Daily Media Links 11/9: Sweeping Changes Proposed for Foreign Lobbying Law, FEC Commissioner Wants New Social Media Input on Disclosures, and more…

New from the Institute for Free Speech

The Key to Fighting Foreign “Fake News” is More Speech, Not Less

By Alex Cordell

With the full extent of Russian interference in the election slowly beginning to surface, calls for heavy-handed government regulations to combat the unknown dangers of online political advertisements seem overstated, to say the least. The vast majority of these ads were clumsily reproduced content that played upon divisive topics Americans were already debating, and had been for quite a while. Any attempts by foreigners to manipulate U.S. elections are cause for concern, but what is currently being proposed goes far beyond what actually occurred. Making it more difficult for American individuals or groups who share a common goal to disseminate information online would do much more to disrupt civil society…

Arduous regulations to shut down “fake news” and nudge people towards what the government deems to be the right direction are not the answer. A better way is to enable citizens to speak freely and share their views, including online. Americans already have the ability to debunk and call out foreign propaganda on their own – because of free speech – and one need only scroll through the comments section of any post to find that they are very comfortable doing so. More speech increases the breadth of information available, allowing voters to weigh the costs and benefits of different candidates or policies and reach a decision on their own.

Checking in on Seattle’s “Democracy Vouchers” Experiment

By Joe Albanese

Supporters of the program claimed victory on the basis of donor participation. They point to any increase in donors or change in the makeup of those who give as evidence of empowering the previously-underrepresented – almost akin to transforming the electorate itself. Campaign contributions are certainly one important way of participating in democracy, but the end goal of such activities is ultimately to impact the makeup of government through elections, and thus influence the substance of policy…

It’s not surprising that people are more likely to spend free money. However, changing the donor makeup in a jurisdiction is not an accomplishment in and of itself. That’s why, when examining tax-financing programs, it’s smarter to examine tangible electoral outcomes…

In these three areas – decreasing the role of “big money,” increasing the voices of everyday people, and increasing diversity – the results of Seattle’s experiment are, thus far, inconclusive at best and negative at worst. To be sure, this is just one small sample of what politics and government look like under a tax-financed political system. But based on past experiences with tax-financing programs, we shouldn’t be surprised to see politics as usual, except with the added injustice of taxpayer dollars subsidizing politicians. 

Free Speech

Washington Post: Michigan college changes speech policy after being sued by campus conservatives who praised fossil fuels

By Justin Wm. Moyer

In April, members of a campus chapter of Turning Point USA – a conservative organization whose website says it promotes “the principles of freedom, free markets and limited government” – wanted to tell students about the importance of fossil fuels…

But while pointing out “the value of fossil fuels to human flourishing currently outweighs environmental concerns,” Turning Point was shut down by campus police “because at MCC public expressive activity is strictly prohibited without prior permission and a permit from the administration,” according to a federal lawsuit Turning Point filed against the school in August in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

“Public colleges, far from being immune to the obligations of the First Amendment, are supposed to be ‘the marketplace of ideas,’ where students can freely exchange ideas with one another, learning how to respectfully debate and dialogue with those whose views differ from their own,” the suit said.

On Wednesday, the college announced it would change its “expressive activity policy,” and the lawsuit would be dismissed.

“The new policy will no longer require students, in most cases, to seek prior approval for engaging in expressive activity on the college’s campuses,” Macomb Community College spokeswoman Jeanne Nicol wrote in an email. 

Congress

Roll Call: Sweeping Changes Proposed for Foreign Lobbying Law

By Kate Ackley

The bill would require anyone in the United States representing foreign corporations – not just foreign governments and political parties – to register under FARA. This change would affect lobbyists as well as lawyers and public relations advisers…

U.S. lobbyists for foreign-based companies have long filed under a simpler system as part of a 1995 law on lobbying disclosures. But the Grassley and Johnson bill would require filing under FARA, which makes public much more information, including the contacts that lobbyists, lawyers and public relations advisers make with congressional officials.

The Grassley and Johnson measures would also require more frequent disclosures to the Justice Department, following the same quarterly schedule as the system for filing lobbying disclosure reports with Congress.

The bill would give the FARA unit at the Justice Department more subpoena-like investigative authority, something the unit has asked of Congress for decades.

