Daily Media Links 4/26: Lawsuit Challenges Oregon Law Prohibiting Mathematical Criticism Without a License, Social Media in Politics-and The Problem of What (or Not) to Do About Fake News, and more…

Supreme Court

Courthouse News Service: Justices Reject Alabama Campaign-Finance Case

By Dan McCue

The Supreme Court said Monday they won’t take up a case challenging Alabama’s ban on the transfer of campaign contributions between political action committees.

The decision of the justices left in place an 11th Circuit ruling that the 2010 law does not unconstitutionally restrict political speech…

In order to comply with the law, the the Alabama Democratic Conference established separate banks accounts for candidate contributions and its other expenditures. It then proceeded to sue to the state and the Alabama attorney general, arguing in the 2011 case that the law violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

A federal judge in Birmingham, Alabama granted ADC summary judgment, and enjoined the state from enforcing the law.

But 11th Circuit reversed the ruling, asserting, “in prohibiting limits on independent expenditures, Citizens United heavily emphasized the independent, uncoordinated nature of those expenditures, which alleviates concerns about corruption. But the independence of an organization like the ADC, which both makes independent expenditures and contributes directly to candidates, may be called into question and concerns of corruption may reappear.”

The Courts

Institute for Justice: Lawsuit Challenges Oregon Law Prohibiting Mathematical Criticism Without a License

By J. Justin Wilson

Although Oregon resident Mats Järlström’s mathematical theories are more earthly than Galileo’s or da Vinci’s, he faced a similar inquisition by the Oregon engineering board after he publicly criticized the standard formula used to time yellow traffic lights.

But now Mats, working in partnership with the Institute for Justice, is fighting back against the state’s unconstitutional ban on mathematical debate. Today he filed a lawsuit against the board in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the state’s requirement that citizens must obtain an engineering license in order to publicly debate anything involving “engineering.”

“Criticizing the government’s engineering isn’t a crime; it’s a constitutional right,” said Sam Gedge, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represents Mats in the lawsuit. “Under the First Amendment, you don’t need to be a licensed lawyer to write an article critical of a Supreme Court decision, you don’t need to be a licensed landscape architect to create a gardening blog, and you don’t need to be a licensed engineer to talk about traffic lights. Whether or not you use math, criticizing the government is a core constitutional right that cannot be hampered by onerous licensing requirements.”

CommonWealth Magazine: The great union loophole

By Paul D. Craney and James M. Manley

Newly seated Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch once wrote, “There is something distinct, different, and more problematic afoot when the government selectively infringes on a fundamental right.”

The Massachusetts union loophole, upheld last week in Superior Court, does just that.

The union loophole allows unions to contribute up to $15,000 to state candidates, while limiting individuals to $1,000 and preventing employers from contributing anything at all…

The law has been challenged by businesses owned by Rick Green and Mike Kane, both officers on Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance’s board of directors. Their suit charges that by enforcing different rules on businesses and unions, the law violates both constitutionally protected free speech and equal protection…

The next step in the union loophole lawsuit is an appeal to the state Supreme Judicial Court. Because equal protection is a fundamental freedom, we are optimistic that justice will finally be served.


Vox: Elizabeth Warren: Obama was wrong. The system is more rigged than you know.

By Ezra Klein

Klein: Let me ask you about the other side of this. One thing that can happen, particularly on the left, is that disagreement gets dismissed as the system being rigged. I think sometimes about a quote Bernie Sanders had where he said that only 10 to 15 percent of the population would be Republican if not for big money obfuscating everything and changing people’s minds.

Do you think that’s right? Or is that an easy out, where liberals who want to see something controversial get done find it easier to say, “That’s not happening because the rich are stopping it,” rather than, “That’s not happening because Republicans really disagree, or because the public doesn’t trust the government to take on that kind of a role, or because people just fear change”?

Warren: Look, I get the point. There are just things on which we disagree. You notice Bernie’s quote did not say nobody could be a Republican. He just says, “Look, a lot of the reason that Republicans are able to get out there and get votes is because the influence of money has changed the landscape, has tilted the playing field, has changed how people think about these issues and how people debate these issues.”

Triple Pundit: Proposed Bill in Congress Would Silence Activist Investors

By Leon Kaye

Supporters of the Financial Choice Act 2.0, including Jeb Hensarling, Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, claim that this legislation will hold Wall Street accountable by empowering ordinary Americans instead of Washington, D.C. bureaucrats.

But critics of this legislation, which promises to overhaul the Dodd-Frank Act, say that if this bill becomes law, it will do more than end the “too big to fail era” and end the banking bailouts, which in part fueled the rise of the Tea Party earlier this decade. They argue that the legislation throws the baby out with the bathwater, as it would phase out the mechanism by which activist shareholders have been able to nudge companies to become more environmentally and socially responsible…

The effect would serve to muzzle the vast majority of shareholders, who in the past have pushed for reforms related to executive compensation, lobbying activities, climate change and campaign finance.

Independent Groups

NPR: In Trump’s First 100 Days, A Resistance Network Digs In

By Peter Overby

Donald Trump won the presidency back in November, but for many liberal organizations, the battle continues. A loose network of lawyers and watchdogs has dug in to scrutinize issues involving the Trump administration’s ethics and transparency.

