Daily Media Links 9/12: Does Big Philanthropy Threaten Democracy? A Dialogue on The Givers, Denver City Council approves new rules requiring reports of dark-money spending in elections, and more…

In the News

NMPolitics.net: New Mexicans should be suspicious of secretary of state’s anti-privacy rulemaking

By Bradley Smith and Paul Gessing

Doug Nickle’s recent column (“Campaign reporting proposal creates necessary, nation-leading disclosure in NM”) is an example of Orwellian doublespeak at its best…

Even as Nickle urges support for rules reducing citizen privacy, he avers that the organization he lobbies for, Take Back Our Republic, “believe[s] in the individual’s right to both privacy and free speech” and “[t]hat’s why we support New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s proposed rules and regulations.” When the stated purpose of rules is to reduce personal privacy, yet a person tells you he supports them because he believes in privacy, perhaps it is time to be suspicious.

Noting that supporters of privacy have argued that “transparency is for government; privacy is for people,” Nickle also claims, “We couldn’t agree more – which is why we point out that the privacy of any individual or group who gives within the legally prescribed threshold is fully protected; their personal information remains undisclosed.” In other words, your privacy is protected, but only until it crosses a “legally prescribed threshold,” at which point your information will be posted online by government order. 

National Review: Is Big Ice Cream Trying to Hijack Our Democracy?

By Joe Albanese

It may shock you to learn that the multimillionaire co-founder of a global ice-cream empire has been meeting with elected officials in the hopes of fundamentally altering our Constitution. This individual proposes amending the Bill of Rights for the first time to give Congress nearly unlimited power to limit political speech.

That’s right – Big Ice Cream is trying to undermine our democracy. Or at least that’s how it would be put if the wealthy founder of some other, less progressive company tried the same tactics.

In late August, Ben Cohen – the “Ben” in Ben & Jerry’s – appeared at a Philadelphia rally hosted by American Promise, an organization that effectively wants to rewrite the First Amendment…

There is certainly nothing wrong with Cohen’s expressing his views on a political issue. In the past, he has argued that “corporations can serve the needs of society,” in keeping with the increasing demands of the left for progressive corporate activism. The problem is that Cohen’s campaign-finance platform would curtail for others the right that he so proudly exercises – namely, the ability to dedicate resources to causes he cares about. 

The Courts

Washington Post: Prosecutors and tech company embroiled in battle over info from anti-Trump website

By Keith L. Alexander

Executives from a Los Angeles-based tech company said they are weighing whether to fight a judge’s order to provide D.C. prosecutors with email addresses and other information from people who visited an anti-Trump website in the months before Inauguration Day.

The company, DreamHost, filed a motion with D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin last week requesting that he put his order on hold while they consider whether to appeal…

DreamHost’s co-founder and chief executive, Dallas Kashuba, said in an interview that the potential implications go beyond this case. He said there is concern among tech companies that Internet users could become fearful of visiting websites if they know government authorities can monitor such information…

DreamHost is not the first Internet company to challenge the government in its quest to prosecute individuals associated with the riots.

On Thursday, attorneys for Facebook are scheduled to argue in front of the D.C. Court of Appeals a court order that blocks the social media giant from letting users know when law enforcement investigators ask to search their online information, particularly their political affiliations and comments.  


Washington Post: Antifa, far-right protesters clash again in Portland, disrupting peaceful rallies

By Derek Hawkins

Political rallies in Portland, Ore., and a neighboring town gave way to violence Sunday afternoon when black-clad antifa activists attacked police officers and far-right demonstrators, while other protesters from rival groups scuffled in the streets…

Most people were protesting peacefully, but within minutes some antifa activists began lighting smoke bombs and hurling objects at police. One counterprotester sprayed officers with a fire extinguisher, according to Willamette Week, while others fought with some of the Patriot Prayer supporters who turned out.

By 1:30 p.m., officers in riot gear were firing pepper spray at demonstrators, making arrests and telling the crowd to clear the area. “Due to violence, peaceful protesters, including PSUAH marchers, should disperse immediately for their own safety,” the department tweeted. Officers arrested at least seven people and confiscated sticks, batons and other weapons. They later allowed peaceful demonstrators to reconvene.


The Intercept: Make Mark Zuckerberg Testify

By Sam Biddle

It’s good and worthwhile that Congress and Special Counsel Robert Mueller are probing the company’s ability to influence political thought and action, and that Facebook staffers have briefed the House and Senate intelligence committees, but if this is truly a democratic crisis, it can’t be a closed-door crisis.

Zuckerberg should publicly testify under oath before Congress on his company’s capabilities to influence the political process, be it Russian meddling or anything else. If the company is as powerful as it promises advertisers, it should be held accountable. And if it’s not, then we need to stop fretting so much about it. Either way, threats to entire societies should be reckoned with publicly by those very societies and not confined to R&D labs and closed-door briefings. If democracy can be gamed from a laptop, that shouldn’t be considered a trade secret.

