In the News
Washington Times: Supreme Court may review California, nonprofit privacy law
By Alex Swoyer
The Supreme Court could decide as early as Monday whether to review a California law that forces nonprofits to disclose donors to the state attorney general, testing the bounds of state government authority and privacy rights.
The Christian-centric public interest law firm Thomas More Law Center, which brought the case, argues that California’s attorney general has shown an inability to protect the information from disclosure and that forcing nonprofits to turn over donor lists would not only invade privacy but also expose them to retribution, such as doxxing.
“Normally in the United States, you don’t have to tell the government what you do – what causes you support,” said Brad Smith, chairman and founder of the Institute for Free Speech…
Critics say disclosure can lead to harassment, which could stifle groups’ ability to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Mr. Smith said some donors, once their identity is known, are subject to online bullying, protesters descending on homes, and even employers having to terminate employees for business reasons.
Patrice Onwuka, a senior fellow with Alliance for Charitable Excellence, said donors want to remain anonymous for many reasons, but once they know their personal information is public, it could impact nonprofits’ funding because they may be less willing to give.
By Matt Ford
The Supreme Court returns on Friday for the justices’ first conference of the new year. Two of the cases they’ll consider taking up are strange challenges to a California law aimed at preventing fraud among charitable organizations. Two conservative political-advocacy groups, supported by a host of other nonprofits, are trying to keep the identities of their top donors out of a registry maintained by the state attorney general’s office.
The groups and their allies argue that the forced disclosures violate their constitutional rights to freedom of association. They claim that the requirement could have a chilling effect on donations and even place supporters at risk of harassment and physical peril-though the state offered assurances that this information would not be released to the general public. If the justices agree to hear the cases, it will set a new benchmark on the Roberts court’s willingness to interpret the First Amendment as a shield for the wealthiest and most influential Americans. It will also test whether the pervasive sense of distrust among the country’s political factions has reached the high court at last.
By Kenneth P. Doyle
A federal appeals court panel on Friday heard arguments over the use of shell companies to hide donations in a case that could affect super PAC disclosure in the 2020 election.
Utah businessman Steven Lund is helping the Federal Election Commission defend the dismissal of allegations that Lund and other wealthy donors used shell companies to illegally hide their donations to super political action committees.
Lund, the chairman and chief executive of Nu Skin Enterprises, was among several donors accused of violating campaign finance laws by funneling millions of dollars to super PACs that supported Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential race. Obscure corporations were listed as the donors in reports filed with the FEC, prompting watchdog groups to complain the true donors were being hidden…
During the argument, the judges repeatedly questioned FEC attorney Haven Ward about the commission’s discretion to dismiss enforcement complaints due to deadlocked votes of the commissioners. Edwards criticized a 2018 decision by a separate D.C. Circuit panel that said courts can’t review the commission’s “prosecutorial discretion” to drop cases. The FEC dropped the complaint involving Lund in a deadlocked vote in 2016 despite a staff recommendation to pursue enforcement action.
Courthouse News Service: Federal Judge Blocks South Dakota Petition Law
By Maria Dinzeo
A federal judge struck down as unconstitutional a South Dakota law imposing burdensome regulations that would have made it much harder for the average citizen to get an initiative on the ballot.
Governor Kristi Noem signed House Bill 1094 into law on March 21, 2019, requiring petition circulators to wear name tags and register with the secretary of state.
The law further mandates that circulators provide the state with their personal information, such as their home address, email and phone number to be included in a public directory, potentially exposing people to harassment.
Political activist and Aberdeen resident Cory Heidelberger sued Noem, along with Attorney General Jason Ravsnborg and Secretary of State Steve Barnett in July 2019 to stop the law from taking effect.
Aside from the unduly onerous disclosure requirements, Heidelberger said the law discriminates based on viewpoint, since it only applies to petition proponents.
