A Lakeland, Colorado citizen’s group filed suit Thursday in federal court challenging the constitutionality of a city law regulating the organization’s reporting on candidates in its newsletter.
Attorneys with the Institute for Free Speech who are representing the Lakewood Citizens Watchdog Group said the city’s requirement for the newsletter to identify donors and to include campaign disclaimers in its articles because the cost of publishing and distributing it crossed a $500 threshold violate the First Amendment.
“If the council can redefine reporting and commentary as campaigning, it can punish news outlets that criticize candidates in the months leading up to an election. Congress and the state of Colorado both exempt the media from their campaign finance laws to avoid this precise outcome,” said Institute for Free Speech Senior Attorney and Deputy Vice President for Litigation Owen Yeates said in a release.
The suit asks the court to find the newsletter, The Whole Story, is protected by the constitutional guarantees of free speech and a free press and that the $3,000 fine it was assessed for violating a local ordinance is unconstitutional.
From 2015 to 2018, the Watchdog published The Whole Story without encountering any problems. In 2019 the city council passed an ordinance imposing regulations on any entity spending more than $500 on communications that mentioned a candidate for office within 60 days of a municipal election. As the new rule made no exemption for the media, it became impossible for the group to report on local elections without potentially being forced to register with the city, publish disclaimers on articles, and expose their supporters, its attorneys said.
The Watchdog’s fall 2019 issue, which covered that November’s elections for mayor and city council, was found by a city adjudicator to be guilty of making “unambiguous references to current candidates” in The Whole Story and ordered to pay $3,000 in fines. To cover future local elections, the group would have to file invasive reports about its supporters with city officials and print campaign-style disclaimers in its newsletter.
While Lakewood’s laws pose a threat to any media outlet, the people behind The Watchdog are not surprised they were targeted first. “We report stories other media outlets won’t, and we aren’t afraid to blow the whistle on the city government. The council may not like it, but that’s what the First Amendment is for,” Dan Smith, president of the Lakewood Citizens Watchdog Group said.
“By failing to exempt news gathering and reporting from its campaign finance laws, Lakewood has unconstitutionally infringed on the freedom of the press,” the group’s brief says. “That freedom is essential to a functioning democracy, even more so in the context of elections. Politicians may wish to control who can speak about them, but they can’t regulate The Whole Story.”
The Watchdog is an independent publication mailed to Lakewood residents two to three times per year, with a circulation of approximately 22,000. The case is Lakewood Citizens Watchdog Group v. City of Lakewood.
By Elad Hakim • The Federalist
If they charge President Trump for paying women to not publish scandalous claims, would prosecutors then be compelled to pursue members of Congress who have also made such payoffs?
Michael Cohen was sentenced to 36 months in prison on Wednesday for various crimes the Robert Mueller investigation found he had committed. As CNN recently reported, prosecutors from the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office alleged he admitted to paying off two women (hush money) and that he did so in coordination with and at the direction of President Trump, thereby violating one or more campaign finance laws.
On the day of Cohen’s sentencing, the Gateway Pundit reported that prosecutors for the Southern District of New York announced that they had reached a non-prosecution agreement with American Media, Inc., the company that paid $150,000 to one of the women. Continue reading
by Bradley A. Smith • National Review
Donald Trump’s wayward counsel, Michael Cohen, was sentenced today as part of a plea bargain with the government. As part of that settlement, Cohen has admitted to criminal violations of federal campaign-finance law and has implicated President Trump in those violations. The press is ablaze with headlines trumpeting the president’s possible involvement in two felony campaign-finance violations. The source of these violations are Mr. Cohen’s arranging — allegedly at Trump’s direction — hush-money payments to women alleging long-ago affairs with the 2016 presidential candidate.
The Federal Election Campaign Act holds that an “expenditure” is any “purchase, payment, loan, advance, deposit or gift of money, or anything of value, for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office.” According to Cohen and the U.S. Attorney, the hush-money payments were, it appears, made in the hopes of preventing information from becoming public before the election, and hence were “for the purpose of influencing” the election. This means that, at a minimum, they had to be reported to the Federal Election Commission; further, if they were authorized by Mr. Trump, they would become, in the law’s parlance, “coordinated expenditures,” subject to limits on the amounts that could be spent. Since the lawful contribution limit is much lower than the payments made, and the payments were not reported, this looks like an open and shut case, right? Continue reading
Shadowy donor club to shield donor names, internal deliberations from public view
by Lachlan Markay • Washington Free Beacon
The Democracy Alliance says opacity in political funding and the influence of “big money” is corrosive to the democratic process, but the group currently discloses nothing about the hundreds of millions of dollars it steers to leading liberal and Democratic organizations. Continue reading
A proposed Constitutional amendment would give Congress authority to regulate every dollar…
While much of Washington grapples with international crises, chronic economic troubles, and upcoming midterm elections, Senate Democrats are steadily pushing forward with what they hope will become the 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The proposed amendment would give Congress authority to regulate every dollar raised, and every dollar spent, by every federal campaign and candidate in the country. It would give state legislatures the power to do the same with state races.
Framed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as a response to campaign spending by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, the proposed amendment, written by Democratic Senators Tom Udall and Michael Bennet and co-sponsored by 42 other Senate Democrats, would vastly increase the power of Congress to control elections and political speech. Continue reading
by Michael Barone
They celebrated especially the freedom accorded those with unpopular beliefs and protested attempts to squelch the expression of differing opinions.
