Daily Media Links 1/10: Democrats search for Russians – any Russians – for collusion story, D.C. Council unanimously votes to create public campaign finance program, and more…

In the News

Washington Examiner: New York City and Los Angeles offer cautionary tales for DC’s ‘Fair Elections Act’

By Luke Wachob

Taking cues from New York City and Los Angeles, also beset by government corruption, a D.C. Council committee has unanimously approved a bill that would inject taxpayer money directly into partisan politics. At a rate of 5:1, taxpayers will be on the hook to “match” (government-speak for quintuple) contributions to politicians, no matter how loathsome they find the candidate…

The organization I work for, the Institute for Free Speech, has conducted numerous studies of the effects of these programs in cities and states across the nation. Repeatedly, we find that they are dogged by corruption and fail to achieve their goals. Adding to our skepticism is the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office, which found that tax-financing programs in Arizona and Maine failed to encourage new candidates or aid challengers running against incumbents…

Once tax financing programs are in place, they are very hard to remove. When benefits fail to materialize, supporters simply demand more money. In fact, both New York City and Los Angeles initially matched contributions at a rate of 1:1. Today, that ratio has escalated to 6:1 in New York and 4:1 in L.A. general elections.

Free Speech

Reason: Whether or Not Trump’s Libel Threat Violates the First Amendment, It’s Clearly an Assault on Free Speech

By Brian Doherty

This censorious mentality is appalling, but it sadly is not far outside the norms of American politics. Trump’s own 2016 Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, stated frankly that the real problem with the Supreme Court decision Citizens United was that it allowed documentary filmmakers funded in a certain way to legally criticize her, apparently a nightmare that must not stand. Attempts to crush malcontents who dare criticize the president go back all the way to the Sedition Act of 1798. But that law, thankfully, was rightly critiqued at the time and expired two years later, unlamented-by most, at least.

Trump’s supporters could deny that Harder’s absurd letter impacts the First Amendment or freedom of speech in a political sense, since Trump is not acting as the chief executive enforcing criminal law; he’s just pretending to be an aggrieved citizen suffering a tort. But some things we don’t want officials to do-like, say, trying to use legal force to crush criticism-are things we shouldn’t want anyone to do if we value a free society. Trump the citizen shouldn’t be able to shut up his critics any more than Trump the president should.

Whether it be libel law for Trump or campaign finance law for Clinton (or invasion-of-privacy torts funded by aggrieved billionaires), legal action that squashes free expression-especially political expression, but really expression of any sort-is bad for America.

Congress

The Hill: Democrats search for Russians – any Russians – for collusion story

By Jonathan Turley

In a letter from the Democratic senior minority counsel for the committee, April Doss, various individuals and groups were told to reveal not just any Russian citizens with which they have associated but anyone that an organization “knows or has reason to believe [is] of Russian nationality or descent.” Any degree of Russian blood.

The demand from the Senate raises serious issues of free speech and associational rights. Suspicion based on nationality has a long and dark history in the United States, a history being ignored in the rush to incriminate all things Russian in Washington…

The demand for information from the Senate has gone out to a wide range of individuals, including Jill Stein, the 2016 Green Party candidate. As a struggling third party, it is particularly concerning for the Green Party to disclose its supporters and associations to a committee composed of members from the two dominant parties.

The forced disclosure of such names has long been viewed as a threat to core constitutional rights.

Axios: Twitter misses deadline to answer Senate Intel’s Russia questions

By David McCabe

“Facebook and Google met the deadline, and [with] voluminous amounts of information, Twitter did not,” Sen. Mark Warner told Axios. “I’m disappointed in Twitter.”

Warner slammed Twitter in September for what he said was an “inadequate” response to questions from committee staffers investigating Russia’s election disruption campaign.

Lawmakers on the committee posed the written question to the Silicon Valley companies after their top lawyers appeared at a November hearing on the Russia issue.

“They need to understand when they bring in their senior executives and testify before Congress, when Congress then has follow-up written questions, we expect them to answer those questions,” Warner said of Twitter. “So if it’s a day or two, fine, but if this is one more attempt for them to kind of punt on their responsibility that will not go down well with the committee.”

A Twitter spokeswoman said: “We are continuing to work closely with committee investigators to provide detailed, thorough answers to their questions. As our review is ongoing, we want to ensure we are providing Congress with the most complete, accurate answers possible. We look forward to finalizing our responses soon.”

NBC News: Democrats warn U.S. remains unprepared for Russian election interference

By Mike Memoli

The comprehensive study, based on various non-classified sources including feedback from many of America’s European allies, is the first from any congressional entity dealing with the 2016 elections…

The report includes dozens of specific recommendations the U.S. could implement to better defend itself against Russian operations. They include calling on Trump to create an interagency fusion cell to coordinate U.S. policy in responding to Russian efforts, similar to the National Counterterrorism Center…

It suggests creating a new designation similar to State Sponsor of Terror that could be used to quickly institute an array of penalties on countries that use asymmetric tactics like cyber attacks to interfere in another country’s elections…

It also cites ways in which European nations have successfully begun to counteract Russian meddling attempts, beginning with a strong denunciation from heads of government that the report says has been lacking in the United States…

The report sees Nordic countries as having been particularly successful in taking steps to inoculate themselves against disinformation campaigns, with what they describe as a decades-long, “all-of-society approach” that include at its earliest stages school curricula on how to separate “fake news” form objective sources.

The Courts

Greenfield Recorder: UMass sued by student group for limiting free speech

By Scott Merzbach

Young Americans for Liberty on Monday sued the university in U.S. District Court over what it argues is an unconstitutional “speech zone policy” embedded in the “Regulation for Use of Property at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.”

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Young Americans campus chapter and Nicholas Consolini, an economics major, contends that UMass is in violation of the First Amendment by requiring “outdoor speeches and rallies during class hours” by students to be held between noon and 1 p.m., in an area on the west side of the Student Union building.

The policy, the lawsuit states, doesn’t define “speech” or “rally,” instead leaving that decision up to the discretion of university officials, thus opening the door to unconstitutional discrimination based on a student group’s viewpoint.

Students who do not follow this policy, written into the 1990 regulation, can be disciplined under the student code of conduct, with consequences as severe as expulsions, according to the lawsuit.

The States

Washington Post: D.C. Council unanimously votes to create public campaign finance program

By Rachel Chason

Supporters say the program will open local politics to new candidates, increase the power of small donors and reduce the influence of deep-pocketed campaign contributors.

But critics – most notably Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) – say the program, estimated to cost D.C. taxpayers $5 million a year, will waste precious funds.

The voluntary system would allow qualified candidates to receive a base sum that varies by office, with a maximum of $160,000 for the mayoral contest as well as a 5-to-1 match on small donations.

If the D.C. Council approves the measure in a final vote expected next month, the District would join nearly 30 other jurisdictions – including Montgomery County, New York City and San Francisco – with a public finance system, according to Demos, a left-leaning think tank…

Bowser spokeswoman LaToya Foster said the mayor believes that taxpayer dollars are better spent on the “many pressing needs” of residents, including hiring more police officers, investing in housing and fixing the city’s roads.

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