Daily Media Links 12/8: College Newspaper Endorsements Likely Okay Under IRS Rules, When Everything Is ‘Fake News,’ and more…

Free Speech

Forward: Free Speech Advocates Warn that Anti-Semitism Bill Could Make Activism a Civil Rights Violation

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

The bill “opens the door to considering anti-Israel political statements and activities as possible grounds for civil rights investigations,” said Michael Macleod-Ball, chief of staff of the American Civil Liberties Union’s legislative office in Washington. “Whether you agree with the BDS movement or not, aligning oneself with it and even participating in the effort should not subject someone to a civil rights investigation.”…

The bill would instruct the U.S. Department of Education to consider a definition of anti-Semitism that includes “demonizing Israel” or “judg[ing] Israel by a double standard” when investigating federal discrimination claims…

While the bill explicitly says that its provisions do not infringe upon First Amendment rights, Palestine Legal’s Jackson doesn’t buy it.

“That line at the end was shoehorned in, and everything else about the bill is clearly an attack on First Amendment rights,” Jackson said. “To stick in a rhetorical nod basically saying, ‘Oh, yeah and the First Amendment,’ cannot save an unconstitutional bill.”


The Hill: Some simple, commonsense, bipartisan campaign finance reforms

By Robert Lenhard

The Federal Election Commission is often mocked as a do-nothing agency, hopelessly split by partisan deadlock. But last week, the agency performed an annual and highly constructive act on a unanimous bipartisan basis: it made thirteen recommendations to Congress to amend the statute it oversees. While it is common for everyone to ignore these annual recommendations, that is a mistake.  They contain commonsense changes that all of the Republican and Democratic Commissioners agree will help make the statute more sensible, save taxpayers money, and produce a fairer system of financing our federal campaigns. Here are just a few of their suggestions…

Index some of the limits for inflation… Indexing will remove small dollar spenders from the FEC’s regulatory or enforcement focus…

Congress repealed public financing of the national party conventions in 2014. It is time to also remove it from statute… It makes no sense for the statute to continue to describe a program that no longer exists. Congress should eliminate these confusing and extinct rules. 


Washington Post: House snuffs out conservatives’ IRS impeachment push

By Mike DeBonis

The House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to effectively put an end an effort by hard-line conservatives to impeach Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John A. Koskinen…

The motion to refer the impeachment resolution passed 342-72, with 166 Republicans joining 176 Democrats to bottle up the measure. Republican leaders have opposed the impeachment push, fearing it would set a harmful precedent but also that a weeks-long Senate impeachment trial might hold up President-elect Donald Trump’s early-term agenda.

“The majority of the House voted to refer this matter to the Judiciary Committee consistent with regular order because it would have triggered automatic consideration lasting into next year, filling up weeks of floor time and crippling our ability to hit the ground running on Trump administration confirmations and Obamacare repeal,” said AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).       

FIRE: College Newspaper Endorsements Likely Okay Under IRS Rules

By Adam Goldstein

Every time election season rolls around, FIRE is called on to clear universities’ lingering confusion over the political speech and activity rights of students, which are frequently, and unconstitutionally, restricted by colleges suddenly fearful that allowing such expression might put their tax-exempt status at risk. As we can never seem to say enough, students are strongly presumed to speak only for themselves on matters of politics. So long as this is clear, the risk student political speech poses to their universities in this regard borders on zero.

But what about college newspapers-many of which are incorporated as nonprofits?…

The IRS seems to have set out a test that looks like this: If an educational nonprofit entity (either a school or a separate corporation) supports an educational activity without dictating its political content, and the educational activity would ordinarily involve some political expression, the nonprofit entity’s tax status is not threatened when students engage in that expression. 


