Daily Media Links 1/9: Ahead Of Key Vote, Bowser Comes Out Against Public Financing Of Political Campaigns In D.C., Fake News, Real Censorship, and more…

New from the Institute for Free Speech

Candidate Oprah? Campaign Finance Laws Would Give Her a Leg Up

By Luke Wachob

Imagine a new candidate just starting her campaign for federal office. She needs money to pay for staff, transportation, lodging, and promotional materials, such as yard signs and bumper stickers. If she’s like most people, she’ll have to raise that money from willing contributors, and each donor can give her campaign no more than $2,700 per election. While she’s working hard to raise the money, her wealthy opponent can simply cover the costs of his campaign out of pocket.

All things considered, however, a celebrity’s wealth is the lesser half of the equation. Candidates who miss out on the ancillary benefits of fundraising often suffer for it on Election Day, but celebrities not only have an easier time paying for things – they have an easier time getting things that can’t be bought. Chief among them is media coverage…

The fact that so many feel it would take a candidate like Oprah to defeat a candidate like Donald Trump is an admission that the standard “reform” model for campaigns – small donations, invasive disclosure, taxpayer-funded campaigns – does not account for the unique advantages of wealthy celebrity candidates. A more realistic approach would be to unchain candidates by removing contribution limits and simplifying complex regulations.

Free Speech

National Review: Fake News, Real Censorship

By Andrew Stuttaford

There is little over the Atlantic that bears much of a resemblance to the First Amendment, an absence (envied, sadly, by quite a few over here) that has often been exploited by a European political establishment that shows every sign of willingness to exploit the often deliberately exaggerated fear of ‘fake news’, a  phenomenon-such as  it is-far more healthily tackled by argument than by a gag, as a new excuse for shutting down speech of which it disapproves. Here’s France’s President Macron, a defender, we are often told, of Europe’s liberal order.

The Guardian: “In his new year’s speech to journalists at the Élysée palace, Macron said he would shortly present the new law in order to fight the spread of fake news, which he said threatened liberal democracies…. For fake news published during election seasons, an emergency legal action could allow authorities to remove that content or even block the website, Macron said.” …

Quite who decides what is-or is  not-fake news is an interesting question: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes and all that. What makes it even more ‘interesting’ is the notion that news defined as fake should be suppressed with particular speed during an election campaign that may be over before the decision of the relevant authorities-whoever they may be-can be subjected to proper review. That could be…convenient. 

Candidates and Campaigns

Politico: 2020: Year of the anti-Trump billionaire?

By Gabriel Debenedetti

Just hours after the entertainment mogul stormed into the 2020 sweepstakes with a speech that had the distinct ring of a presidential campaign warm-up, hedge fund manager-turned-activist Tom Steyer showed up in Washington to announce plans to plow $30 million into flipping the House, while amping up his push to impeach Donald Trump.

The two of them occupy an increasingly crowded space. Eyeing the historically unpopular real estate executive sitting in the Oval Office, at least eight magnates who could fund their own campaigns have entertained – or been the focus of live speculation about – 2020 bids…

“It’s a symptom of the cancer of the big money in politics: People think just because they have a lot of money, they think they can run for office,” said Larry Cohen, a former head of the Communications Workers of America who now chairs the board of Our Revolution, the political group built out of Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.

The States

New York Times: Ban on Book About Mass Incarceration Lifted in New Jersey Prisons After A.C.L.U. Protest

By Jonah Engel Bromwich and Benjamin Mueller

New Jersey said it had lifted the ban on a best-selling book about mass incarceration after the American Civil Liberties Union called for an immediate end to what it said was an “ironic, misguided, and harmful” instance of censorship.

The state’s decision to reverse a prohibition on “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” by Michelle Alexander, at the two prisons came hours after the A.C.L.U. of New Jersey on Monday sent a letter to the state’s corrections commissioner, Gary M. Lanigan.

The letter argued that the book’s presence on a list of banned texts at New Jersey State Prison and Southern State Correctional Facility violated the First Amendment and the department’s own regulations…

Federal courts have allowed prisons to censor books and it is common practice for states to keep lists of texts it considers dangerous. The Texas Department of Criminal justice, for instance, bans 10,000 titles, including “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “The Color Purple.”

WAMU D.C.: Ahead Of Key Vote, Bowser Comes Out Against Public Financing Of Political Campaigns In D.C.

By Martin Austermuhle

The Council is set to debate and cast a first vote on the bill on Tuesday. If approved, candidates for office in D.C. would be eligible for public funds to run their campaigns, starting as soon as the 2020 election…

Speaking on The Politics Hour, Bowser said she was content with the existing campaign finance rules.

“I think we have some of the strictest campaign restrictions that exist,” she said. “We have very stringent disclosure requirements at well.”

Not all legislators agree, though. Beyond public financing, the D.C. Council is considering a number of bills that would strengthen some of the city’s campaign finance rules, notably by banning contributions from businesses that are also seeking city contracts.

Spokane Spokesman-Review: Spokane City Council overrides Condon veto of campaign finance reporting law

By Kip Hill

On a 6-to-1 vote, the same tally that approved Council President Ben Stuckart’s proposed suite of legislation creating a new regulatory system and rules for political giving in December, the council overrode a veto from Mayor David Condon. Newest Councilwoman Kate Burke backed Stuckart, and City Councilman Mike Fagan continued his contrarian trend against a panel criticized as left-leaning by opponents.

Stuckart applauded the vote after the meeting, saying it would bring light to hidden sources of political money that have crept into local elections.

“I can’t wait until the next election cycle, so we can find out where the dark money is coming from,” Stuckart said.

Spokane Spokesman-Review: Campaign finance reform should be applied equally

By Michael Cathcart

This ordinance will have lasting unintended consequences resulting in more money and influence for PACs and Union organizations…

First, it limits the amount of money an individual can contribute to local political candidates to 50 percent of the state threshold – today an individual can donate up to $1000 per election, but this ordinance reduces that to $500. This means that the power and voice of each citizen will forever be half of what it was, while political committees, which have no contribution or spending limits, will greatly increase their influence in local elections.

Next, it creates a local election donation cycle and stipulates that no money can be raised outside of that timeframe – including a candidate’s own personal dollars. This could make life easier for incumbent elected officials, who already benefit from their power of incumbency and now won’t have to worry about an opponent starting an early campaign against them.

The other major change – and this is where the measure goes from being not well thought through to outright shocking – is that it bans contributions to local candidates by private city contractors, including anyone with an ownership share in the firm or any sub-contractors they hire, while outright exempting unions and bargaining groups from this ban.

Phoenix New Times: Arizona Lawmaker Takes On ‘Dirty Money’ Establishment – Again

By Antonia Noori Farzan

The Democratic lawmaker, who represents Phoenix in the state House of Representatives, has introduced a bill that would require corporations, limited liability companies, and labor organizations to disclose when they make large political donations to political action committees.

Under HB 2049, those groups would have to register with the Secretary of State (or the appropriate city or county clerk) and provide their names and addresses, as well as the names, titles, email addresses, and telephone numbers of the individuals who are authorizing the contribution…

Clark says it’s a reaction to SB 1516, which he refers to as “the Dark Money Act of 2016.”

“They rewrote the whole campaign finance statute to make it so that you can hide dark money all over the system, which I maintain affects not only the legislature but also your small town city council,” he told Phoenix New Times. “Some entity from out of state can come in and overwhelm the people who are running for office at the local level.”

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