Daily Media Links 3/30: The Future of Free Speech, Trolls, Anonymity and Fake News Online, California ‘fake news’ bill falters amid free speech concerns, and more…

In the News                                       

The Federalist: How Fake ‘Transparency’ Laws Fuel Mobs That Attack Private Citizens For Free Speech

By Paul Jossey

A multi-million-dollar industry exists to convince (and force) Americans to accept political transparency as indispensable and privacy as dangerous. Disclosures have their place, but advocates of these policies-rarely targets themselves-ignore their price and limited place in the constitutional system.

In nonprofit advocacy, disclosure often enables harassment and intimidation for those whose stances clash with nation’s cultural elite. Historically, such disclosure also aimed to deter those who pushed for social change and civil rights…

Disclosure laws are supposed to monitor government, not private citizens. The public should know if a corporation, union, or wealthy individual with business before Senator X’s committee spends millions advocating his reelection. But the First Amendment protects nonprofit donors from public glare in part because they may take unpopular or controversial stances…

Two centuries ago, Tocqueville marveled at America’s organic, spontaneous civil society. Today more than one million groups thrive under our donor-protected system. Subjecting these donors to the harassment of today’s continual outrage machine serves no legitimate ends.

Free Speech                                      

Pew Research Center: The Future of Free Speech, Trolls, Anonymity and Fake News Online

By Lee Raine, Janna Anderson, and Jonathan Albright

To illuminate current attitudes about the potential impacts of online social interaction over the next decade, Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center conducted a large-scale canvassing of technology experts, scholars, corporate practitioners and government leaders. Some 1,537 responded to this effort between July 1 and Aug. 12, 2016 (prior to the late-2016 revelations about potential manipulation of public opinion via hacking of social media). They were asked:

In the next decade, will public discourse online become more or less shaped by bad actors, harassment, trolls, and an overall tone of griping, distrust, and disgust?…

The majority in this canvassing were sympathetic to those abused or misled in the current online environment while expressing concerns that the most likely solutions will allow governments and big businesses to employ surveillance systems that monitor citizens, suppress free speech and shape discourse via algorithms, allowing those who write the algorithms to sculpt civil debate.

Supreme Court                                      

Politico: Schumer’s Folly

By Liam Donovan

After three days of breezily proficient testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Neil Gorsuch emerged unscathed. The high court nominee deftly parried the barbed queries that came his way, calmly defusing and in some cases disarming his more heated inquisitors on the dais. The proceedings as a whole were anticlimactic, particularly in light of the frenzied health-care drama playing out on the other side of Capitol Hill. And yet less than 12 hours after the Judiciary Committee wrapped up its work for the week, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer took to the floor of the Senate to announce his intention to deny Gorsuch cloture, calling on his colleagues to join him in a procedural blockade of the judge’s nomination and daring Republicans to change the longstanding rules of the chamber…

Gorsuch is well-qualified for the job, acquitted himself admirably by any measure, and if an unprecedented partisan filibuster is the only thing standing between him and the bench, the Reid Rule will be invoked for the second time.

NBC News: Poll: Republicans, Dems Agree – Their Parties Are Deeply Divided

By Mark Hensch

One issue that may test Democrats’ unity is the vote on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

A majority of Americans overall (54 percent) say that Senate Democrats should allow a vote on Gorsuch. Just 37 percent say they should not allow a vote.

Democratic Senators have said they may filibuster Gorsuch in order to prevent a vote effectively leveraging their only opportunity to stop his appointment to the Supreme Court.

While a sizable majority of Democrats, 64 percent, say that Senate Democrats should prevent a vote, 31 percent say they should allow a vote.

Republicans nearly unanimously want Senate Democrats to allow the vote – 84 percent to 11 percent. While a majority of independents want to see a vote (58 percent), 30 percent say they should prevent a vote.

The Courts                                           

Lexington Herald-Leader: Herald-Leader sues city of Lexington, alleging First Amendment violations

By Beth Musgrave

The Lexington Herald-Leader has sued the city of Lexington, alleging that a new ordinance – which restricts where publications can be delivered – runs afoul of the First Amendment.

