As tech titans reckon with disruptive foreign interference, Congress debates the Honest Ads Act, aimed at exposing invidious overseas actors. Eric Wang (Institute for Free Speech) argues the legislation would mostly target Americans exercising constitutionally-protected political speech.
People’s Pundit Daily: Analysis: “Honest Ads Act” Is Dishonest; It Targets Americans, Not Foreign Influence (In the News)
By PPD Elections Staff
[A]n analysis of the so-called “Honest Ads Act” finds the bill does almost nothing to regulate foreign interference in U.S. elections. Instead, it predominantly targets Americans and would impose broad-based, restrictions and regulations on Americans’ free speech rights.
“Legislation that responds to foreign meddling by regulating the speech of Americans will not limit foreign influence in American political campaigns,” said Eric Wang, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Free Speech, which conducted the analysis. “Worse, it will impede the ability of Americans to use their own speech to call out and expose ‘fake news’ and propaganda.”
While the Institute for Free Speech says they’re “deeply disturbed” by the efforts of Russia and other hostile foreign actors, the legislation will undermine our democracy, not secure it. It will advance Vladimir Putin’s agenda, not derail it, by sowing further division and “placing considerable limits and burdens on the online political speech of Americans.”
An overwhelming 99.99% of the online political ads regulated by the bill will be purchased by Americans, while ads purchased by foreigners represent less than 0.01%.
CBC News: ‘Not going to be a cakewalk’: Social media sites face hurdles curbing foreign political ads (In the News)
By Mark Gollom
Some of the ads that ran this election on social media sites mentioned the candidates but were not expressly election ads, said Richard Hasen, a political science and law professor at the University of California at Irvine. And many of them appeared to be neither election ads nor ads mentioning candidates…
Hasen also said it’s not clear whether the restrictions on electioneering communication by foreign entities apply on digital-only platforms.
“It appears, from what little we know, most of these ads would not be illegal under current U.S. law.”
To address this, a bill named the “Honest Ads Act” has been drafted by two Democratic senators and has received support from Republican Sen. John McCain…
The Institute for Free Speech said the bill fails “to meaningfully address foreign interference while placing considerable limits and burdens on the online political speech of Americans.”
“Legislation that attempts to limit foreign interference in our democracy by broadly regulating the free speech rights of Americans would, in fact, undermine our democracy and directly advance Vladimir Putin’s agenda,” wrote Eric Wang of the institute.
The Hill: Federal move to undo internet freedom would make US more like Russia, not less (In the News)
By Eric Wang
This week, three congressional committee hearings will probe Russian attempts to influence our election campaign last year on social media. S.1989, the recently introduced, so-called “Honest Ads Act,” likely will feature prominently. The bill is being sold “first and foremost [as addressing] an issue of national security.”
But unless Americans exercising their First Amendment rights is now “an issue of national security,” the bill and its sponsors are not being honest about its effects. With Americans bearing 99.99 percent of its regulatory impact, the “Honest Ads Act” is a sledgehammer for a problem better addressed with a scalpel.
According to the bill’s own legislative findings and its sponsors’ remarks, more than $1.4 billion was spent on online political advertising last year. Of that amount, some $100,000 (less than 0.01 percent) has been reported thus far as coming from Russian interests. But S.1989 fails at even a perfunctory attempt to target foreign interference. Instead, the bill would almost entirely regulate Americans.
By Kenneth P. Doyle
In addition to the affected companies, other critics of campaign finance regulation have maintained that the FEC should be cautious about regulating political speech on the internet. The Center for Competitive Politics, a nonprofit that is critical of regulation, issued a statement Oct. 19 criticizing the new bill announced by Klobuchar, Warner and McCain and complaining that a full text of the bill hadn’t yet been released.
“Though purporting to regulate Russia, in fact this regulates Americans,” said Bradley Smith, the center’s chairman and a former Republican FEC commissioner. “By imposing more broad burdens on Americans’ speech rights rather than targeting foreign interests interfering with our elections, their bill would make America look a little bit more like Russia.”
In the same statement, Eric Wang, a CCP senior fellow, said that, rather than regulating online political ads, lawmakers should look at strengthening the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), “which is appropriately limited to the type of foreign political activity that Russia engaged in, and amending that law if necessary.”
Washington Examiner: McCain joins Dems to regulate Drudge, Google, Facebook political ads (In the News)
By Paul Bedard
The Center or Competitive Politics, for example, “Though purporting to regulate Russia, in fact this regulates Americans. By imposing more broad burdens on Americans’ speech rights rather than targeting foreign interests interfering with our elections, their bill would make America look a little bit more like Russia.”
