Category Archives: campaigns

“PACs poised to supercharge California Senate campaign”


Democrats are rushing in to replace California Sen. Dianne Feinstein — and so are the Super PACs.

The once-in-a-generation contest for a California Senate seat could unleash a tsunami of outside spending as independent expenditure committees with unlimited fundraising powers work to differentiate Democrats jostling in an open field. And that could lead to the kind of negative broadsides that candidates themselves could be reluctant to level.

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Eighth Circuit refuses to bar Minnesota Attorney General’s subpoenas against WinRed

An opinion in WinRed Inc. v. Ellison written by Judge Benton, joined by Chief Judge Smith (with some excerpts, below, lightly edited). (Judge Shepherd, “writing separately,” argues the case is not ripe for review and the court lacks jurisdiction.)

Continue reading Eighth Circuit refuses to bar Minnesota Attorney General’s subpoenas against WinRed
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Federal District Court in Mackey Case Rejects First Amendment Defense to Criminal Prosecution for Spreading Twitter Memes Falsely Telling Hillary Clinton Supporters They Could Vote by Hashtag/Text

You can find the opinion here (h/t Eugene Volokh).

I write about this case in Cheap Speech. I think, and the district court agrees, that it does not violate the First Amendment to make it a crime to lie about when, where, or how people vote. The Supreme Court so indicated in dicta in the Mansky case. That kind of “false election speech” can be limited consistent with the First Amendment even though laws regulating “false campaign speech” (such as statements that “my opponent voted six times to raise taxes”) likely cannot be.

(I am less sure about whether the existing statute that Mackey is prosecuted under covers this conduct).

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“Billions at stake as online fundraising practices turn off voters”


That advice reflects a recognition among digital campaign staffers that text and email programs have gone from innovative to out of hand, to the point that it’s harming the campaign ecosystem. The rate of return on individual appeals is falling compared to a few years ago, as candidates and outside groups find themselves targeting the same pool of donors. And congressional campaigns spent more on fundraising as a share of their total spending in 2022 than in the previous election cycle, according to a POLITICO analysis of FEC records.

Doubling down on mass emails and texts is still a way to raise significant cash, and federal candidates and committees raised a combined $3.3 billion on ActBlue and WinRed, the parties’ primary online fundraising platforms, during the 2022 cycle. But people who work in the field are growing concerned that fundraising appeals are crowding out newsletters, volunteer efforts and other forms of communication amid the insatiable and never-ending hunt for cash.

“The incentives are all messed up,” Cotler said.

Digital fundraising, which began as a forward-thinking tactic in the early 2000s and has become central to campaigning since then, once promised a democratization of political fundraising — lawmakers could raise money online from ideologically aligned supporters with no strings attached rather than relying on access-driven donors at high-dollar fundraisers.

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“A 2 million-person, campaign-wide field experiment shows how digital advertising affects voter turnout”

New in Nature Human Behavior from Minali Aggarwal et al.:

We present the results of a large, US$8.9 million campaign-wide field experiment, conducted among 2 million moderate- and low-information persuadable voters in five battleground states during the 2020 US presidential election. Treatment group participants were exposed to an 8-month-long advertising programme delivered via social media, designed to persuade people to vote against Donald Trump and for Joe Biden. We found no evidence that the programme increased or decreased turnout on average. We found evidence of differential turnout effects by modelled level of Trump support: the campaign increased voting among Biden leaners by 0.4 percentage points (s.e. = 0.2 pp) and decreased voting among Trump leaners by 0.3 percentage points (s.e. = 0.3 pp) for a difference in conditional average treatment effects of 0.7 points (t1,035,571 = −2.09; P = 0.036; DICˆ=0.7DIC^=0.7 points; 95% confidence interval = −0.014 to 0). An important but exploratory finding is that the strongest differential effects appear in early voting data, which may inform future work on early campaigning in a post-COVID electoral environment. Our results indicate that differential mobilization effects of even large digital advertising campaigns in presidential elections are likely to be modest.

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“Twitter reverses longstanding ban on political advertising”


Twitter said it was relaxing its ban on political and issue-based advertising on Tuesday, a reversal of the company’s long-standing approach to paid political speech.

The policy change, which comes at a moment when major advertisers are defecting from the beleaguered social media platform, would allow candidates and advocacy groups to spend money to promote themselves and their causes on the service….

Twitter has long taken what it described as a principled stance against political advertising. When then-CEO Jack Dorsey announced the political ads bans in 2019, he said it was because he strongly believed that political messaging “should be earned, not bought.” That language was then posted on the company’s website, and was still there as of Tuesday afternoon.

The sudden reversal was characteristic of the slapdash and chaotic manner in which Twitter is being run under its new owner, billionaire Elon Musk. The company announced the change and promised to “share more details” as the work got underway. There was no explanation of why Twitter made the changes or how extensive the changes would be.

