Daily Media Links 6/11: Montana tells contractors to report ‘dark money’ spending, Facebook Faces Criticism of Ad Policy From Global Publishers, and more…

Internet Speech Regulation

Bloomberg: Facebook Faces Criticism of Ad Policy From Global Publishers

By Naomi Nix

Facebook Inc. is facing more blowback for its decision to categorize the promotion of news articles as political content, with global publishers now urging Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg to change its policy.

Seven trade groups representing media publishers and broadcast organizations in more than 120 countries including The New York Times, BBC.com and 21st Century Fox, sent a letter to Zuckerberg Monday. They’re criticizing the social media giant’s decision to place ads publishers buy to boost exposure to their political articles in a public database alongside the ad information of political candidates…

Separately, the issue of political ads on social media has caught the attention of Congress. Senators Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, and Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, introduced the Honest Ads Act, which would subject online political ads to similar disclosure rules that now govern advertising content in other media such as TV and radio. The measure has the support of Facebook and Twitter.

The Federal Election Commission is also considering new regulations that would require disclaimers identifying the sponsors of online, mobile and other forms of digital ads, offering alternative rules.

Longmont Times-Call: Internet political ads should reveal who paid for them

By Karen McCormick

The “Honest Ads Act” introduced in both houses, with bi-partisan support, is intended to ensure that internet political advertisements are subject to the same rules as print and television ads. This means that to accept election or issue related advertisements, the relevant platform must obtain and disclose what individual or group bought the ad, the rate paid, and the target audience. The ads must be publicly available for viewing by anyone. Each ad displayed must inform the viewer the name or organization of the sponsor. This effort will by no means solve the pervasive and persistent use of dis- and misinformation in politics, but it should curtail the influence of outside players. The act will at the very least close a loophole in our election law that was blown wide open in the last cycle.

First Amendment

Politico: ‘There is reason for significant First Amendment concern’

By Jason Schwartz

First Amendment advocates erupted in outrage and concern in response to the news that the Department of Justice had seized years’ worth of email and phone records from a New York Times reporter as part of an investigation into government leaks – and wondered how many other journalists may be under similar surveillance.

“Anytime the government begins to prowl through journalistic emails, there is reason for significant First Amendment concern. This may or may not be the only instance that this administration has done this,” renowned First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, who represented the Times in the Pentagon Papers case, told POLITICO.

Abrams said he is particularly concerned that the records of the reporter, Ali Watkins, were seized without her knowledge, or giving her a chance to challenge their seizure in court. The Obama administration aggressively pursued leak cases, prosecuting more than all previous administrations combined, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last year that his Justice Department is pursuing three times as many cases as were open at the current administration’s start…

“One of the most important protections journalists have is the ability to go to court and defend their First Amendment interests,” Abrams said. “On its face, this does not sound as if there was some immediate national security threat.”

That there was no apparent imminent crisis, he said, “means it’s all the more troubling that this was not handled by a subpoena to the journalist with a chance of a juridical determination.”

The Courts

New York Post: Democratic parties accused of funneling $84M into Clinton campaign

By Annie Sanders

Up to 40 state Democratic parties could be implicated in an alleged scheme to illegally funnel some $84 million to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign…

A federal lawsuit says the Clinton team and the Democratic National Committee went around campaign finance laws by pouring money into state parties that then sent the funds back to the DNC to help Clinton…

The Committee to Defend the President, a pro-President Trump PAC, first filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission in December. But the authorities didn’t take action before a required deadline…

The FEC complaint alleges “an unprecedented, massive, nationwide multi-million dollar conspiracy” in which Dems and Clinton’s camp were “effectively laundering nearly all contributions” given to the Hillary Victory Fund.

That fund is a so-called joint fundraising committee that allowed Clinton to raise money for her campaign and local state parties simultaneously. Possible due to looser campaign finance rules, this type of fund meant Clinton could raise $350,000 or more from a single rich donor.

Backer said most money raised for state parties by the Hillary Victory Fund were then passed back to the DNC and on to Clinton’s campaign.

Congress

Daily Beast: The Rise of the Congressional Reformers Caucus

By Eleanor Clift

An entire wall of Meredith McGehee’s K Street office is covered with white boards that track current and past members of Congress who are aligned with the newly launched Congressional Reformers Caucus.

A longtime ethics-in-government activist, McGehee is the executive director of Issue One, an advocacy group founded in 2014 that works to restore confidence in government and reduce the role of money in politics.