Lexington H-L Services Inc., doing business as the Lexington Herald-Leader, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Kentucky.

In addition to asserting that the ordinance is unconstitutional, the newspaper is asking a federal judge to issue an injunction stopping the city from enforcing the ordinance, which restricts the placement of unsolicited materials or circulars to a front porch, attached to the front door or through a mail slot…

By telling the newspaper how it can distribute its content, the city is violating the newspaper’s First Amendment rights to free speech, which gives the media protections on not only what it can say but how it can deliver news, the lawsuit alleges.

Independent Groups                                             

National Review: Senate Democrats v. Free Speech 

By Carrie Severino

Senator Schumer just joined Senators Whitehouse and Blumenthal in a “press conference” to criticize my organization, the Judicial Crisis Network, for its role in opposing Judge Garland’s nomination and in supporting Judge Gorsuch’s nomination.  Like third-world strongmen on a mission to stop dissent, they are demanding that we disclose our donors.  If they want to be known for an approach to public policy that relies on bullying and intimidation, that is their loss. We are not afraid.  We are proud to count on supporters who value privacy and freedom of expression and we will continue to support the confirmation of exceptionally qualified nominees like Neil Gorsuch.

CNN: Trump political groups split over Mercer money

By Theodore Schleifer

The political network supporting Donald Trump has further splintered after the President’s major influential donors on Wednesday formally defected to start their own group to air ads backing the White House.

The new group, Making America Great, said in a statement it plans to run more than $1 million in television and digital ads to boost Trump’s popularity and agenda. The group said the nonprofit will be funded by the Mercer family – a wealthy New York father-daughter pair who have built a wide network in GOP politics…

The Mercers had previously been expected to support a different group, America First Policies, which was formed by a half-dozen former senior campaign aides. But that group has been beset by constant drama over its direction, and the frustrated Mercers for weeks have been said to be eyeing their own group.

Meanwhile, Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and the country’s largest Republican donor, is not expected to back any of the warring Trump groups, according to a person familiar with his plans, despite his fondness for Trump’s hawkish policies on Israel.

Donors                                             

The Atlantic: The Problem With Modern Philanthropy

By Alana Semuels

Individuals made rich by the tech boom or the financial markets are vowing to give money away at unprecedented levels. But this type of philanthropy creates challenges in a democracy, argues David Callahan, the founder and editor of the website Inside Philanthropy, in his new book, The Givers: Money, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age. The gifts come at a time when government is shrinking, and when, in some cases, philanthropic dollars replace or supplant government functions. That can mean that it’s philanthropists who decide what scientific issues are researched, what types of schools exist in communities, and what initiatives get on ballots. “It’s great to have these new donors appearing on the scene at a time when government is being cut,” Callahan told me, in a phone interview. “On the other hand, there’s no question that with money comes power and influence.”…

Callahan says that one of his main goals in writing the book was to make people more aware of just how influential today’s philanthropists are. “I think the more people understand how much power the wealthy have through philanthropy, the more they’re likely to see it as part of this larger pattern of the wealthy speaking with a larger and larger voice, even as ordinary people struggle to be heard at all,” he told me.

The States

Washington Times: California ‘fake news’ bill falters amid free speech concerns

By Andrew Blake

A legislative proposal aimed at outlawing “fake news” websites was sidelined in the California State Legislature at the eleventh hour Tuesday upon drawing fire from free speech advocates over its certain implications on the First Amendment.

California Assemblyman Ed Chau, Monterey Park Democrat, abruptly canceled plans Tuesday to hold a hearing dedicated to A.B. 1104, a bill that would have made it illegal to publish false or deceptive statements on the internet about a political candidate or ballot measure.

Also known as the California Political Cyberfraud Abatement Act, Mr. Chau’s office previously called the proposal “an important step forward in the fight against ‘fake news’ and deceptive campaign tactics.” Critics said the offering was blatantly in violation of free speech laws, however, and mounted a campaign earlier this week aimed at tabling the bill amid First Amendment concerns.