While Twitter was always a marginal player in political advertising compared with Google or Facebook, Tuesday’s move will enable political groups and figures to promote themselves in upcoming electoral contests.

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“Conceptual Replication of Four Key Findings about Factual Corrections and Misinformation During the 2020 U.S. Election: Evidence from Panel Survey Experiments”

Alexander Coppock, Kimberly Gross, Ethan Porter, Emily Thorson, and Thomas J. Wood, Conceptual Replication of Four Key Findings about Factual Corrections and Misinformation During the 2020 U.S. Election: Evidence from Panel Survey Experiments (British Journal of Political Science):

In the final two months of the 2020 U.S. election, we conducted eight panel experiments to evaluate the immediate and medium-term effects of misinformation and factual corrections. Our results corroborate four sets of existing findings: fact-checks reliably improve factual accuracy, while misinformation degrades it; effects of fact-checks on belief accuracy endure, although they fade with time; effects on attitudes are minuscule; and there are important partisan asymmetries. We also offer one new empirical finding suggesting that effect heterogeneities by personality type and cognitive style may reflect attention paid to treatments. Our study confirms that the fundamental push and pull of misinformation and factual corrections on political beliefs holds even in electoral settings as saturated with mistruths as the 2020 U.S. election.

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“Fourth Circuit urged to strike down North Carolina election libel law”

Courthouse News Service:

A Fourth Circuit panel heard arguments Tuesday over whether the campaign committee for North Carolina’s Democratic attorney general should face criminal charges under a state law banning the spread of false information to damage a candidate’s shot at winning an election.

During the 2020 election for state attorney general, Democratic incumbent Josh Stein released a TV ad accusing his Republican challenger, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill, of ignoring 1,500 untested rape kits in his district. 

Following the release of the ad, O’Neill promptly filed a complaint with the North Carolina State Board of Elections. He asked its members to investigate the ad under an obscure state law that bars candidates from making false and derogatory statements about their opponent that would hurt their chances of winning.

The briefs in Grimmett v. Freeman are here. The recording of oral argument in front of Judges Diaz, Rushing, and Heytens is here.

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Young and Independent Voters Want Campaigns to Leave Them Alone

A new survey by Civics finds that young and independent voters do not appreciate unsolicited emails and text messages from multiple campaigns and they would rather they stopped.

The survey analysts conclude: “Democrats are at risk of burning out their base of grassroots donors and driving away independent voters by continuing to send huge volumes of unsolicited emails and text messages.”

Key findings of the survey include:

  • A full 72% of independents and 67% of 18–34-year-olds indicated they would elect to stop receiving all political campaign emails and texts if that were possible.
  • Clear majorities of independents (57%) and 18–34-year-olds (59%) agreed with the statement: “I get too many impersonal emails and text messages from Democratic campaigns that I never signed up for.”
  • Among the crucial 18-34 demographic that played a major role in propelling many Democratic campaigns to victory, a full 50% described Democratic fundraising emails as “mostly annoying” while just 5% described them as “mostly helpful.”

The survey was conducted online between November 10-14 among 1,260 self-identified Democrats and Independents who voted Democratic in the 2016 or 2020 presidential elections.

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“Social media firms are prepping for the midterms. Experts say it may not be enough”


With two months to go until the midterms, tech companies are getting ready: rolling out fact checks, labeling misleading claims and setting up voting guides.

The election playbooks being used by FacebookTwitter, Google-owned YouTube and TikTok are largely in line with those they used in 2020, when they warned that both foreign and domestic actors were seeking to undermine confidence in the results.

But the wave of falsehoods in the wake of that election — including the “big lie” that Donald Trump won — has continued to spread, espoused by hundreds of Republican candidates on ballots this fall.

That’s left experts who study social media wondering what lessons tech companies have learned from 2020 — and whether they are doing enough this year.

The host of election-related announcements in recent weeks add up to a “business as usual” approach, said Katie Harbath, a former elections policy director at Facebook who’s now a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

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“How a Record Cash Haul Vanished for Senate Republicans”


The committee had squeezed donors with hyperaggressive new tactics. And all the money coming in obscured just how much the committee was spending advertising for donors. Then inflation sapped online giving for Republicans nationwide. And the money that had rolled in came at an ethical price.

One fund-raising scheme used by the Senate committee, which has not previously been disclosed, involved sending an estimated millions of text messages that asked provocative questions — “Should Biden resign?” — followed by a request for cash: “Reply YES to donate.” Those who replied “YES” had their donation processed immediately, though the text did not reveal in advance where the money was going.

Privately, some Republicans complained the tactic was exploitative. WinRed, the party’s main donation-processing platform, recently stepped in and took the unusual step of blocking the committee from engaging in the practice, according to four people familiar with the matter.

The texts had been part of a concerted push that successfully juiced fund-raising, though it used methods that experts say will eventually exhaust even the most loyal givers.