A map shows former members of Congress in just about every state signing on to reduce pay-to-play politics and increase disclosure and accountability. It’s easy to commit once you’re out of office. But now, in what’s considered a big breakthrough, 26 current members-evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats-are forming a Congressional Reformers Caucus…

Among the ideas the caucus is exploring are a ban on fundraising while the House is in session, an “Honest Ads” act that would have paid political ads on the Internet carry a disclaimer on who takes responsibility, similar to those on television ads, and more disclosure around leadership PACs that blur the line between official and personal use.    

Utica Observer-Dispatch: CNY must play role in fixing politics now

By Richard Hanna and John McHugh

[T]wo threats that every New York voter should demand Congress address are dark money and foreign disinformation campaigns in our elections. The lack of political will to take common-sense action on these issues is emblematic of everything wrong with our political system today…

This “dark money” system allows a few well-heeled individuals to have much larger sway over the direction of our country, leaving voters without the information they need to know who is trying to win their vote, and why. It also feeds extreme partisanship in Congress when politicians are worried that every vote they take will result in millions of dollars being spent against them most originating from outside their districts.

Congress must tackle dark money in a way that protects voters’ right to a transparent electoral process while also safeguarding their sacred First Amendment right to free speech…

The bipartisan Honest Ads Act, which is the best first step to begin addressing the loopholes that allowed foreign powers like Russia to inundate voters with propaganda on Facebook and Twitter, has yet to even receive a hearing…

With these monumental problems in mind, we, along with our former colleagues Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-New Hartford), Rep. Steve Israel (D-Long Island), Rep. Amory Houghton (R-Corning) and Rep. Matthew McHugh (D-Ithaca) are talking with members of the community, business leaders and other former elected officials from Central New York in the weeks and months ahead as part of Issue One Action’s national “Fix Politics Now” campaign about how to end the D.C. culture of hopeless gridlock.  

Lobbying

AP News: US lifts secrecy on foreign lobbying opinions

By Chad Day and Eric Tucker

The Justice Department is opening up about the advice it has given to lobbyists who work for foreign governments and political interests.

For the first time, the public is able to read advisory opinions the department has issued to lobbyists, public relations professionals and others about whether they need to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA.

The department had kept the opinions secret for decades, a point of contention for transparency advocates and lawyers who specialize in advising clients on complying with the law. The opinions provide an unprecedented view into the thinking of a specialized Justice Department unit whose influence has grown in recent years, propelled by more aggressive enforcement and a special counsel investigation focused on foreign influence operations inside the U.S. …

The department removed the names and other identifying details from all of the opinions released publicly.

In disclosing the opinions, Justice Department officials say they want the public to better understand how they interpret a decades-old law meant to allow Americans to know when foreign entities are trying to influence public opinion or policymakers.

Independent Groups

Roll Call: Trade Groups in Turmoil in the Trump Era

By Kate Ackley

These multimillion-dollar organizations are clamoring for ways to boost membership, and sometimes even keep their doors open, as they work to stay relevant amid the political and policy uncertainty of Washington during the era of President Donald Trump…

Associations and member organizations offer companies and professionals a platform to push policy proposals under one voice, and give their dues-paying members access to networking, continuing education and even, in some cases, involvement in a political action committee…

Trade associations, like all big businesses, have the overhead of a bureaucracy and the challenge of getting members to agree on policy priorities. They also play a crucial role that has taken on new importance with Trump in the White House: They can push for or against specific proposals while giving their membership some anonymity – like a cloak of safety-in-numbers at a time when the president has routinely called out specific companies on Twitter or in public remarks…

Despite the challenges – internal and external – for trade associations, veterans of this slice of the influence world see their business thriving.

“Associations are just a vital part of democracy,” said Neely, who recently chaired the American Society of Association Executives, a lobbying group for associations. “They will always be an important way to have impact on government decision-making, so I don’t see us going away at all.”

Disclosure

Dallas News: Trump lawyer payments fuel AT&T shareholders’ push to know more about political spending

By Melissa Repko

Increasingly, companies are facing pressure from shareholders to reveal how they spend money to influence legislation in Washington. But those concerns took on new relevancy at AT&T last month, when it became public that the company paid $600,000 to Cohen to advise on various matters…

Asset management firm Dana Investment Advisors was among the shareholder groups who unsuccessfully pressed for a resolution at the recent AT&T annual meeting that calls for a new annual report that lists AT&T’s affiliation and payments to trade groups and politically active tax-exempt organizations. Though the resolution would not have applied to the Cohen payment, the shareholders say the incident highlighted why companies that are not open about their spending in Washington are courting danger…

AT&T releases a political engagement report each year that lists the federal and state candidates, political action committees and political party committees that the company funded and the amount of its contributions. Like other companies, it is required by law to file federal lobbying reports with the U.S. House and Senate.