Today things are different. American liberals are not challenging the Supreme Court rulings extending First Amendment protection to nude dancers, flag burners and students wearing antiwar armbands. They are content to leave these as forms of protected free speech. Continue reading
The debate over campaign contributions is never-ending for a simple reason: Both sides of the argument have merit.
On the one hand, of course money is speech. For most citizens, contributing to politicians or causes is the most effective way to augment and amplify speech with which they agree. The most disdainful dismissers of this argument are editorialists and incumbent politicians who — surprise! — already enjoy access to vast audiences and don’t particularly like their monopoly being invaded by the unwashed masses or the self-made plutocrat. Continue reading
Who drafts the Democratic Party’s campaign strategy? Whoever it is, they should be fired. Their 2014 plan violates a basic rule of electoral public relations: Don’t build your entire campaign around a hypocritical allegation that could blow up in your face.
I’m talking about Democrats’ unending war on the billionaires who fund right-of-center causes. Over the past month, the party’s campaign committees, PACs and allied groups have spent millions trying to link Republicans to these ostensibly evil oligarchs who are buying elections and rigging the system against the middle class. Continue reading
This of course is part of a far-wider narrative — slavishly repeated by largely unquestioning liberal media — that the GOP outspends Democrats on campaigns thanks to big-buck donors like the billionaire Koch brothers.
But, as it turns out, that’s a lie — as big a lie, in fact, as “you can keep your insurance,” “you can keep your doctor” and “ObamaCare will bend the cost curve down.”
By almost every measure, in fact, it’s the Democrats, not the Republicans, who are the party of the rich. Continue reading
Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has devoted most of his attention lately to slimming the Koch brothers and alleging that they and other rich people want to buy elections. Just like when he falsely asserted that Mitt Romney hadn’t paid any taxes for years, Reid is now in the business of making false accusations to slime those he sees as his political adversaries. But the truth is – it is incumbents that game the system and peddle influence for their own political and/or financial gain. Perhaps this is why they have become so shrill and peddlers of lies – to divert attention from the real corruption in Washington.
by Jonathan S. Tobin
The furor over the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission handed down yesterday revolves, as I wrote earlier, around the problems liberals have with the First Amendment’s protections of political speech. But what liberals claim they are seeking to protect is the integrity of our democratic process from those seeking to buy the votes or the influence of public officials. Given the stringent rules that exist to limit the behavior of officeholders, the line between making your voice heard and a corrupt quid pro quo can be hazy at times, but it is still there. Yet what often goes unnoticed or is, in fact, tolerated, is a different sort of corruption that is far more common than millionaires purchasing members of Congress. As Byron York wrote yesterday in the Washington Examiner, the ability of incumbent politicians to raid the public treasury for expenditures to buy the votes of certain constituencies is not only legal, it is the most decisive form of campaign finance available. Continue reading
In a 5-to-4 majority, the high court, complementing its landmark 2010 Citizens United ruling, has again made it clear that trying to prevent people financing their own political speech in the 21st century is as repressive as restricting the sale of soapboxes to stand on and speak from in centuries past.
“Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects,” Chief Justice John Roberts declared in Wednesday’s McCutcheon v. FEC decision.
“If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades — despite the profound offense such spectacles cause — it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.” Continue reading
It turns out that Obama’s ground game, was in fact, as good as they said it was. Supported by as negative and polemic a campaign as an incumbent ever ran.
by Scott L. Vanatter
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” A thousand pictures will be painted in post-election analysis. A thousand time over. Here’s one.
It takes a pretty good team to make it to the Super Bowl. Good and great players and coaches; an astute general manager and smart owner, scouts and staff. How the team deals with injuries and setbacks. Strength training and conditioning. Attitude, execution, an effective game plan — and a bit of luck. (Note: “Luck is what happens when Preparation meets Opportunity.”) Continue reading
“I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities,” Obama said in his 2010 State of the Union address.
But we have no idea who Obama is really being bankrolled by.
The Obama campaign, which is on track to become the first billion-dollar presidential campaign, reported raising $181 million from more than 1.8 million individuals in the month of September. However, just two percent of those donations were above the reporting threshold ($250) set by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Continue reading
“The Illegal-Donor Loophole” is the headline of a Daily Beast story by Peter Schweizer of the conservative Government Accountability Institute and Peter Boyer, former reporter at the New Yorker and the New York Times.
The article tells how Obama.com, a website owned by an Obama fundraiser who lives in China but has visited the Obama White House 11 times, sends solicitations mostly to foreign email addresses and links to the Obama campaign website’s donation page.
The Obama website, unlike those of most campaigns, doesn’t ask for the three- or four-digit credit card verification number. That makes it easier for donors to use fictitious names and addresses to send money in. Continue reading
In September, the Obama campaign got 1.8 million donations from small contributors who did not break the $200 threshold requiring that their information be reported to the Federal Election Commission. They gave the campaign 98 percent of the $181 million it raised that month, a figure vastly higher than its take in any previous month.
Is the Obama campaign financing itself through foreign money funneled in through a website owned by a private businessman, living in China, that uses the name Obama.com? Continue reading