One internal N.R.S.C. budget document from earlier this year, obtained by The Times, shows that $23.3 million was poured into investments to find new donors between June 2021 and January 2022. In that time, the contributors the organization found gave $6.1 million — a more than $17 million deficit.

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“Inside The Right’s Historic Billion-Dollar Dark Money Transfer”

The Lever/ProPublica:

An elderly, ultra-secretive Chicago businessman has given the largest known donation to a political advocacy group in U.S. history — worth $1.6 billion — and the recipient is one of the prime architects of conservatives’ efforts to reshape the American judicial system, including the Supreme Court.

Through a series of opaque transactions over the past two years, Barre Seid, a 90-year-old manufacturing magnate, gave the massive sum to a nonprofit run by Leonard Leo, who co-chairs the conservative legal group the Federalist Society.

The donation was first reported by The New York Times on Monday. The Lever and ProPublica confirmed the information from documents received independently by the news organizations.

Our reporting sheds additional light on how the two men, one a judicial kingmaker and the other a mysterious but prolific donor to conservative causes, came together to create a political war chest that will likely supercharge efforts to further shift American politics to the right….

The creators of the Marble Freedom Trust shrouded their project in secrecy for more than two years.

The group’s name does not appear in any public database of business, tax or securities records. The Marble Freedom Trust is organized for legal purposes as a trust, rather than as a corporation. That means it did not have to publicly disclose basic details like its name, directors and address.

The trust was formed in Utah. Its address is a house in North Salt Lake owned by Tyler Green, a lawyer who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Green is listed in the trust’s tax return as an administrative trustee. The donation does not appear to violate any laws.

Seid’s $1.6 billion donation is a landmark in the era of deregulated political spending ushered in by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. That case, along with subsequent changes and weak federal oversight, empowered a tiny group of the super rich in both parties to fund groups that can spend unlimited sums to support candidates and political causes. In the last decade, donations in the millions and sometimes tens of millions of dollars have become common.

Individuals could give unlimited amounts of money to nonprofit groups prior to Citizens United, but the decision allowed those nonprofits to more directly influence elections. A handful of billionaires such as the Koch family and Soros have spent billions to achieve epochal political influence by bankrolling networks of nonprofits.

Even in this money-drenched world, Seid’s $1.6 billion gift exceeds all publicly known one-time donations to a politically oriented group….

illionaires tend to craft intricate estate plans to pass the family business to the next generation, fortified from taxation and protective of their vision. The apparently childless Seid didn’t have that option, but starting in April 2020, he set in motion a plan to make sure his fortune would go toward his favored causes.

That month, the Marble Freedom Trust was created, and Seid subsequently transferred his 100% ownership stake in Tripp Lite to the trust, according to the documents reviewed by The Lever and ProPublica.

In February 2021, Tripp Lite filed its annual reports with the state of Illinois as it had done for decades. But this time, Seid’s typewritten name had been crossed out as an officer of the company. Added as an officer, written in by hand, was Leonard Leo.

A Tripp Lite subsidiary in Nova Scotia, Canada, similarly removed Seid as a director and added Leo as a director in March 2021, according to disclosure filings.

Then, later that same month, Eaton Corporation, a large publicly traded company, acquired Tripp Lite for $1.65 billion.

The transactions appear to have been carefully sequenced to reap massive tax savings. Selling a company that has grown in value after decades of ownership is treated the same way for tax purposes as a person selling a share of stock. If the property has grown in value, capital gains taxes are due when it is sold.Give A Gift Subscription

But Seid transferred Tripp Lite to the Marble Freedom Trust, a nonprofit that is exempt from income tax, before the electronics company was sold. As a result, lawyers say, Seid avoided up to $400 million in state and federal income tax, preserving those funds for Leo’s operation.

“If the person who had owned the stock had sold the stock himself, he would’ve been taxed on the appreciation in the stock,” said Ellen Aprill, a tax law professor at Loyola Marymount University. “Whereas if you give it to the 501(c)(4), there’s no charitable deduction for giving the money, but you avoid the tax on all of that appreciation.”

Political advocacy nonprofits like the Marble Freedom Trust are formally called 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, after the section of the tax code. Informally, they are known as dark-money groups because donors can remain secret, in contrast to the public disclosures required of gifts to political campaigns or super PACs. While they can spend money directly advocating for or against candidates in political campaigns, such spending cannot be their primary purpose.

In giving to such a dark money group, Seid also avoided another federal levy, the gift tax, thanks to a change signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2015.

There’s a reason why giving money specifically to a trust might have been attractive for an older and ideological donor such as Seid. The founding documents that lay out how the trust will spend money can be harder to change than the governing documents of a corporation, according to Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a professor at Notre Dame Law School.

Mayer added that while corporations usually have at least three directors, trusts can have just a single trustee in charge of the organization’s activities.

Leo is the trustee and chairman of the Marble Freedom Trust. In other words, Leo is now in charge of the massive sum of money.

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