Richmond Times-Dispatch: Just what America needs – a government truth squad

By A. Barton Hinkle

If there’s one thing this country needs, it’s a Ministry of Truth. Just ask California lawmakers…

Assembly member Ed Chau has introduced legislation that – you’d better sit down for this part – would render it illegal to knowingly “make, publish or circulate on an Internet Web site” a “false or deceptive statement” meant to influence the vote on any issue or candidate.

Let the government punish people for false statements? What a great idea! That has worked out just splendidly for much of human history, has it not?

Note that the measure would outlaw not only the making of false statements, but also the publishing and circulation of them – which presumably means that if you share a false post on Facebook or retweet a link to a false story, then California’s speech police could come after you, too…

People who come up with bright ideas like this always seem to think they’ll be the ones enforcing the law. They seem incapable of imagining a world in which their political enemies win elections and gain control over the powers they create for themselves. Then they are horrified to discover what they unleashed.

Connecticut Post: “Dark money” targeted in partisan committee vote

By Ken Dixon

In a partisan committee vote Monday night, a bill was approved that would shine light on so-called dark money, the anonymous political contributions usually bundled by out-of-state interests to influence statewide and legislative elections.

Republicans think the majority should start campaign finance reforms in their own caucus, where a proliferation of individual PACs spread money throughout the recent state-election process.

The Government Administration & Elections Committee, with a one-vote Democratic majority, pushed through legislation that would require corporations to disclose the votes of their boards of directors when they make political contributions and limit so-called independent expenditures to $70,000 a year.

The bill passed 9-8, during the committee’s last meeting before its deadline. The legislation, which passed with no discussion after five-and-a-half hours of closed door caucusing by Republicans and Democrats, heads to the House.

New York Daily News: De Blasio’s legal defense fund-raising suffers blow as city board rules each donation cannot exceed $50

By Jillian Jorgensen and Greg B. Smith

Mayor de Blasio may have avoided criminal charges – but there’s no getting out of those large legal bills. 

After hoping to hit up big-money donors to pay for lawyers, a city Conflicts of Interest Board ruling Wednesday greatly restricts the mayor’s ability to raise that cash.

The $50 or less cap for each contribution to his legal defense fund means de Blasio will struggle to pay off those $500-an-hour lawyers hired to defend him against two criminal probes that had been looking into his sketchy fund-raising efforts…

On Wednesday, the conflicts board decided that all donations to such a legal defense fund would be considered a “valuable gift” – and as such under campaign finance laws would be restricted to less than $50 per contributor… 

Questioned by reporters an hour after the decision was released, de Blasio implied he might try to change the law to allow for bigger donations.

“The Conflicts of Interest Board has raised a set of concerns, we’ll certainly engage them on that,” he said. “It may have to be addressed legislatively but it may not.”  

Greenfield Recorder: Area voters to see measures aiming to limit spending on national elections

By Richie Davis

Even as local voters prepare to head to annual town meetings this spring, several towns are considering measures that would limit the influence of money in national politics and provide for greater transparency in political donations.

A proposed resolution in Greenfield and warrant articles in Montague, Colrain, Shutesbury, Whately and other towns are among those influenced by the Northampton-based pro-democracy group Represent.Us.

Reed Schimmelfing of Represent Western Mass, an affiliate of the national nonpartisan anti-corruption group, said that has inspired measures to be approved in South Dakota as well as Portland, Ore.; Miami-Dade County, Fla,; and San Francisco. He added that residents in Colrain, Conway, Shutesbury, Whately and several Hampshire County communities have been circulating measures for upcoming annual warrants…

“The point is we are affected by this, even if our community is squeaky clean, even if our legislator is the upstanding citizen we believe,” said the Northampton resident. “Across the country, it happens, sometimes very blatantly, sometimes insidiously. And we are the poorer for it.”

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.