Wednesday, November 2, 2016

California must awkwardly defend obsolete anti-ballot selfie law

Golden State formally approved practice, but new law doesn’t take effect until 2017
A Los Angeles polling place as seen in 2012
A Los Angeles polling place as seen in 2012
On Wednesday, ACLU lawyers will square off against attorneys representing the California Secretary of State, asking a federal judge in San Francisco to impose a temporary restraining order on an already-overturned state law that forbids ballot selfies.
Two days earlier, various California chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit to essentially accelerate the effective date of a new law that specifically legalizes ballot selfies. The new law was signed by the governor on Sept. 29, 2016. As of now, however, that law does not take effect until Jan. 1, 2017.

Given that America conducts federal elections from the state and local level, the nation has no single election law. Instead, the US has a patchwork of ballot selfie legality. In late September 2016, the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a similar New Hampshire state law that banned the practice, calling it "facially unconstitutional."

This new lawsuit, filed by ACLU chapters representing Northern California, Southern California, and San Diego and Imperial Counties, argues that the previous law, which is still on the books, is similarly unconstitutional.

Michael Risher, an attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, wrote the following in a statement:

"People increasingly use photographs of their marked ballot as a way to express their support for candidates and issues. This is core political speech at the heart of the First Amendment. People have a constitutional right to share these photos, and I’m surprised that the government is trying to deny them this fundamental right when there is still a week before Election Day."

The hearing before US District Judge William Alsup is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 2, 12pm PT in Courtroom 8, 19th Floor, 450 Golden Gate Avenue, San Francisco.

(Full disclosure: according to the State of California, this reporter has already broken the law.)

By Cyrus Farivar

Source: Ars Technica

Boston law firm accused of massive straw-donor scheme

Hillary Clinton's campaign is returning thousands of dollars in donations linked to what may be one of the largest straw-donor schemes ever uncovered.

A small law firm that has given money to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Harry Reid, President Obama and many others is accused of improperly funneling millions of dollars into Democratic Party coffers. The program was exposed by the Center for Responsive Politics and the same team of Boston Globe investigative reporters featured in the movie "Spotlight."

The Thornton Law Firm has just 10 partners, but dollar for dollar, it's one of the nation's biggest political donors, reports CBS News correspondent Tony Dokoupil.

But according to the firm's own documents – leaked by a whistleblower -- days or even hours after making these donations, partners received bonuses matching the amount they gave.

"Once the law firm knew that we had these records, they didn't deny that this was the case," said Scott Allen, Boston Globe's Spotlight editor.

"If you give a donation and then somebody else reimburses you for that contribution, that is a clear violation of the spirit and the letter of the law at the state and federal levels," Allen added.

Federal law limits partnerships, like the Thornton Law Firm, to a maximum donation of $2,700 per candidate. But campaign finance watchdogs say the firm used its individual partners as straw donors, allowing it to funnel money to campaigns well above that legal limit.

"Straw donor reimbursement systems are something both the FEC and the Department of Justice take very seriously, and people have gone to jail for this," Center for Responsive Politics editorial director Viveca Novak said.

The Spotlight team and the Center for Responsive Politics looked at donations from three of the firm's partners from 2010 to 2014. The trio and one of their wives gave $1.6 million, mostly to Democrats. Over the same period, they received $1.4 million back in bonuses.

A Thornton spokesman said the bonuses are legal because they came out of each partner's ownership stake in the firm. In other words, they were paid with their own money.

In a statement, the firm said: "It was a voluntary program which only involved equity partners and their own personal after-tax money to make donations."

Through its employees, the firm gave to Democrats running in some of this year's most hotly contested races -- ones that could determine control of the U.S. Senate.
Thornton Law Firm donated to Democrats running in some of this year's most hotly contested races -- ones that could determine control of the U.S. Senate
Thornton Law Firm donated to Democrats running in some of this year's most hotly contested races -- ones that could determine control of the U.S. Senate
Massachusetts Republicans are calling for an investigation.

"In the end, it's about restoring integrity to a process that folks are already extremely wary of," Massachusetts Republican Party chair Kirsten Hughes said.

Allen said he's not "confident at all" that this is an isolated program at Thornton.

"We've had a number of parties coming forward to us saying, ‘Hey, they do this at our place too.' So the issue is always, can you prove it?" Allen said.

CBS News has learned the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center will file a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission Wednesday.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has received nearly $130,000 from the firm since 2007, told the Boston Globe she will not return any money unless investigators find the donations were illegal.

By CBS NEWS

Source: CBS NEWS