New York Times: Harry Reid Leaves the Senate a Different Place, and a Different Man

By Carl Hulse

Most Americans know who Harry Reid is these days. He is the soft-spoken man who slugs it out with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on the floor over filibusters, the tactician who delivered the 60 votes for President Obama’s health care law (“It was really, really hard”), the leader who didn’t quit after a punishing accident while exercising at his home, the guy who made the billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch the poster boys for unrestricted campaign spending.

“There is no question this whole institution of Congress has been adversely affected by the Citizens United case,” Mr. Reid said, referring to the Supreme Court decision that ended limits on outside spending. “The country is up for sale right now.” 

The Media 

Morning Consult: Most Responsible to Recognize Fake News? Poll Says Readers Themselves

By Laura Nichols

The survey found that 67 percent of respondents said search engines like Google are responsible for ensuring people are not exposed to fake news. Sixty-six percent said the same about the person reading the news. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter had 63 percent of people say they should act as gatekeepers, while 56 percent said the government has that responsibility…

But when asked who has the most responsibility, 24 percent said it’s the person reading the news. The second-highest response was “don’t know,” with 20 percent. Social media sites came in at 17 percent, and search engines trailed with 9 percent. Fourteen percent of respondents said that responsibility falls on the government’s shoulders.  

Reason: When Everything Is ‘Fake News’

By Jesse Walker

In the long-gone days of early 2016, fake news mostly meant clickbait sites that publish hoaxes, some with a satiric veneer and some just flatly aimed at tricking people… These days “fake news” still means that, but it also gets applied to highly partisan outlets that may be sloppy with their facts; and content factories that just don’t care about their facts; and Russian disinformation campaigns, real or alleged; and pretty much any conspiracy theory that finds a foothold online. (Like PizzaGate.) Even a police sting got the “fake news” label last week because the operation included a deceptive press release. And of course it’s also a phrase that people throw back in the mainstream media’s faces any time the press botches a story.

In other words, “fake news” has become a catchall term for saying something false in public, otherwise known as the human condition.

This does not bode well for people who think they can find a fix to “the fake news problem,” given that clickbait and rumors and disinformation and sloppy reporting and so on are all different things.  

Independent Groups

CPI: Meet the 10 shadowy groups that snuck into your state races

By Kytja Weir, Chris Zubak-Skees, and Ben Wieder

Some independent groups ensconced in offices around D.C. and New York have been running their own shadow campaigns to affect the outcomes of races for governor, legislators, state supreme court justices and more around the country.

Overall, independent political groups such as these have taken on a larger role in shaping the messages about who to choose for political office, sponsoring about 1 in every 5 political TV ads about state political races since 2010, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of six years of data from Kantar Media/CMAG.

That’s far more than the roughly 1 in 10 ads that ran in 2010, the year that political spending was rocked by the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission opinion and related cases…

Here’s a field guide to the top 10 national groups that shaped state races in the past three years, based on the TV advertising purchased by the groups and their affiliates…    

Roll Call: Democratic PAC Transitions to Advocacy Role in 2017

By Simone Pathé

2016 wasn’t the year Democrats wanted it to be.

But for one PAC created this cycle to elect Democrats at the federal level, this year’s election results may actually validate support for their mission: getting big money out of politics.

End Citizens United detects from this year’s anti-establishment election much of the same frustration with the status quo that will drive its advocacy work moving forward…

Despite the millions of dollars super PACs raised for her, Hillary Clinton earned ECU’s backing because of her support of an amendment that would overturn the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision…

Advocacy efforts will pressure Congress and the administration to increase transparency in elections and will fight efforts to limit campaign finance disclosure. In addition to fighting its namesake Supreme Court decision, ECU would like to see overturned the 2014 decision McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck down two-year aggregate limits on how much individuals can donate to candidates, parties and PACs.   