The Media

Washington Examiner: FBI gets Sputnik emails, critics see ‘red line for media’ crossed in Russia probe

By Steve Nelson

A fired White House correspondent gave the FBI a thumb drive of internal communications and sat for a two-hour interview this month related to whether the Sputnik news outlet is illegally spreading propaganda without disclosure under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Some press freedom advocates say Americans should be concerned regardless of whether the meeting between journalist Andrew Feinberg, an FBI agent and a Justice Department attorney turns out to be related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, responding to Yahoo News’ Monday reporting on the inquiry, said “the investigation into Sputnik crosses a long-observed red line for media.”

“Countries around the world have long accused media of being tools of foreign governments as a pretense for investigations and arrests,” he said. “The line between government direction and pro-government bias is a subtle one [and] many media moguls have a bias and close ties to governments.”

Turley said “the taking of computer records and communications raise serious free press questions” and that “ironically, since it is part of the Russian influence investigation, many of those normally supportive of the free press are silent.” 

Nonprofit Advocacy

Inside Philanthropy: Does Big Philanthropy Threaten Democracy? A Dialogue on The Givers

By Sean Parnell and David Callahan

Since its publication in April, The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age has generated much discussion and also drawn criticism. Here, Sean Parnell and I engage in a dialogue about the book. Parnell is vice president for public policy at The Philanthropy Roundtable.    

The States

Denver Post: Denver City Council approves new rules requiring reports of dark-money spending in elections

By Jon Murray

The council proposal, approved unanimously in a block vote, will require the reporting of at least $1,000 in independent spending by individuals, companies or other organizations to support candidates or ballot issues. Those independent expenditures include any activity aiming to aid or hurt a candidate, including “electioneering communications” such as mailers, broadcast ads or other advertising.

The initial report to the Denver Elections Division – disclosing all expenses and donors above $25 – will be required within two days after cumulative spending reaches $1,000.

Advertising also would need to make clear who paid for each ad or mailer and affirm that the effort wasn’t coordinated with an official campaign…

Other changes contained in the measure, which was recommended by a clerk-organized working group, include creation of a $50-per-day fine for candidates and committees that miss filing deadlines for finance reports. It also mandates more frequent reporting of donations and spending, including in the final weeks before an election as well as in the prior calendar year.

NM Political Report: City council candidate ordered to pay almost $2K for campaign violations

By Andy Lyman

The City of Albuquerque Board of Ethics Monday afternoon voted to impose a $1,900 fine on an Albuquerque City Council Candidate for not following the city’s election code…

Padilla and McMahon alleged that Benavidez’s campaign fraudulently obtained about $38,000 of public campaign funds by using some of their own money instead of collecting $5 from each petition signer.

Padilla and McMahon’s lawyer, prominent Republican Pat Rogers, wrote in his closing argument that Benavidez should return the taxpayer-funded money his campaign received, be fined at least $21,000 and be removed from the City Council if he wins the race. Rogers also said the issue should be referred to the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office for possible criminal prosecution…

Benavidez’s lawyers argued that while his campaign workers may have made mistakes, they were not intentionally fraudulent. Further, his lawyers wrote, the city’s public financing rules are ambiguous and don’t clarify whether a $5 contribution can be made on behalf of another person. They said the sanctions Rogers asked for were beyond the duties of the board.

Salem Statesman Journal: Legislators consolidate power, cash, in partially invisible cycle of giving to each other

By Cooper Green

Oregon’s campaign finance law was built around a trade off.

Any donor – whether in-state, out-of-state, special interest or corporate – can give unlimited amounts of cash to any state candidate as long as there is complete transparency. This keeps citizens informed and candidates aware their actions are public.

But there’s a hole in the system.

The public can only see single transactions on the state’s website and in public records. If a candidate passes contributions to another candidate, or to a re-election fund for fellow party members, the public can no longer see the money’s original donor.

These transactions are known as pass-throughs – contributions that are essentially donations from one legislator to another, allowed in unlimited quantity under Oregon law.

Critics, including past and present lawmakers, say this allows a loophole in transparency.

Argus Leader: Here’s your chance to vent about money in South Dakota politics

By Dana Ferguson

The Government Accountability Task Force is scheduled to accept testimony as it considers changing the laws that dictate how much candidates can take in and how they have to disclose it to the public…

It started last year when voters narrowly approved Initiated Measure 22 on the ballot. Days after it took effect, the campaign finance and ethics reform measure was stalled in court and later struck down by state lawmakers who promised to replace it.

While parts of the extensive proposal were replaced or revised during the legislative session, lawmakers wouldn’t commit to campaign finance changes and pushed off the decision.

They vowed to study the state’s campaign finance structures over the summer and recommend changes to be taken up during the 2018 legislative session.

As part of that process, task force members will hear testimony Tuesday from those who want to share ideas about how to improve the state’s campaign finance laws.

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