Key topics include: the conflicts between Trump’s business interests and his presidential duties; the constitutional questions raised by his foreign profits; and the performance of his appointees, many of whom now run agencies overseeing the industries they themselves came from.

The groups feel their work is essential, given that Trump’s Republican Party controls both the House and Senate. So far, Republican lawmakers have made oversight of the executive branch’s ethics a low priority. A central figure in the opposition network is Fred Wertheimer, of the research and strategy group Democracy 21. He says: “The common understanding in the watchdog community is that we’re going to have to hold the Trump administration responsible, because no one else is going to do it.”

Free Speech

Wall Street Journal: Those ‘Snowflakes’ Have Chilling Effects Even Beyond the Campus

By Heather Mac Donald

Campus intolerance is at root not a psychological phenomenon but an ideological one. At its center is a worldview that sees Western culture as endemically racist and sexist. The overriding goal of the educational establishment is to teach young people within the ever-growing list of official victim classifications to view themselves as existentially oppressed. One outcome of that teaching is the forceful silencing of contrarian speech…

Faculty and campus administrators must start defending the Enlightenment legacy of reason and civil debate. But even if dissenting thought were welcome on college campuses, the ideology of victimhood would still wreak havoc on American society and civil harmony. The silencing of speech is a massive problem, but it is a symptom of an even more profound distortion of reality.

The Media

More Soft Money Hard Law: Social Media in Politics-and The Problem of What (or Not) to Do About Fake News

By Bob Bauer

The task of designing these policies confronts, in the first place, wide differences within the news-consuming public about what is fake and what is real. Of course, there are easily identifiable extremes, such as the kind of “stories” that beckon to shoppers at check out counters from the front pages of tabloids. Some may buy these tall tales, but a policy with implications for free speech is not easily devised to catch just the gross falsehoods. It is the series of gradations from true to misleading to inarguably false that pose the challenge. Moreover, the gains of policies focused on preposterous lies are unclear, since denying fodder for the reader ready to be convinced that Candidate X is a murderer does not mean that he or she will now turn to more reliable sources of information and become a better-informed citizen….

Behind all this is the question of how voters do or do not “deliberate” on reliable information in making policy and electoral choices. Democrats tend to stick with Democratic beliefs about the facts, and Republicans do the same, and what each believes is true about the world may diverge sharply and follow their different partisan preferences.

Trump Administration 

NPR: Trump’s Efforts To ‘Drain The Swamp’ Lagging Behind His Campaign Rhetoric

By Peter Overby

At a Wisconsin rally last October, Trump announced, “It is time to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C. This is why I’m proposing a package of ethics reforms to make our government honest once again.”

The phrase “drain the swamp” didn’t originate with the Trump campaign. Advocates of tougher laws on political money and lobbying have used it for years.

But Trump had a plan. Trump promised to impose stronger “revolving door” rules, which basically say an official cannot leave government and then start lobbying his or her former colleagues. He did what he said he would do: Set a five-year revolving-door ban for his appointees; it’s in an executive order on ethics he issued in January…

At that Wisconsin rally, Trump had one more reform: “I’m going to ask Congress to pass a campaign finance reform that prevents registered foreign lobbyists from raising money in American elections and politics.”

But if he has asked, Congress hasn’t responded. No bill has been introduced…

In a statement to NPR, the White House said Trump has “kept his promise of not being swayed by special interests” as he attacks the swamp.

The States

Montana Public Radio: State Campaign Finance Reform Bill Hits Snag In Senate 

By Corin Cates-Carney

Senate Bill 368 narrowly passed out of the House, while picking up opposition from Democrats and some Republicans to the idea of raising contribution limits to political candidates…

The bill would raise the amount of money individuals, political parties and committees can give to candidates seeking public office.

Senator Tom Richmond says new limits needed to be set after a federal judge last year struck down the old limits as unconstitutional and too low.

The bill sponsored by Democratic and Republican Senators would also remove a loophole that allows candidates to roll over extra fundraising money from primary to general elections.

On Monday, the Senate rejected the amended version of SB 368 sent to them by the House and moved to a conference committee, to be negotiated by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House and Senate.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Ethics reform in three acts, a Missouri tragedy 

By Tony Messenger

All weekend, Schaaf’s cellphone had been blowing up with calls emanating from advertisements that a Greitens-controlled committee funded by secret donations placed on social media platforms. The ads falsely claim that Schaaf, who for two years has sponsored the most comprehensive ethics reform package in the Legislature, is somehow blocking the governor’s lobbyist gift ban.

That the governor used a dark-money committee called New Missouri Inc., to stage the attack tells voters all they need to know about how serious Greitens is about ethics reform…

Early this month, John Pudner and Dan Krassner were back in Missouri. They’re part of the national coalition that is pushing serious anti-corruption measures state by state. Krassner is the political director for Represent.Us, a bipartisan group targeting political corruption. Pudner is the founder of Take Back Our Republic, a conservative group targeting the same issues. Their coalition now includes Patriotic Millionaires and other groups. Together, they helped South Dakota voters pass a comprehensive anti-corruption measure last November, around the same time Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved statewide campaign finance limits.

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