IRS

ALEC: Victory for Free Speech and Donor Privacy

By Daniel Turner and Joel Griggith

After years of litigation, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on October 26 that the Justice Department has entered into settlements in two cases brought by conservative groups whose tax-exempt status had been significantly delayed by the IRS. One of these cases is Linchpins of Liberty v. United States, which comprises claims brought by 41 plaintiffs. The second case is NorCal Tea Party Patriots v. Internal Revenue Service, which is a class action suit that includes 428 members…

The applications of these groups were subjected to additional scrutiny. The groups were even asked for information about their donors, information that Attorney General Sessions declared is not necessary to determine tax-exempt status. Thus, the Justice Department’s decision to settle with these groups and apologize to them is a victory for donor privacy…

Attorney General Sessions stated, “And it should also be without question that our First Amendment prohibits the federal government from treating groups differently based solely on their viewpoint or ideology.” The tax code should never be weaponized by the federal government into a tool for suppressing particular political perspectives.

FEC

Broadcasting & Cable: FEC Commissioner Wants New Social Media Input on Disclosures

By John Eggerton

At press time, the FEC had not published any of the new comments, and won’t until Nov. 9.

Tom Moore, chief counsel to the commissioner, told B&C/Multichannel News that she has not gotten responses to the letters but that Twitter has indicated to her it would file a comment by the deadline and, according to Bloomberg, Facebook has said it will as well…

Elsewhere on the disclosure front, various groups say they have collected more than 100,000 signatures on a petition urging the FEC to wrap up the rulemaking with disclaimer rules for online political ads. The groups back that bill–the Honest Ads Act, which was introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who is scheduled to be at a Hill press conference Thursday (Nov. 9) where the groups–Common Cause, League of Women Voters, Public Citizen, People for the American Way and others–will talk about the importance of disclosures before delivering the petitions to the FEC.

Also scheduled to be at the event are Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.).

The Courts

Electronic Frontier Foundation: Trump’s Blocking People From His Twitter Account Violates the First Amendment, EFF Tells Court

President Trump’s frequent use of Twitter to communicate policy decisions, air opinions on local and global events and leaders, and broadcast calls for congressional action has become a hallmark of his administration. In July, the Knight First Amendment Institute filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging the president and his communications team violated the First Amendment by blocking seven people from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account because they criticized the president or his policies…

“Governmental use of social media platforms to communicate to and with the public, and allow the public to communicate with each other, is pervasive. It is seen all across the country, at every level of government. It is now the rule of democratic engagement, not the exception,” said EFF Civil Liberties Director David Greene. “The First Amendment prohibits the exclusion of individuals from these forums based on their viewpoint. President Trump’s blocking of people on Twitter because he doesn’t like their views infringes on their right to receive public messages from government and participate in the democratic process.”

The States

Reason: ‘Democracy Vouchers’ Help Incumbents, Establishment Candidates Coast to Victory

By Christian Britschgi

Voucher proponents promised the program would enable “more candidates, including women, young people and people of color, to run viable campaigns against big money candidates.” Instead, incumbent City Attorney Pete Holmes and Councilmember M. Lorena González coasted to easy reelection victories cushioned by Democracy Voucher cash, winning 73 percent and 68 percent of the vote, respectively…

Laura Friendenbach of the non-profit Every Voice, a major contributor to the 2015 ballot campaign that created Democracy Vouchers, says the program was a “resounding success” yesterday.

“Races with Democracy Vouchers saw historic numbers of small-donor campaign contributors and a more diverse makeup of campaign supporters that better reflects the people of Seattle,” she tells Reason…

Yet despite the increase in small-dollar donors, the actual electoral results appear to have changed very little. Better funded, more experienced incumbents dominated at the polls while outsiders fell short. That same result could easily be achieved without taxpayers funding it.

U.S. News & World Report: New Mexico Weighs Options for Campaign Finance Overhaul

By Susan Montoya Bryan

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said Wednesday that her office needs more money to meet a legislative mandate to update New Mexico’s campaign finance reporting system in order to provide more transparency and improve public access…

She acknowledged that the current system is outdated and cumbersome, which limits the ability of election officials and the public to cross-check campaign spending and donations that are reported by candidates, lobbyists and political action committees.

Nearly $1 million would be needed for the secretary of state to buy an off-the-shelf program from a vendor that could be customized to meet the state’s needs.

Toulouse Oliver said another option would be partnering with a nonprofit research group, MapLight, to create a state-of-the-art system that could serve as a model for other states. That would cost around $2.3 million…

Toulouse Oliver said the nonprofit’s ability to attract philanthropic funds for their own campaign finance reporting projects could end up reducing the financial burden for the state to develop a new system.

Colorado Independent: Big money fails to stop Broomfield oil and gas measure

By Kelsey Ray

Despite an aggressive, high-dollar campaign from the oil and gas industry, Broomfield voters Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a measure to allow more local control over drilling in their community…

Broomfield residents and environmental groups raised about $46,000 to pass the measure, but they were significantly outspent by the industry. Groups such as Vital for Colorado and the Colorado Petroleum Council spent $434,000 on the opposition campaign.

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