Daily Media Links 1/10

January 10, 2020   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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In the News

SCOTUSblog: Petitions of the week

By Andrew Hamm

Institute for Free Speech v. Becerra
19-793
Issues: (1) Whether a state official’s demand for all significant donors to a nonprofit organization, as a precondition to engaging in constitutionally protected speech, constitutes a First Amendment injury; and (2) whether official demands for membership or donor information outside the electoral context should be reviewed under strict or exacting scrutiny.

Washington Examiner: Surprise! The IRS really does want to protect your privacy

By Alex Baiocco

Admiring the role of civic organizations in the infancy of America, Alexis De Tocqueville wrote, “In America the liberty of association for political purposes is unbounded.” Yet he also warned that if people “had neither the right nor the taste to unite in political goals, their independence would run great risks.”

Unfortunately, now politicians often threaten to burden our freedom of association. If Tocqueville was alive now, he wouldn’t understand why the IRS forces groups to report their supporters’ names and addresses…

Fortunately, reform is on the way. The IRS has proposed ending the donor reporting rule for most types of nonprofit organizations. This is a welcome development that will help preserve America’s tradition of a robust and independent civil society…

Some powerful politicians have voiced fierce opposition to the IRS proposal. They claim that the agency’s collection of donors’ names and addresses is necessary to fight so-called dark money in the campaign finance sphere. But the IRS has neither the authority nor responsibility to enforce campaign finance laws, for good reason. A tax-collecting agency should not be in the business of regulating political speech..

The First Amendment protects the right to privacy in association. The IRS deserves praise for recognizing this right and seeking reform to safeguard it.

As the IRS pursues this laudable reform, those in power should heed Tocqueville’s words: “No legislator can attack [the right of association] without impairing the very foundations of society.”

The Courts

Reason: To Stop Spread of Hateful Messages, Iowa State University Restricted Sidewalk Chalk

By Robby Soave

Iowa’s critically important Democratic presidential caucus is just weeks away, but students at Iowa State University (ISU) are facing serious restrictions on their ability to advocate for and against various candidates and policies due to an absurd and possibly unconstitutional ban on offensive sidewalk chalking.

The policy, implemented in November, states that only registered student organizations may write chalk messages on campus sidewalks. These messages may not editorialize: They can only advertise upcoming events, citing names, locations, and other logistical details. And they can only be seven words long…

The university’s College Republicans oppose the policy, arguing that it restricts political messaging.

The College Democrats, on the other hand, were disappointed to lose the ability to promote their candidates via chalking, but said that “if restricting [chalking] can reduce incidents of hate-filled messages on campus, the organization would prefer students feel safe,” according to Inside Higher Ed…

The policy has thus earned a well-deserved legal challenge from Speech First, a legal advocacy group that defends free speech and due process on campuses.

“Iowa State University and its officials have created a series of rules and regulations that restrain, deter, suppress, and punish speech about the political and social issues of the day,” wrote Speech First lawyers in a preliminary injunction that seeks to halt the policy.

National Review: Iowa State Bans Student Emails Supporting Candidates

By Katherine Timpf

Iowa State University’s speech policies place strict limits on the ways in which students can express support for political candidates – and now, thankfully, the school is being sued over it…

Iowa State bans writing political messages in chalk on its sidewalks, as well as student emails supporting candidates and campaigns. (Interestingly enough…it does allow emails opposing them.)

In response to these policies (as well as to the school’s Campus Climate Reporting System), the pro-free-speech nonprofit Speech First filed a federal lawsuit against the taxpayer-funded school on Thursday, arguing that the school’s policies violate both state law and students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

“One month out from a major political primary, students have been significantly – and unconstitutionally – burdened from participating in the political process,” Speech First president Nicole Neily said…

The school’s reason for these policies may be to ensure that its students are comfortable on campus, but what they’re 

really doing is ensuring that its students will be very 

uncomfortable once they leave. I understand the desire to protect students from awful things like racism and sexism, but banning all political chalking and politically supportive emails in an attempt to achieve this is like trying to kill a fly with a nuclear bomb.

