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Conventional wisdom

The New York Times is surprised that "More than three-fourths of the federally registered lobbyists making campaign contributions in excess of $25,000 this year have showered money mainly on one political party or the other, according to the reports they filed with Congress at the end of last month."

According to the Times, this flies in the face of the "conventional wisdom," which presumed that "most lobbyists hedged their bets by donating freely to members of both parties."

Perhaps, though, we shouldn’t be entirely surprised by the giving pattern of lobbyists. After all, many registered lobbyist are former officeholders, staffers, or political operatives. It seems only natural that they would continue to support those who represent their ideals.

In fact, it is important to remember that the vast majority of all political giving is driven by ideology and that campaign contributions have little impact on the way a legislator votes.

For more on campaign contributions and legislative voting patterns click HERE.

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Brad Smith radio interview

CCP chairman Brad Smith is scheduled to be on Seattle’s Kirby and Company this morning beginning at 10:06 AM Eastern.

The host of the program, Kirby Wilbur, may be best known to blog readers as the radio personality at the center of the No New Gas Tax case.

You can click HERE to listen to Brad live at 10:06 AM.

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I don’t like your blog, so I’ll file a complaint

CCP has long argued that a primary purpose of campaign finance laws is to harass one’s political opponents.  This certainly seemed to be the case in an MUR that the Federal Election Commission announced it had closed out yesterday. MUR 5949 had been pending for nearly a year.

The initial complaint was brought by Kirk Tofte, a supporter of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and was filed against a blogger (and former Iowa Democratic Party chairman) who supported the campaign of Barack Obama.

The complaint was apparently motivated primarily by Tofte’s disappointment that the blog, www.iowatrueblue.com, touted Obama and had nothing positive to say about Clinton.  Tofte alleged coordination between the Obama campaign and the blog and that it was a "direct arm of the Obama for President campaign." Tofte also claimed that the blog had a "donate" tab on its website.

More after the jump.

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The Anti-Matzzie?

John Kerry, who knows a thing or two about the impact of independent speech groups, has launched a new initiative called the "Truth Fights Back."

In his email announcing the launch of the website, John Kerry writes that the website "empowers you to fight back across the country in ways no campaign has attempted."

The website offers tools to "report smears," send letters to the editor, and recruit friends.

While one facet of the site is to research the organizations sponsoring the independent advocacy, its overriding purpose appears to be to combat speech with more speech.  All in all, Kerry’s effort is a much more commendable way to combat speech with which one disagrees than the one being employed by "Accountable America."

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CCP featured in Politico

The Politico ran a story today focusing on the Center for Competitive Politics’ efforts to return the nation’s campaign finance system to one that is based on First Amendment principles.

The story also includes some interesting anecdotes from CCP chairman Brad Smith’s time on the Federal Election Commission.

Click HERE to read the full story.

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On Tax-Financing of Campaigns: Why We’re Skeptical

Bob Bauer has offered some thoughtful comments on a recent CCP release that found that so-called “clean elections” programs of tax funding for campaigns neither alleviate concerns about “special interest” influence nor lead to voters having greater confidence in government – arguments commonly advanced in favor or tax funding of campaigns.  These findings come on the heels of an earlier CCP reports that found that so-called “clean elections” plans have not, in Maine or Arizona, dramatically altered the make up of the legislature; reduced the number of lobbyists; increased competition; helped government get spending and taxation under control (in fact, “clean elections” in Maine and Arizona has been accompanied by an increase in the rate of government growth in spending and taxes); or led to better government.

 

Given his status as one of both the nation’s leading practitioners and thinkers in the field, as an astute critic of the excesses of the regulatory state, and as one of the leading Progressives to express concern about the effect of the current regulatory regime on grassroots political activity, Bauer’s thoughts always deserve respect and, in this case, some further comment.

Click the headline for more after the jump.

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That’s one way to increase turnout

A candidate for the Knox County (TN) commission attempted to conduct a novel giveaway at the polls during yesterday’s primary election.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that Democratic candidate Amy Broyles wanted to "distribute school supplies for children at polling stations."

