A few items from the past month:
• The North Carolina State Bar is interfering in judicial elections by threatening to sue a challenger for false advertising because his campaign signs don’t include the words “for” or “vote for.” The challenger is a Republican, and the incumbent is a Democrat. Dan Way reports: “Like campaign signs posted by a host of candidates, including Supreme Court hopeful Sam Ervin IV and Court of Appeals candidate Lisa Inman, both Democrats, Phillips’ signs displayed only his name and the position for which he is running.” [Carolina Journal, March 13]
• Another item from North Carolina: The conservative John William Pope Center doesn’t count as a credible think tank on education issues—not in the eyes of the profs at the University of North Carolina, anyway. Jenna Robinson reports that the faculty’s resource page lists only one think tank alongside links to a variety of government offices—“NC Policy Watch, the ‘progressive, nonprofit and non-partisan public policy’ project of the NC Justice Center that regularly calls for increased funding for the UNC system.” [The Locker Room, March 12]
• Suggest that public schools shouldn’t get any money unless students choose to attend them and you’re likely to see a liberal’s head explode. Public schools will teach the kids that President Herbert Hoover had laissez faire economic policies; for a liberal, that kind of whacky history is a feature, not a bug of public schools. But what happens when you are a non-profit that teaches about the philosophical connections between religious faith and free market economics? Apparently, that’s so far out that it disqualifies you from being considered a charitable educational institution in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Acton Institute conducts a variety of outreach and educational programs that present a faith-based case for free market economics, including its annual Acton University. The Institute is recognized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit by the Internal Revenue Service. Nevertheless, Grand Rapids has denied Acton’s request for nonprofit status in a letter that did not explain the reasons for the denial, reports Matt Vande Bunte. The city values Acton’s newly renovated offices, purchased in 2012, at $1.8 million and wants the Institute to pay $91,000 in property taxes on the property. [MLive.com, March 7]
• In Wisconsin, Democrats are chilling conservative political speech by conducting a John Doe investigation of 29 conservative groups that they say illegally coordinated their communications with the Scott Walker (R) campaign during the 2012 recall campaign. Of course, the prosecutors don’t have any evidence of that, which is the reason they have resorted to a John Doe investigation instead of filing charges. As Jason Stverak notes, such investigations come with gag orders on the non-accused targets of the investigation; which means the targets are prevented from responding when investigation details leak to the media. [Watchdog.org, March 4]
• The Federal Communications Commission has backed off of its plan to monitor broadcast newrooms to find out if stations are covering “the right” stories. The agency, however, is still busy implementing its media ownership rules, and those may turn into a tool to keep down a black conservative, reports Phillip Swarts. Armstrong Williams recently purchased two television stations, and a key part of that purchase was a service-sharing agreement with Sinclair Broadcasting Group. Shortly after the conservative commentator bought the stations, the FCC announced it would examine whether service-sharing agreements are a way for media companies to evade limits on media concentration. Williams said he would not have been able to make the purchase without the service-sharing agreement, under which Sinclair sells advertising for the station and provides other services. [Washington Times, March 10]
• Media critics, meanwhile, are worried that the late Andrew Breitbart’s and James O’Keefe’s expose-driven journalism has permanently lowered the quality of news consumption. In February, the Brookings Institution’s Darrell West and Beth Stone published a paper contending that the media should present more thoughtful, less polarizing analysis of public policy issues. As Mike Gonzalez notes, however, West and Stone begin their argument by observing that the most conservative Democrat is to the left of the most liberal Republican. As a rule, complaints about political polarization are almost always a cipher for complaints about conservatives winning policy arguments. Indeed, as Gonzalez goes on to point out, West and Stone “make clear that ‘thoughtful reporting’ would be what Ezra Klein, Andrew Sullivan, Jill Abramson, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez—journalists ranging from liberal to very liberal—think is thoughtful.” If news consumers need help finding “thoughtful” analysis, who is to do the helping? Facebook and Google, of course. Conservatives should be wary, says Gonzalez. [The Federalist, March 13]
Less nuanced assaults on free speech abound: Global warming scientist Michael Mann wants to silence critic Mark Steyn with a libel suit. Modesto College wanted to keep student Robert Van Tuinen from handing out the Constitution on Constitution Day (it lost in a lawsuit by Van Tuinen). McGill University forced a student to apologize for the “micro-aggression” of emailing a non-flattering Obama gif.
The big and continuing story, of course, is the Internal Revenue Service’s invasive, burdensome, and selective requests for information from conservative nonprofits applying for tax exempt status, and the agency’s efforts to codify its abuse with new rules. Official Washington is hung up on the question of whether there was White House direction of the agency’s foot-dragging that sidelined conservative groups from legitimate participation in the political process for one whole election cycle. We learned this week from the report of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that the key official at the Internal Revenue Service was very worried that the Internal Revenue Service would get blamed for letting conservatives win elections. The report quotes Lois Lerner, head of the IRS’s exempt organizations unit:
The Supreme Court dealt a huge blow, overturning a 100-year old precedent that basically corporations couldn’t give directly to political campaigns. And everyone is up in arms because they don’t like it. The Federal Election Commission can’t do anything about it. […]
So everybody is screaming at us right now: ‘Fix it now before the election. Can’t you see how much these people are spending?’
The report continues:
Lerner openly shared her opinion that the Executive Branch needed to take steps to undermine the Supreme Court’s decision. Her view was abundantly clear in many instances, including in one when Sharon Light, another senior advisor to Lerner, e-mailed Lerner an article about allegations that unknown conservative donors were influencing U.S. Senate races. The article explained how outside money was making it increasingly difficult for Democrats to remain in the majority in the Senate. Lerner replied: “Perhaps the FEC will save the day.” [“Lois Lerner’s Involvement in the IRS Targeting of Tax-Exempt Organizations“ Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives, March 11, 2014]
Do we really need evidence that somebody at the White House told somebody at the IRS to crackdown on conservatives in order to know what’s going on? We can see that liberals are worried about losing power to conservatives, and we can see how often in the normal course of affairs they bend the cultural and professional institutions they control as well as the ostensibly non-partisan government agencies to the task of keeping liberalism in power. The evidence is all around us.