USA Today: Clinton ally Brock promises sustained attacks on Donald Trump

By Fredreka Schouten

Strategist David Brock, one of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s staunchest defenders, announced plans Tuesday to use one of his well-funded super PACs to challenge President-elect Donald Trump’s policies and police potential conflicts between Trump’s new job and his vast business empire…

Brock said American Bridge 21st Century, a super PAC launched in 2011, has created a new anti-Trump “war room” to dig into real-estate developer, his hires and far-flung business operations…

Brock, who sits at the helm of several outside groups that raised nearly $75 million in the 2016 election, said no budget has been set for the Trump effort but said he is “confident” donors will step up. He is planning a January summit for Democratic contributors in South Florida to rally them to fund liberal efforts for the next four years.   

Politico: Trump’s top conflict critics take over watchdog group

By Darren Samuelsohn

A pair of outspoken bipartisan voices critical of President-elect Donald Trump’s business conflicts are joining forces atop a leading government watchdog group, part of an overhaul in the top ranks of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington that includes the departure from the board of self-described Hillary Clinton enforcer David Brock.

Norm Eisen, a former senior Obama White House ethics lawyer who co-founded CREW in 2003, said in a prepared statement that he’s returning to the nonprofit as chairman of its board “to help lead its work in the battle against corruption – and for accountability – in Washington.” Richard Painter, a former White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, will be CREW’s vice chairman…

Brock, one of the main outside attack dogs for Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign, still plans to raise funds for CREW and will serve as an adviser to the group.     

Candidates and Campaigns

Huffington Post: Hillary Clinton’s Inaugural Address

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Here’s what we’d like to hear her say before Donald Trump takes office…
We will call out the continuing scourge of money in politics. Every one of us in politics knows that even as we seek the votes of everyday Americans during our campaigns, once elected it is the big donors who get our ear. I am especially disturbed that President-elect Trump has named as his White House counsel Donald McGahn, a man who has eviscerated campaign finance reform in our nation…

Our shadow government will support the reversal of Citizens United and other court decisions that have flooded politics with rich people’s money. During the recent campaign, I called over and again for reversing Citizens United, and I realize now that my own fundraising among the wealthy compromised my position. Again, I was on the wrong side. Sen. Bernie Sanders was on the right side. He showed all of us that you can mount an effective national campaign with small donations from millions of American citizens. That’s the way we must go. Our shadow government will be dedicated to ending the buying of America by the superrich.    

The States

MassLive: Businesses seek to overturn Massachusetts ban on political contributions

By Shira Schoenberg

Attorneys for two Massachusetts businesses on Wednesday tried to convince a Superior Court judge to overturn the state’s ban on campaign contributions by corporations and to allow businesses to make the same political donations as labor unions…

The businesses say the contribution ban fails to prevent corruption and “goes too far in restricting fundamental freedoms,” James Manley, an attorney for the Goldwater Institute, wrote in court briefs.

“Defendants cannot claim that banning business contributions is a ‘necessary abridgement’ to prevent corruption while at the same time allowing contributions from other groups that could create the same problem,” Manley wrote.

The businesses argued that unions should be treated the same as corporations, since there is no reason one would create corruption and not the other. They say the views of businesses are traditionally a counterbalance to those of unions, and government cannot constitutionally ban only one voice.

Portland Tribune: Fritz, Novick cut deal to support each others’ ‘progressive’ measures

By Jim Redden

Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Steve Novick announced Tuesday they will support controversial programs they have each introduced. That means they now need just one more vote on the five-member City Council to pass both of them, although it is not clear where the other members stand on them.

Fritz has proposed a public campaign financing program that would be capped at $1.2 million a year. She wants it to be administered by the City Auditors Office, but current Auditor Mary Hull Caballero says she does not have enough employees to do so. A previous public campaign finance program supported by Fritz was repealed by Portland voters.

“I am excited to be championing Open and Accountable Elections, a new and improved public campaign finance system,” Fritz said in a joint press release with Novick on Tuesday. “This program will allow candidates to reach out to a broad cross-section of Portlanders to help fund their campaigns, and add accountability and transparency requirements for all candidates, whether or not they choose to use public financing.” 

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