Center President David Keating said the $500 threshold could prompt websites to set minimum spending on ads much higher to pay for the new manpower they’d need to police ads. And that, he said, could kill small grassroots advocacy.
He also questioned the vague language that ads can’t be “purchased by a foreign national, directly or indirectly.” He said, “We don’t know what that means, but we would not be surprised to see groups opposed to free speech claim that such ads can’t be purchased by any publicly traded company as such companies have many, but an unknown number, of foreign owners.”…
Elections lawyer Eric Wang, with Wiley Rein in Washington explained to Secrets the concerns many have with the legislation.
First, he said, it is way too broad. “The Klobuchar-Warner-McCain bill purports to address a legitimate problem, but its means are misguided. Instead of specifically regulating Internet ads by foreign interests, the bill would regulate all speakers – the vast majority of whom are Americans.”
By Eric Wang
China censors any agitators, foreign or domestic, on social media. Politically sensitive topics like Tibetan self-determination, the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, or resistance against the Communist Party are off-limits. Of course, the Great Firewall also completely blocks access to Facebook, Twitter, and thousands of other websites. Through these measures, Chinese citizens can rest assured that they are free from foreign interference…
Emulating China’s disregard for free speech may seem like mere satire for Americans. But is it? There is always risk for overstatement when resorting to “slippery slope” arguments. But recent calls to regulate online political speech by foreign interests directed at Americans seem to articulate no bounds. There is a real risk that a rush to regulate will threaten basic civil liberties…
Recent debates show the difficulty in blocking foreign nationals from speaking without also compromising Americans values. For example, consider immigration. Many of those publicly voicing support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy have been undocumented immigrants. Some of the most vociferous opponents of the Trump administration’s “travel ban” have been citizens of affected countries. Could we prevent these foreign nationals from speaking to American voters about these issues during election season, and would that not end up stifling part of the debate?
By Bradley Smith and Eric Wang
This latest allegation of foreign interference with our elections inevitably will be used as fodder to support the newest iteration of the so-called “Disclose Act.” Over the summer, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) introduced a tweaked version of this perennial bill to include features he claimed would “head off foreign election interference.” Upon closer inspection, the legislation turns out to be an exercise in distraction rather than disclosure. The bill’s foreign spending provisions are poorly disguised ploys for clamping down on public debate and dissent…
Aside from its foreign national provisions, the latest Disclose Act also contains numerous purported disclosure requirements (hence its name). But those disclosure provisions are also ploys to shut down political speech. For example, the bill would require any corporation (even one that has no foreign owners at all) making a “campaign-related disbursement” to disclose all of its “beneficial owners,” a term which likely includes any shareholder…
Whitehouse’s latest Disclose Act also would expand the existing “electioneering communications” law to regulate ads that merely mention a congressional candidate or a member of Congress up for reelection beginning on the first day of an election year through Election Day.
By Eric Wang
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra hit a low note recently during a press conference marking his first 100 days in office. Out of the blue, Becerra lashed out at nonprofit groups for “doing politics.” He threatened to investigate “these groups that are getting tax breaks [while] influencing our political system,” and claimed their donors were illegally taking charitable tax deductions. In his tirade, Becerra misstated the law. As California’s top law enforcement official, he should know better. Then again, his remarks continue his predecessor’s war against nonprofits’ First Amendment rights.
If Becerra’s claim that nonprofits are illegally participating in politics were true, that would mean he was the ringleader and beneficiary of a criminal enterprise during his 20 years in Congress. After all, his congressional campaign committee – which existed for the sole purpose of promoting his election and reelection – was a nonprofit organization under the tax code. If Attorney General Becerra wants to crack down on nonprofit groups engaging in politics, he should begin by prosecuting himself. Fortunately for Becerra, he’s wrong about the law.
On paper, McGahn, who is 48, wasn’t an obvious choice for White House counsel. He has never previously worked in a presidential administration, and he has all the attributes of the Washington elites whom Trump has denounced. (One attendee of McGahn’s 2010 wedding says it was like “a convention for election lawyers.”) Trump vowed to get big money out of politics, while McGahn has spent much of his legal career helping candidates and donors stretch the limits of campaign finance laws…
Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell cut a deal in the summer of 2008 to end the FEC’s impasse when they confirmed a slate of new commissioners, McGahn among them. From the beginning, McGahn made clear he felt no kinship with his new employer. “A lot of the staff said, ‘Welcome to the agency. It’s so nice to have you join us,'” recalls Eric Wang, an election lawyer who got to know McGahn while working for another Republican commissioner. “He made a point of saying, ‘I’m not joining you,'” making it clear that he was not there to collaborate with the career agency staff, but rather to serve as a check on them.