’s restrictions on Twitter’s speech are content-based prior restraints subject to the highest level of scrutiny under the First Amendment,” Rogers wrote.

Independent Groups

ABC News: Government ethics director who prodded Trump resigns

By Julie Bykowicz, Associated Press

The government ethics director who prodded President Donald Trump’s administration over conflicts of interest is resigning to take a new job.

Walter Shaub, director of the Office of Government Ethics, is joining the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit in Washington that mostly focuses on violations of campaign finance law.

Both Shaub and the Campaign Legal Center posted the news on their Twitter accounts, and Shaub confirmed his move to The Associated Press…

Shaub said his work at the Campaign Legal Center will focus on government ethics, including at the congressional and state level. He said he will work from the outside to strengthen an executive branch ethics program that is designed to help thousands of federal employees avoid conflicts of interest.

The States

Albuquerque Journal: National group targets campaign spending plan

By Dan Boyd

A national group has launched a barrage of opposition against campaign spending rules proposed by Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

Concerned Veterans for America, a Virginia-based group backed by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, announced Thursday it is sending out mailers targeting the proposed rules and asking recipients to contact the Secretary of State’s Office…

The ad blitz comes as some nonprofit groups say the proposed rules could infringe on their free speech rights.

Among other requirements, the rules, unveiled last month, would compel groups active in New Mexico campaigns to disclose their donors if they spend more than $1,000 on political advertising during an election cycle…

Three public hearings on the proposed rules will be held this month, with the first one scheduled for next Thursday in Santa Fe.

Charlotte News & Observer: With elections board vacant, Cooper wants NC Supreme Court to block board designed by GOP

By Colin Campbell

North Carolina’s election oversight board has been vacant for more than a month, but the N.C. Supreme Court is poised to decide if Gov. Roy Cooper must make appointments to the new board designed by Republicans.

Cooper last week asked the Supreme Court to block the law creating the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, which would be split equally among Republicans and Democrats – a change from the previous elections board, which was controlled by the governor’s party…

Cooper’s request has already been rejected by a three-judge Superior Court panel and the N.C. Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals order, dated June 16, doesn’t provide a reason for the decision or list which judges were involved.

Washington Post: The District should make this needed campaign finance reform a reality

By Editorial Board

Now before the council is a bill that would offer limited public matching funds to candidates who meet certain qualifications, including forgoing corporate or political action committee contributions. The measure, the Fair Elections Act, is modeled on public-financing systems that have been successfully implemented in other cities and states, including New York City, Connecticut and Maine, and that recently were adopted in neighboring Montgomery and Howard counties. Legislation championed in Congress by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) would apply the idea to national politics…

Proponents estimate the annual cost at $5 million. That would be a wise investment toward better government. A supermajority of the council has signed on as sponsors, but previous attempts at public financing have foundered, so proponents are right to guard against overconfidence. That Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has so far stayed silent about the measure shows a disappointing lack of leadership on an important issue.

Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who chaired the committee considering the legislation, said he hopes to have action when the council returns from its summer recess.

Seattle Times: Seattle’s campaign-voucher system is good for democracy

By Joshua A. Douglas

These days we cannot have electoral reform without a lawsuit. So is the case in Seattle with its innovative way to fund local campaigns. Under the system, every Seattle resident is provided with four $25 vouchers to give to candidates for local office who agree to various campaign-finance restrictions. A new lawsuit challenges this program under the First Amendment. The court should reject that challenge.

Seattle’s Democracy Vouchers program is a smart way of limiting big money from influencing elections. It allows everyday individuals to help fund campaigns. Candidates who do not have wealthy backers or a large personal war chest now have a chance to compete on a roughly even playing field. Candidates who opt-in and accept the vouchers must follow various campaign-finance limitations and disclosure rules…

If this public financing measure fails, then likely all public financing is unconstitutional. But the U.S. Supreme Court has long approved public financing as a means to root out corruption in elections.