Continuing, "Broyles said there were no campaign messages on any of the supplies. After word of the idea was circulated, Broyles said donations arrived from all over the county. She said ‘about $800′ worth of supplies were purchased.

But, "After we started buying supplies, then we got word that it might not be such a good idea," Broyles told the News Sentinel.

She now plans to deliver the supplies directly to schools in her district, instead of at polling locations.

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Speech Intimidation

UPDATE: The Times obtained a copy of the warning letter (HERE) and a $100,000 bounty (HERE)

The New York Times reported yesterday on a disturbing, yet predictable, outgrowth of our over-regulated campaign finance system.

A new group, "Accountable America", is "planning to confront donors to conservative groups, hoping to create a chilling effect that will dry up contributions."

They’ve begun by sending a "foreboding ‘warning’ letter" to more than 10,000 Republican donors.

According to the Times, "The warning letter is intended as a first step, alerting donors who might be considering giving to right-wing groups to a variety of potential dangers, including legal trouble, public exposure and watchdog groups digging through their lives. "

The Times further reports that the group has already raised $200,000 and ultimately hopes to raise $2 million for their efforts to harrass and intimidate citizens from exercising their First Amendment rights.

Ironically, Tom Mattzie, the founder of the new anti-independent speech group, previously attempted to run a liberal independent speech group called Progressive Media U.S.A., but that effort folded after Mattzie failed to raise enough money.

Unable to find financing to fund his media efforts, Mattzie now simply seeks to silence his ideological opponents.

Update: Accountable America also is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to a civil or criminal penalty of at least $10,000 against an organization that "primarily serves business or ideologically conservative interests."  The ironic humor in this effort is that Accountable America promises that, "if the submitter wishes to remain anonymous, Accountable America will use its best efforts to enable such confidentiality…." 

 

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Study undermines key claims about “Clean Elections”

 The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) released a study today that undermines claims about the ability of "Clean Elections" to reduce the importance of interest groups in the political process.

CCP research also found that perceptions about what motivates an elected official’s vote have little to do with how a candidate’s campaign is financed.

"Members of organized interest groups remain instrumental in providing support to candidates participating in these taxpayer-funded political campaign schemes," said CCP President Sean Parnell. "Moreover, replacing private, voluntary contributions with taxpayer dollars had little impact on the public’s perception of whether or not their elected officials are responsive to constituent needs."

More after the jump.

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“He Might Come After Me Next”

The Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel reported last week on the race for Attorney General in West Virginia.  There, Darrell McGraw, the incumbent, is fighting a spirited challenge from Dan Greear.  Greear is attacking McGraw for politicizing the office of Attorney General and abusing his power. 

According to Strassel, Greear has a problem: "fear."  She quotes Greear as saying, "I go to so many people and hear the same thing: ‘I sure hope you can beat him, but I can’t afford to have my name on your records.  He might come after me next.’"

Of course, there are many questions here:  there is no particular reason to doubt Greear’s veracity, but the charge fits neatly into his campaign, and if not false may be somewhat exaggerated.  And assuming that many people have told this to Greear, it could be that they are not telling the truth – perhaps they just want a reason to turn down Greear’s request. 

That said, the charge certainly has a ring of truth about it, especially in an era when the Elliott Spitzer approach to Attorney Generalship – sans prostitutes – seems to be the norm.  And it is an important reminder that involuntary disclosure of campaign contributions is not without costs.  In virtually every other aspect of life the Supreme Court has regularly defended the right to engage in anonymous speech, in part because of its recognition of the potential for harassment and abuse of power by government officials to silence disfavored voices.  

Disclosure of campaign contributions offers benefits, too, which is why I have written in support of disclosure requirements.  But such disclosure need not encompass – as some are fond of saying – "every penny, instantly."  And it is well to remember that the purpose of disclosure is to inform citizens about government, not to inform government about citizens.  This is why forced disclosure of grassroots lobbying – that is, communications from citizens to other citizens, seeking to mobilize support for or against particular issues – is a bad idea.  Like any form of regulation, disclosure has costs as well as benefits, and should be unleashed with care. 

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