Free Expression

Boston Herald: Babson College staffer apologizes for Facebook post urging Iran list U.S. cultural sites to bomb

By Rick Sobey

A Babson College staff member has apologized for his “bad attempt at humor” for writing on Facebook Iran should list 52 American cultural sites that it could bomb – a post that got him suspended, with pay.

Babson’s director of sustainability Asheen Phansey apologized for the post…

“I am completely opposed to violence and would never advocate it by anyone. I am sorry that my sloppy humor was read as a threat. I condemn all acts of violence,” Phansey added…

Phansey posted on Facebook: “In retaliation, Ayatollah Khomenei should tweet a list of 52 sites of beloved American cultural heritage that he would bomb. Um… Mall of America? Kardashian residence?”…

Babson College released a statement Wednesday saying, “Babson College condemns any type of threatening words and/or actions condoning violence and/or hate…While we understand he has deleted the posts, we have immediately suspended him, with pay, pending the completion of our investigation…”…

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil liberties organization that defends student and faculty speech rights, criticized Babson College…

“While Babson College is a private institution not bound by the First Amendment, it has committed itself to principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression,” Adam Steinbaugh, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, said in a statement. “By suspending a faculty member due to his private political expression, Babson has betrayed those principles.”

Washington Post: Professor who jokingly said Iran should list 52 U.S. cultural sites to bomb has been fired

By Teo Armus

In an uneasy moment, Asheen Phansey was trying to be funny.

Amid recent tensions between Washington and Tehran, during which President Trump threatened to target 52 sites “important to Iran & the Iranian culture,” Phansey suggested that Iran’s supreme leader might want to do the same…

He would later describe the post as “a bad attempt at humor,” telling Boston news outlets that he was only poking fun at the nation’s relative lack of ancient culture. But his apology couldn’t save his job: The business school announced Thursday that it had fired him…

The incident marks the most recent instance of professors drawing flak for their commentary on current events, particularly as questions of academic freedom and free speech play out in an increasingly volatile era of politics and policy.

While decades of First Amendment case law prevents officials at public universities from restricting what their employees can say, or punishing them for expressing their views, private schools like Babson have much greater leeway…

As he reflected on his own firing, Phansey seemed to pick up on that trend.

“Beyond my own situation, I am really concerned about what this portends for our ability as Americans,” he told the Herald, “to engage in political discourse without presuming the worst about each other.”

Independent Groups

Daily Caller: Dark Money Has Bolstered Bernie’s Campaign From The Start

By Andrew Kerr

Sanders founded Our Revolution, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group that can accept unlimited contributions without disclosing the identities of its donors, in 2016, and one campaign finance expert believes the group’s work to help Sanders achieve his presidential aspirations could be violating the law…

Campaign finance laws state that groups “directly or indirectly established” by federal officeholders such as Sanders can’t “solicit, receive, direct, transfer, or spend funds” for federal electoral activity that exceeds the limitations of the law, which in Our Revolution’s case would be $5,000 per election…

Sanders’s wife, Jane Sanders, is also linked to Our Revolution…

In 2018, Our Revolution sublet some of its Washington, D.C., office space to Sanders’s 2018 Senate campaign, according to financial statements…

Sanders also lists on his campaign website endorsements he has received from three board members of Our Revolution – Justin Bamberg, Jim Zogby and Larry Cohen –  but doesn’t disclose their affiliation with the dark money group…

Our Revolution received $9.5 million in contributions since 2016 through 2018, but unlike Super PACs, which Sanders often decries, the group is not required to disclose the identity of its donors. Our Revolution reported in its 2018 tax filing that it received contributions of $218,309 and $195,000, but didn’t list the name of the individual or group behind those donations. 

Our Revolution does disclose on its website the names of donors who have given $250 or more in a single year, but it doesn’t disclose the exact amount each individual has given.