U.S. District Judge Charles Kornmann agreed. “The content and effect of the Act makes this discrimination unmistakable. If you favor the status quo and oppose change, you are not regulated. If you favor change of one sort or another, you are extensively regulated,” he wrote in a 15-page ruling issued Thursday.
By David Shribman
Ten years ago this month, the Supreme Court shocked the American political establishment with the declaration that corporations had the same rights as people in the eyes of the 1st Amendment, and therefore were exempt from restrictions on political spending.
Many conservatives said it would make the system fairer, broadening the open market of ideas and creating a new frontier of freedom of expression in politics. Liberals, for the most part, denounced it as a threat to democracy that would cement power in the hands of the few…
The anticipated flood of corporate money into politics in the form of independent expenditures – that is, spending not affiliated with an individual candidate or campaign – never materialized. Nor did a cascade of funds from labor unions and other left-oriented groups…Citizens United allowed them to use super PACs as vehicles for unlimited infusions of money into politics. It also allowed nonprofit groups to more easily keep the sources of campaign funding secret, allowing so-called dark money to influence elections…
The biggest effect of the ruling has been to engage and empower the very wealthiest Americans, across the political spectrum…
But the notion that the Citizens United decision opened the donation floodgates to 21st century corporations is a myth.
Wall Street Journal: The War on Philanthropy
By Karl Zinsmeister
America has just completed a banner year for private giving. The 10 largest donations in 2019 amounted to $6.2 billion, up 8% from 2018. These went to a wide array of causes, and came from men and women of the right (Jim Walton, Karen Huntsman) and the left (George Soros, Eric Schmidt). When the total of all U.S. philanthropy becomes available this summer, it will show that Americans voluntarily gave away around $430 billion in 2019.
Private giving builds institutions of civil society that provide valuable services, alleviating many pressing public problems. The New York Public Library has operated as a charity since its founding 125 years ago, and Central Park is run by a donor-funded conservancy that rescued it from decay in 1980. Quietly effective philanthropies get little visibility, though, and scant credit from journalists, academics and politicians.
Instead, progressive editorialists and political candidates openly call for deep cuts in the charitable deduction, an end to tax protections for churches and other charities, the taxing down of personal fortunes, and new regimes in which government becomes the sole ministrant of societal needs. Givers like the Kochs and Waltons are treated as punching bags for ideological reasons, but even liberals such as Bill Gates, Eli Broad and Robert Smith are pilloried for practicing philanthropy.
Washington Free Beacon: Schumer-Tied PAC Received $1.7 Million From Dark Money Group
By Joe Schoffstall
A political action committee linked to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) has received $1.7 million from a liberal dark money group for shared staff and office space since 2015, tax and Federal Election Commission forms show.
Schumer, who has said that dark money is “casting a shadow over our political process,” has condemned groups on the right that do not disclose their funders. He also demanded one right-leaning organization release a list of its donors, saying the public “deserves to know who is funding” campaigns against Democrats.
Despite the condemnation of dark money groups, the Schumer-linked Senate Majority PAC, which works to elect Democrats in the Senate, is closely affiliated with Majority Forward, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that does not disclose its funders…
Schumer and other Democrats have chastised Republican dark money groups such as the Judicial Crisis Network, a right-leaning organization. Schumer and Democratic senators earlier this year demanded JCN make public the names of individuals who have given the group more than $10,000 since 2017…
“The American public deserves to know who is funding these attacks, and whether the same individuals are financing litigation before the Court that will ultimately be decided by the Justices and judges they helped to confirm,” the letter said.
Online Speech Platforms
By Paul Bedard
[FEC]Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, taking a shot at Facebook’s decision to allow microtargeting, hit a Washington Post column that called the practice “cost-effective.”
