Candidates are after you for donations. (I know this because they’re after me, too.) I propose an alternative in these weeks before the election: support your local pro-life blog.
Judging from the jump in viewership on the blog around primary election day, Leaven for the Loaf had something readers weren’t finding elsewhere in campaign coverage. From interviews with U.S. Senate candidates Jim Rubens and Bob Smith to conversations with state senate candidates, every post with a bearing on the 2014 campaign saw a spike in views leading up to primary day, September 9. In addition, the blog’s September 8 newsletter about state representative candidates got more circulation than any previous Leaven newsletter.
I can take a hint. Count on more coverage of candidates before the general election on November 4. You’ll still find plenty of commentary here, along with reports on events like 40 Days for Life. The 2014 election is clearly on the minds of New Hampshire’s pro-life voters, though. Those voters can count on Leaven.
Can you afford to donate five dollars? That will cover enough gas for a round trip to Concord when I’m covering hearings or rallies. Will you donate $100? That’s enough for one month of web hosting and technical support. Whatever you can afford, thank you.
I’m a blogger. I write about politics. I spend money to keep the blog going. Does that make me an entity that has to register with the state? And isn’t it a little bit creepy to contemplate requiring writers to register with the government? I wish I didn’t have to worry about that.
There’s a push in Concord to Do Something (Anything!) about campaign financing. More transparency. Know who all those donors are. Find out just who’s “really” funding politics. And as often happens when politicians get the itch to Do Something (Anything!), there are questions that get glossed over. Such is the case with New Hampshire’s Senate Bill 120.
I wrote a few months back in “I Am Not a PAC (some people have to be told)” about a guy in another state who blogged about politics, sponsored meetings, made flyers, and spent money to do so. He was accused by a local GOP official of failing to register as a PAC, since he was obviously spending money to influence elections.
I thought that was a stupid accusation then, and I still do. Now, New Hampshire has this bill. I have reason to take it personally. Or maybe I don’t. It depends on which supporter of SB 120 I’m talking to.
I promote pro-life public policy. I criticize attacks on the right to life and on the rights of individuals putting their peaceful beliefs into practice. That means I mention names of incumbents and candidates and bills.
SB 120 would require a political committee to register with the secretary of state, pay a fee, and make periodic financial reports including names of donors and the amount of each donation. Now, let’s look at the language and definitions in excerpts of SB 120 as it might apply to political bloggers. I’ve added emphasis here and there.
“Political committee” means [among other things] “Any organization of 2 or more persons that promotes the success or defeat of a candidate or candidates or measure or measures, including the political committee of a political party; ..As used in this paragraph, ‘organization’ includes, but is not limited to, one or more natural persons…”
“Expenditure” means disbursement of money or thing of value, or a promise of disbursement, or a transfer from one political committee to another, but …
“Expenditure” shall not include activity designed to encourage people to register to vote or to vote (as long as a specific candidate isn’t mentioned), any communication by any membership organization or corporation to its members or stockholders (as long as the primary purpose of the organization isn’t to promote or defeat of a candidate or candidates and measure or measures), or any communication by any political committee that is not made for the purpose of promoting the success or defeat of candidate(s) or measure(s).
And here’s my personal favorite: “political advocacy organization” means any entity that spends $5000 or more in a calendar year to pay for a communication that is “functionally equivalent to express advocacy” because, when taken as a whole, such communication is likely to be interpreted by a reasonable person only as advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate(s) or measure(s).
Excerpts, as I said. The whole dreary thing is here.
Don’t worry, I’ve been told; it only applies to two or more people. Problem: do the people I hire for tech support count as “people” under the bill? If I run guest posts, does that trigger the two-or-more provision? And what about the provision of the law a few lines down from “two or more people” that says an organization is “one or more natural persons”?
Don’t worry, I’ve been told; you don’t count because the blog’s communications don’t exist for the primary purpose of supporting/opposing candidates. Problem: Who’s going to determine my primary purpose? It would an administrative determination, with no appeal, leaving me subject to fines and possible prosecution for “false swearing.” I’m here to write in support of a culture of life. That means I spend a lot of time tracking bills and noting what officeholders and candidates are saying. I make it clear who’s not going to be any help on the life issues. What is some bureaucrat going to conclude about my “primary purpose”?