Online Speech Platforms

Associated Press: Facebook again refuses to ban political ads, even false ones

By Barbara Ortutay

Facebook said it will offer users slightly more control over how many political ads they see and make its online library of political ads easier to use.

These steps appear unlikely to assuage critics – including politicians, activists, tech competitors and some of the company’s own rank-and-file employees – who say that Facebook has too much power and that social media is warping democracy and undermining elections…

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly argued that “political speech is important” and that Facebook doesn’t want to interfere with it…

Sam Jeffers, co-founder of Who Targets Me, an advocacy group researching political advertising, said Facebook is wise to permit microtargeting for political ads, despite calls for a ban.

He said it is better to provide more background information on ads because it can give more insight into the actors behind them and their strategies. Facebook has made a start in that direction by adding information on an ad’s audience size, but he said it should give much more explanation about targeted ads.

“By making it easier for you to understand what data’s in there, you can also understand what the advertiser’s intent was,” Jeffers said.

Washington Post: Facebook to Keep Targeted Political Ads but Will Give Users More Control

By Tony Romm, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Craig Timberg

Facebook on Thursday defied public calls to adopt significant limits on political advertising ahead of the 2020 presidential election, opting instead to introduce changes that allow users to control more of the ads they see.

The company’s new rules will continue to allow politicians to make false claims in their paid political posts and preserve the powerful yet controversial targeting tools that long have helped Democrats and Republicans deliver messaging to narrowly segmented audiences on the social networking site…

The new policies drew early praise from Democratic and Republican strategists, including President Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, which had fought vigorously behind the scenes to preserve Facebook’s existing ad tools. But Ellen L. Weintraub, who serves on the Federal Election Commission, sharply criticized the tech giant’s approach as “weak.”

“I am not willing to bet the 2020 elections on the proposition that Facebook has solved its problems with a solution whose chief feature appears to be that it doesn’t seriously impact the company’s profit margins,” she said in a series of tweets.

NPR: FEC Commissioner Rips Facebook Over Political Ad Policy: ‘This Will Not Do’

By Bill Chappell

Facebook will continue to allow political ads to target its users, sticking to its position despite sharp criticisms and concerns about the social media platform’s potential impact on the upcoming presidential election. Federal Election Commissioner Ellen Weintraub is sharply criticizing the policy, saying Facebook’s “weak plan suggests the company has no idea how seriously it is hurting democracy.”…

Thursday morning, Weintraub, a Democrat, [tweeted], “I am not willing to bet the 2020 elections on the proposition that Facebook has solved its problems with a solution whose chief feature appears to be that it doesn’t seriously impact the company’s profit margins.”…

“This will not be a popular view. But on the whole, we think that Facebook got this right,” says Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, of the social media company’s new policy.

Describing the gray area that political ads often occupy, Wizner added, “I don’t think Facebook is capable of doing effective fact-checking, and I don’t think as a society we should want Facebook to be the entity that’s making those kinds of distinctions.”

Washington Post: Facebook banned deepfakes. But there’s a more menacing type of video out there.

By Editorial Board

Facebook banned the highly altered, algorithmically generated videos known as deepfakes from its platform this week. But what may be a bigger problem for our politics has a less menacing name: cheapfakes…

These are also examples of media fiddled with deliberately to fool people and leveraged as digital smears against the individuals they depict. Yet because Facebook’s policy affects only video that is the product of artificial intelligence or machine learning, they don’t violate its latest set of rules. Instead, these cheapfakes get similar treatment to traditional misinformation such as made-up news stories: demoted in users’ feeds if a third-party fact-checker rates them as false and, in an important update, labeled with a warning screen. But they are not banned.