She dismissively tweeted, “It’s amazing to me how #microtargeting is largely being justified on grounds that it’s ‘cost-effective.’ You know what else is cost-effective? Child labor. Dumping sewage into rivers. Fraud.”…
“Minorities of all types recognize that their interests and beliefs are often underserved and ignored by a majority that does not share them. Microtargeting makes it cost-effective for political actors to address those concerns. This is true for the left and the right: The trans community can get ads addressing their concerns just as easily as the religiously orthodox can addressing theirs…,” said the column posted Thursday…
[S]ome on both sides said the effect of limiting microtargeting of campaign ads is limiting free speech, especially for campaigns that aren’t rich.
Former FEC Chairman Lee Goodman, a champion of new technology and online speech, said, “Microtargeting helps American citizens communicate their political ideas effectively in a democracy.”
And he was critical of efforts to curb it. “Comparing free speech to sewage says all you need to know about the value Commissioner Weintraub places on First Amendment rights,” he told Secrets.
By Henry Olsen
Facebook has come under fire since 2016 for its policies regarding political advertising. Its new policy announced this week for the 2020 campaign will not satisfy the self-appointed crusaders against the social media giant. It nevertheless is the right approach to take.
Facebook gives political actors massive reach. Billions of people worldwide are on Facebook, letting campaigns reach voters for pennies on the dollar compared with traditional mass broadcasting. The platform’s enormous amounts of personalized data provides something even more valuable: the ability to target specific messages to the people likeliest to be moved by them. It’s no surprise, then, that spending on digital advertising is the fastest growth area worldwide in political campaigns.
Like any tool, however, it can be used by bad actors as well as good…
This has in turn led to predictable calls for the regulation of online political speech. Those seeking such regulation contend that viewers can be easily manipulated by false or hateful speech and that preventing that speech is the best way to ensure a truthful, and perhaps even more respectful, dialogue. Conservatives fear such a policy would inevitably be deployed against them owing to the overwhelmingly leftist orientation of much of the social media world’s workforce. But that hasn’t stopped mainly liberal agitators from continuing their effort to pressure Facebook and others to engage in private censorship.
Washington Examiner: Facebook is right to reject Elizabeth Warren’s censorship demands
By Brad Polumbo
Facebook has officially rejected Warren’s campaign clamoring and calls for censorship with its newly-released political advertisement policy.
Warren is a long-time critic of social media companies and purposely posted a false political ad to call attention to the fact that Facebook does not “fact-check” paid political advertisements. She’s since repeatedly blasted the company for supposedly holding democracy “hostage to their desire to make money.” Warren says Facebook “already helped elect Donald Trump once. Now, they’re deliberately allowing a candidate to intentionally lie to the American people.”
Long story short, Warren wants Facebook to censor her political opponents. Thankfully, though, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has rebuffed her demands, refusing to be the “arbiter of truth” and rightfully pointing out that “people [don’t] want to live in a world where you can only say things that tech companies decide are 100 percent true.” And Facebook released its official updated political advertisements policy on Thursday, with only minor changes made to encourage transparency. Despite the political pressure, it will continue to allow candidates to run ads free of censorship.
The Hill: Has Facebook learned nothing?
By Scott Goodstein
On Thursday Facebook rolled out “expanded transparency” rules…
Politicians, political consultants and their allies are still at liberty to lie, dissemble and subvert plain language to manipulate and confuse the electorate…
And all Facebook is willing to say in response is: if you have a problem with that, it’s not on us, or even on our advertisers. It’s on you.
Let’s be honest: Few if any marginally engaged voters – the ones most prone to manipulation, but also the ones likely to sway the outcome in a close race – are ever going to navigate through the bowels of Facebook’s settings and explore their advertising opt-out options…
How is the average consumer going to know which advertisers to block? Will Russian trolls list themselves as fake news advertisers to make this easy? Of course not. Even the best-informed voters struggle to wrap their minds around the intricacies of candidates, super PACs and the rules around transparency and accuracy in political advertising. A swing voter with a family to feed and two jobs to make ends meet doesn’t stand a chance.