By the way, if you think accusations of violations of the law wouldn’t be publicized all over the place, you’re too naive to be allowed loose. One accusation of “campaign finance” violations would be enough to sully someone’s reputation permanently. Exoneration wouldn’t get nearly the same coverage.
Don’t worry, I’ve been told; your blog expenses won’t reach the “expenditure” threshold under law. And if they did, “we” (who’s “we”?) would divide your posts into political and non-political and prorate your expenditures accordingly. Problem: that prorate thing is nowhere in the bill. As for what I spend on the blog, I assure you that hosting, tech support, and travel add up.
You can understand why I’m concerned. The Senate will decide soon if it can live with the House amendment to SB 120. If the bill passes, it goes into effect immediately.
What am I supposed to do then? Keep a lawyer on retainer? That, I can’t afford.
One last question, to which no one has yet offered an answer: will putting my blog on a government registry really do anything to bring “transparency” to politics?
I find it impossible to write about the life issues without also writing about politics, politicians, and public policy. I am not registered with either the Federal Elections Commission or the New Hampshire Secretary of State as a political action committee. I don’t see a problem there. A fellow blogger is discovering that in his case, there IS a problem. He is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to straighten things out.
Noted with alarm: this item from the Wall Street Journal weekend edition of September 7. To summarize briefly, an Ohio man named Ed Corsi started a political web site in 2008. He blogged. He sponsored meetings. He made flyers and distributed them. He spent money to maintain his site, hold the meetings, and print those flyers. That’s what nailed him, apparently. A local GOP official who was also a member of the board of elections accused Corsi of not printing disclaimers on his flyers as required by law for PACs. Corsi was spending money to influence elections, said the accuser.
This blog isn’t “registered” with anyone aside from WordPress, the blog platform I use. It certainly isn’t a money-making operation yet. It is, however, frankly political. Politics, culture, and the right to life are inextricably linked. I didn’t link them myself.
Does that make me a “political action committee”? Somehow, I doubt that the first advocates of campaign finance reform had writers in mind – even opinionated writers. Imagine the writers of the Federalist Papers, anonymous (“Publius”) even though their identities are now known to history, being hauled into court for not having disclaimers on their appeals for ratification of the Constitution. Granted, they were promoting ballot questions rather than candidates. The principle is the same: writers supporting one side or another in a political question should not have to register with the government.
So I’m not registering. I’m writing. And I’m keeping an eye on the Corsi case.
How do “pro-life” and “conservative” fit together? They’re not quite synonymous. Here at Red State Gathering 2013, I am definitely in a conservative group. We’re hearing from some elected officials (Ted Cruz, Tim Scott, Bobby Jindal), as well as from some challengers who hope to take out less-conservative Republicans in upcoming elections. I came here to New Orleans to hear for myself where the right to life figures into these speeches. So far, it doesn’t. Fair enough; this isn’t a pro-life convention. It’s interesting nonetheless to note what these folks choose to talk about.
(Do any of my readers wonder why I haven’t spent time lately at gatherings of Democrats? Simple: if there’s any division among Democrats over Roe, abortion funding, and abortion regulation, I haven’t seen it.)
Before I ask a candidate anything, I like to listen to his or her stump speech. What does he mention without prompting? What’s left out? That’s as enlightening as anything that comes out in Q & A. Today, among eleven speakers, two themes shared top emphasis: how to get rid of Obamacare, and how to control an overreaching IRS. Good speakers, polished deliveries – and no one mentioned abortion, the HHS mandate, or wars on women. Well, one exception – the chaplain who said the opening prayer was blunt about calling to account all religious leaders who have been silent about abortion out of fear of losing tax-exempt status.
Fine, as far as that goes. As I said, this isn’t a pro-life convention. Still, I wonder how many of these “disruptive Republicans” (in the phrase of Red State’s organizer, Erick Erickson) are prepared to address these matters effectively once Dems go on the attack. Obamacare, IRS abuses, and immigration reform are flashy right now, and every candidate seems to have a position paper ready on those topics. The right to life? Not so much.