But some aspects of its lobbying are difficult to track, and other spending cannot be tracked at all. The money it spends on state lobbying is dispersed across state websites. And some of the money it spends – which is given to trade groups and 501(c)(4)s, tax-exempt social welfare organizations that can participate in political activities like lobbying or writing model legislation, is untraceable.

Candidates and Campaigns

Wall Street Journal: Maine Democrats Focus on Campaign Finance in Congressional Primary

By Reid J. Epstein and Janet Hook

The Maine contest pits Lucas St. Clair, heir to the Burt’s Bees fortune, against Jared Golden, a state lawmaker and Marine veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The race is a rare 2018 Democratic congressional primary to feature a prominent role for a nonprofit political group that isn’t required to disclose its donors-the type of outside political player that the party has long said should be banned because of its lack of transparency…

Mr. Golden’s TV ad warned of a “secretive group” backing Mr. St. Clair, who it says “should step out of the dark money shadows.” The ad says Mr. Golden would “fight to repeal Citizens United,” the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that helped clear the way for independent expenditure groups to advertise in federal political campaigns.

“Just because there’s a loophole doesn’t mean you should use it,” Mr. Golden said in an interview. “If we want to strengthen our party and retake areas where we are losing ground, Democrats have to start by holding our own accountable.”…

Mr. St. Clair did say that Mr. Golden’s emphasis on campaign finance has served as a distraction from the kitchen-table issues such as health care that he said Maine voters care about.

“No one is coming up to me on the street or in town halls or anywhere across the district and saying, ‘Hey, the biggest issue to me is getting money out of politics,'” Mr. St. Clair said. “People want to talk about issues that matter in their lives.”

The States

CNBC: Montana tells contractors to report ‘dark money’ spending

By Matt Volz, AP

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock signed a first-of-its-kind executive order Friday to require many state government contractors to report their political contributions, even those to so-called “dark money” groups that don’t have to disclose donors under federal law…

“He’s using this executive order to try to garner media attention to his own presidential campaign that no one is talking about,” said Matthew Monforton, an attorney who is challenging a separate Bullock-backed state law that reformed campaign disclosures…

Under the executive order, all companies submitting bids for contracts valued at more than $25,000 for services or $50,000 for goods must disclose two years’ worth of political spending if that spending exceeds $2,500.

The requirement will take effect Oct. 1, and current contractors are exempt…

Bullock passed the 2015 Disclose Act through the Republican-led state Legislature under the similar principle of requiring more transparency by all groups that spend money to influence state elections. That law has been upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, though two challenges, including Monforton’s, are still pending…

The Montana law requires disclosure of any group that simply mentions a candidate in advertising…

The governor effectively dared someone to file a legal challenge to his executive order.

“Look, I’d certainly welcome some dark money group to challenge it because I think it’s not only consistent with the law but consistent with what Montanans hope to know about who’s trying to influence their elections,” Bullock said.

Providence Journal: Lobbyists’ influence is campaign issue

By Patrick Anderson and Katherine Gregg

At least two bills before the General Assembly would ban state lawmakers from accepting campaign contributions from registered lobbyists.

And in Washington, congressional Democrats are hoping to weaponize “drain the swamp” against President Donald Trump with a political message attacking Republicans for choosing lobbyists over the average voter.

“Washington lobbyists and high-powered influence peddlers need greater oversight and should be prohibited from attempting to trade campaign cash for access and influence,” Democratic Congressional Leadership wrote in a news release touting their “Better Deal for Democracy” platform last month.

Standing on the Capitol steps with fellow Democrats, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said, “If people in this country feel like they are not being listened to by government, it’s because they are not… The reason is the unlimited money and the dark money that are the scourge of American politics.”

But as Whitehouse championed campaign finance reform – particularly ending so-called “dark money” from anonymous contributors – the nonprofit ethics watchdog Center for Responsive Politics days later pointed out that he and other Democratic leaders take their fair share of money from lobbyists.

Since the start of 2017, Whitehouse has accepted $95,050 from lobbyists, the 36th most in Congress, one spot behind Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and one spot ahead of Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Richard Neal, according to the Center’s analysis. Whitehouse’s Ocean PAC took in another $15,900 in lobbyist contributions.

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