Facebook is trying to have it both ways here. By invoking transparency, the company wants at least to go through the motions of sounding like a champion for the First Amendment. At the same time, it wants to rake in the maximum number of advertising dollars with a minimum of either governmental or internal oversight.
Financial Times: Can you win an election without digital skulduggery?
By Gillian Tett
Soon after I visited Clinton’s Brooklyn HQ in 2016, it became clear that Donald Trump’s digital team had quietly built an insurgent campaign, using groups such as Cambridge Analytica to target voters, helping to propel Trump to victory…Three years later, their tactics remain deeply controversial. Revelations about the Trump team’s use of personal data for microtargeting on social media, sending crafted messages to particular demographics, provoked widespread unease (even though these methods are commonplace in consumer advertising, using data that we all constantly give up in exchange for online services). The yet more potent criticism, informed by the reporting of investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr, was that Cambridge Analytica also used furtively garnered Facebook data to shape these messages, or “hack the minds” of American voters, as Christopher Wylie, a former employee who has now turned against the company, puts it. Cambridge Analytica not only did this for Trump, but worked in more than 60 countries around the world, according to a trove of internal documents posted online by Brittany Kaiser, another former Cambridge Analytica employee turned whistleblower. And as the 2019 documentary The Great Hack shows, these campaigns featured a host of dirty tricks: deliberate dissemination of misinformation; incitement to extremism; voter suppression tactics; the attempted blackmail of politicians. “It may never be possible to have fair and free elections again [without digital reform],” says Karim Amer, co-director of The Great Hack.
Candidates and Campaigns
By Kayla Epstein
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) announced she had formed a political action committee on Saturday to help raise funds for progressive primary candidates.
The congresswoman has been a vocal opponent of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s policy to “blacklist” vendors and firms that work with candidates mounting primary challenges against Democratic incumbents…
[C]ritics like Ocasio-Cortez and fellow 2018 upset victor Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) say it prevents fresh voices from reaching Congress and could encumber efforts to increase diversity in the halls of the Capitol.
Ocasio-Cortez has also not paid her dues to the DCCC during this campaign cycle and said she did not plan to pay. The funds are traditionally provided to the DCCC by House members to redistribute among other important races…
“DCCC made clear that they will blacklist any org that helps progressive candidates like me,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “I can choose not to fund that kind of exclusion.
New York Post: AOC, sworn enemy of dark money, now pushing her own PAC
By Mary Kay Linge
Dark money for me, but not for thee?
Socialist superstar Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Saturday began a fundraising push for her very own political action committee – despite her status as the party’s leading foe of big money in politics.
“We are pushing the envelope in DC by rewarding those who reject lobbyist money, fight for working families, & welcome newcomers,” AOC tweeted Saturday while announcing Courage to Change, a leadership PAC she set up within weeks of her 2018 election victory…
Leadership PACs have been decried as slush funds for lawmakers, who routinely use the loosely regulated accounts to pay for luxe travel and pricey meals – as well as a means of distributing cash to political allies.
And AOC’s fundraising for Courage to Change will benefit her even more directly.
The website she directed her followers to in her tweet notes that contributions will be divided evenly between the PAC and Ocasio-Cortez’s personal campaign fund.
By Rachel Chason
Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) is attacking a fundraising ban that applies to politicians in her county as racially biased, saying it’s an “injustice” that the majority-black jurisdiction is the only place in Maryland bound by the restriction.
County executives there, and candidate slates including them, have been barred for nearly a decade from taking donations from developers with pending projects in Prince George’s, the state’s second-most-populous jurisdiction.
Critics of the ban say it hurt fundraising efforts by then-County Executive Rushern L. Baker III during his unsuccessful 2018 gubernatorial bid and could similarly handicap a potential run by Alsobrooks in 2022.
Baker pushed for the restriction nearly a decade ago, when he first took office…
Davis said he plans to reintroduce the bill this legislative session, which began Wednesday.