A few observations from the day:
Senator Ted Cruz was the star of the show, if the size of the press contingent that followed him around is any indication. Cruz was an underdog when he ran for Senate, and he likes to talk about that by way of encouraging fellow conservatives to stick to their guns, figuratively speaking. He wants to de-fund Obamacare, but he acknowledged bluntly that the votes aren’t there in the Senate to make that happen. Not yet, anyway. He exhorted the grassroots to put pressure on Senators.
Matt Bevin wants to take on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. Tall order, and he knows it. He wants no more debt ceiling increases (a popular stand here) and no amnesty for immigrants arriving illegally (ditto). He mentioned he was brought up in northern New Hampshire, but I didn’t get a chance to ask him in which town.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina was asked how he, an African-American, got so many votes from white voters: “I said please.”
Obamacare was rhetorically slapped around for eight solid hours today. I’m OK with that. The First Amendment violation inherent in the law is reason enough to ditch it, but I will gladly work alongside anyone who wants to repeal it for any reason.
There was exactly one mention of a re-definition of marriage. Candidate Larry Rhoden, who wants to be elected to the U.S. Senate from South Dakota, called re-definition “unacceptable.” One sentence, and then on to the next topic.
Two of the most impassioned speakers were people who aren’t running for anything. Jenny Beth Martin of Tea Party Patriots and Kevin Kookogey of Linchpins of Liberty had personal stories about IRS treatment of their respective groups. Scary stuff.
Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana was the day’s closing speaker, talking about educational choice. He has irritated some activists with his support for Common Core. When he was questioned sharply about that during Q & A, he stood firm. Rightly or wrongly, he thinks Common Core is fine as long as it’s accepted by a local school board and not imposed from Washington. (Not going there …) In his capacity as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he made a good pitch for Virginia candidate Ken Cuccinelli.
I’ll be taking Leaven slightly-outside the Beltway later this week, as I head to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland from Thursday through Saturday, March 14-15-16. There will be hundreds of reporters and bloggers there to follow every word from the rock stars at the main podium. I’m less interested in the rock stars, fascinating though they may be, than I am in the pro-lifers at the event. I am also interested in how politicians who spent all last year calling social issues a “distraction” talk about the pro-life movement now.
Why am I heading down there when I’m not getting paid? Because I honestly believe pro-lifers need to keep an ear to the ground and do their own reporting when politicians have a gathering like this. With all due respect to legacy media and conservative bloggers, news and commentary of interest to pro-life voters often gets lost in the shuffle. What I’ll be watching and listening for:
Who mentions social issues in a speech, and who doesn’t? Who writes off or scolds pro-lifers, or uses that dreaded d-word (“Distraction”)?
Do any of these potential candidates and policy wonks understand the religious liberty threat posed by Obamacare? Will any of them attack the HHS mandate, which by the way would be a winning issue for any candidate with the gumption to use it?
What’s the buzz about New Hampshire’s First-In-The-Nation primary? Many of these speakers will be making the rounds of our Old Home Days in a couple of years, if not earlier. Do they appreciate our state’s role in the process? [Post-CPAC note: this wasn’t addressed at the sessions I attended.]
There are three tiers of speakers and presentations at CPAC going on simultaneously, and some of the most interesting events are the less-heralded ones. That’s where the life-issue presentations are hidden, for the most part. I want to shine a light on them.
What’s in the exhibit hall, away from the cameras and mics?
And so forth. While I’ll be working from a schedule, I expect to improvise. Major media will cover the A-list speakers, so if I miss Donald Trump in favor of a panel on Obamacare, I won’t worry.
Pro-life, conservative, and Republican are not the same thing, although there is significant overlap. I have a stake in each camp, as a pro-life independent (and recovering Republican) who is conservative in many but not all respects. That’s the perspective I’m bringing to the party this weekend. CPAC is sponsored by the American Conservative Union, its main speakers are high-profile Republicans, and once-and-future candidates for high office will strut their stuff in front of thousands of activists, pitching for votes. I expect to be in blogger heaven.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte is one of the featured speakers Friday morning. [An earlier version of this post mentioned state Rep. Marilinda Garcia as one of the emcees; an updated schedule does not show her name.]
My apologies in advance to my email subscribers; I don’t mean to spam you. I will liveblog each day, and I hope not every update will trigger a message to your inbox. In addition, I’ll have special-feature posts as coverage demands.