It makes sense that Facebook would rather forbid a single, scary technology than take on the more complicated category of manipulated media generally. Drawing lines, and distinguishing between legitimate parody and harmful lie, will be difficult. But to confront the specter that actually faces our democracy today rather than just a ghost of deception to come, all platforms need to accept the larger, more difficult challenge. That will mean examining the entire spectrum from gently to egregiously edited – and focusing on a video’s effect rather than the method of its production. Otherwise, our democracy will soon discover that cheapfakes come at great cost.

Candidates and Campaigns

The Intercept: Mike Bloomberg Says He’s Immune To Corporate Influence. His Campaign Is Managed By Lobbyists.

By Lee Fang

Mike Bloomberg, whose pitch to Democratic voters is that he remains untouched by special interests, has invited a campaign of special-influence peddlers to manage his campaign.

[Bloomberg] has made ethics a central part of his message, claiming that his decision to rely only on his own $53 billion fortune to finance his campaign makes him uniquely incorruptible. But in his bid for the presidency, Bloomberg has retained a circle of staff and advisers who have a long history of working as consultants and lobbyists for corporate interests…

Reached for comment, the campaign pointed to campaign finance reforms supported by the former mayor…

In a blitz of campaign advertisements unprecedented in scale, the Bloomberg campaign has touted the former New York City mayor as above outside influence.

“Mike Bloomberg has never taken a dime from special interests because as New York’s three-term mayor, he’s always worked for the people’s interest,” says the narrator of one recent advertisement. “He won’t be accepting a single donation during this campaign. Not one. Because the only people he intends to owe anything to are the voters.”

The States

The Hill: Seattle takes aim at Amazon over political spending

By Reid Wilson

The Seattle City Council is scheduled to vote Monday on new campaign finance restrictions that would prevent companies like Amazon from spending money on city elections.

The move comes just months after the tech giant, which is headquartered in Seattle, spent millions trying to oust incumbents who wanted to increase its taxes.

A City Council committee voted Wednesday to advance a bill that would prohibit corporations from contributing to candidates or political action committees spending on local elections if foreign investors own a substantial stake in those companies…

The bill is a direct response to the 2019 elections, in which Amazon and several other large corporations dumped more than $4 million into independent expenditure groups led by the local Chamber of Commerce, an unheard of sum in usually low-budget city elections…

Some council members warned the legislation would not fully curb a corporation’s political influence. The bill only limits contributions a corporation makes, not direct spending a corporation does on its own.

“This legislation is about addressing quid pro quo corruption and the threat of it. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that it’s going to quote get big money out of politics,” said Lisa Herbold, one of the council members who voted in favor of the bill. 

New York Daily News: Running from sunlight: Politician-affiliated nonprofits must tell the public who gives them money

By Daily News Editorial Board

Twas four short years ago that Mayor de Blasio’s shady fundraising for a slew of self-promoting political nonprofits landed him under federal investigation, prompting the City Council to pass a 2016 law requiring such organizations tied to elected officials to list all donors who give $1,000 and up, and identify givers with business before the city. (Donors to all city-affiliated nonprofits giving $5,000 or more had already been subject to transparency rules.)…

Last summer, before some of the new law’s provisions were set to take effect, the Council quietly passed a new law limiting the strict disclosure requirements only to nonprofits that spend at least 10% of their funds promoting an elected official, a vague and easily manipulable calculation that opens up a massive loophole just in time for candidates running in 2021 citywide elections.

Look no further than mayoral hopeful and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, whose One Brooklyn Fund raises millions from donors giving in amounts far higher than would be allowed if they gave to Adams’ official campaign accounts…

A city with the nation’s strongest campaign finance system can’t let electeds’ shadow nonprofits undermine good government.

Washington Post: A look at issues coming before the Maryland General Assembly

By Associated Press

The [Maryland] General Assembly’s legislative session started Wednesday…

Maryland’s House speaker says legislation is expected to be introduced to ban a family member from serving as a legislative candidate’s campaign treasurer. The proposal comes after a former lawmaker and her daughter pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud for improper use of campaign funds.

 

 

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly

https://www.ifs.org/author/tdonnelly/

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