Daily Media Links 10/10

October 10, 2019   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
Default Article


JURIST: US lawmakers introduce bill to deter foreign interference in elections

By Austin Koltonowski

House Democrats on Tuesday introduced a new bill designed to detect and limit foreign interference in US elections.

The SHIELD Act would amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to clarify the obligation for campaigns to report acts of foreign “election influence” and require campaigns to adhere to a new implementation and reporting system to disclose such acts.

The Act seeks to deter foreign interference by enhancing campaign reporting and closing loopholes that allow foreign investments in US elections. The Act would would require that campaigns report illicit offers of election assistance from foreign governments and agents, in addition to ensuring that political advertisements on social media meet the same stricter standards as ads on TV or radio.

The legislation was introduced after reports of Russian interference in the 2016 election through the spread of disinformation on social media.

The bill was introduced by Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren.


Wall Street Journal: Two Giuliani Associates Who Helped Him on Ukraine Charged With Campaign-Finance Violations

By Aruna Viswanatha, Rebecca Ballhaus, Sadie Gurman and Byron Tau

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Florida businessmen, are expected to appear in federal court in Virginia later on Thursday. Both men are U.S. citizens born in former Soviet republics…

In a 21-page indictment unsealed Thursday, federal prosecutors in Manhattan alleged Messrs. Parnas and Fruman were engaged in political activities in the U.S. on behalf of one or more Ukrainian government officials-including a lobbying campaign, targeted at a Republican congressman, to remove the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv…

Their political giving-aimed at Republicans-was funded in part by an unnamed Russian donor, the indictment alleges. . . A limited liability company created by the men was used to disguise the foreign money, the indictment says.

The men were charged with four counts, including conspiracy, falsification of records and lying to the Federal Election Commission about their political donations, according to the indictment.

Messrs. Parnas and Fruman assisted Mr. Giuliani’s effort to investigate Mr. Biden’s son that is now at the center of an impeachment inquiry being conducted by House Democrats. House committees issued subpoenas for documents from the two men on Thursday…

The charging documents say that in May 2018 the men gave $325,000 to the primary pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, through the LLC Global Energy Producers, according to FEC records. The way they structured that donation was meant “to evade the reporting requirements” in federal law, prosecutors said…

A spokeswoman for America First Action said the super PAC had placed the contribution in a segregated bank account after a complaint was filed in July 2018 with the FEC. The donation “has not been used for any purpose and the funds will remain in this segregated account until these matters are resolved,” the spokeswoman said. “We take our legal obligations seriously and scrupulously comply with the law and any suggestion otherwise is false.”

Online Speech Platforms 

CNBC: Facebook should not be ‘the arbiter of truth’ in political ads, says former FEC chairman

By Jessica Bursztynsky

Facebook should not be tasked with determining the truthfulness of political campaign ads, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission told CNBC on Thursday.

Lee Goodman – a Republican who led the FEC during Barack Obama’s presidency – was reacting to the social network’s decision to reject a Biden campaign request to remove an advertisement from President Donald Trump’s campaign containing unproven information. Other tech companies like Twitter and Google’s YouTube were running the Trump ad. CNN refused to run it…

“Facebook, like all publishers, has to have reasonable editorial standards,” Goodman said on “Squawk Box.” “What we’re seeing here is an exercise of their editorial freedom to feature candidate ads without fact-checking and allow the political process to be the arbiter of truth and falsity in political advertising by the candidates themselves.” …

Facebook will be “condemned” either way, Goodman said, even though the company “doesn’t want to be the arbiter and doesn’t want to take sides in these political debates.”

“Their stated policy, I think, is fair,” Goodman said, adding Facebook is avoiding refereeing “truth or falsity, opinion versus fact, candidate versus candidate debates” by taking a hands-off approach.


Slate: America’s Top Elections Official Isn’t Happy (Podcast)

Hosted by Mary Harris

The Federal Election Commission was designed to prevent the parties from going rogue with overly punitive campaign finance regulations. But what’s paralyzed FEC is something less partisan, and more principled: Democrats think the government should enforce campaign spending laws. Republicans don’t.

Guest: Ellen Weintraub, Federal Election Commission chair

Regulatory Agencies 

BuzzFeed News: Political Operatives Are Faking Voter Outrage With Millions Of Made-Up Comments To Benefit The Rich And Powerful

By Jeremy Singer-Vine and Kevin Collier

A BuzzFeed News investigation – based on an analysis of millions of comments, along with court records, business filings, and interviews with dozens of people – offers a window into how a crucial democratic process was skewed by one of the most prolific uses of political impersonation in US history. In a key part of the puzzle, two little-known firms, Media Bridge and LCX Digital, working on behalf of industry group Broadband for America, misappropriated names and personal information as part of a bid to submit more than 1.5 million statements favorable to their cause…

The rise of political impersonation threatens a core aspect of US democracy: the process by which federal agencies canvass public opinion before enacting new regulations…

The internet has made it possible for these consultations to be conducted virtually, vastly extending their reach in an apparent leap forward for digital-era democracy. But there’s little stopping anyone from submitting statements under fake – or misappropriated – identities…

Media Bridge also vigorously denied engaging in comment fraud. A letter from [Media Bridge founder Shane] Cory’s lawyer, Bob Barr, a former Georgia representative, accused BuzzFeed News of preparing a “hit-piece” and noted that “Media Bridge professionally submitted comments to the FCC without hiding its identity, and provided contact information in the event there were any issues with their submissions – unlike the individuals who submitted many millions of comments from adult websites, foreign accounts and clearly fabricated data sets.”

LCX and Media Bridge are far from the only operators whose comment campaigns have been called into question. Fraudulent comments on both sides poured into the FCC during the net neutrality debate, and are an increasing problem for policymakers at the state and national level.


Wall Street Journal: FBI’s Use of Surveillance Database Violated Americans’ Privacy Rights, Court Found

By Dustin Volz and Byron Tau

The intelligence community disclosed Tuesday that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last year found that the FBI’s efforts to search data about Americans ensnared in a warrantless internet-surveillance program intended to target foreign suspects have violated the law authorizing the program, as well as the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches. The issue was made public by the government only after it lost an appeal of the judgment earlier this year before another secret court.

The court concluded that in at least a handful of cases, the FBI had been improperly searching a database of raw intelligence for information on Americans-raising concerns about oversight of the program, which as a spy program operates in near total secrecy.

The October 2018 court ruling identifies improper searches of raw intelligence databases by the bureau in 2017 and 2018 that were deemed problematic in part because of their breadth, which sometimes involved queries related to thousands or tens of thousands of pieces of data, such as emails or telephone numbers…

The Trump administration failed to make a persuasive argument that modifying the program to better protect the privacy of Americans would hinder the FBI’s ability to address national-security threats, wrote U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, who serves on the FISA Court, in the partially redacted 138-page opinion released Tuesday…

Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), a critic of U.S. surveillance programs, said the disclosure “reveals serious failings in the FBI’s backdoor searches, underscoring the need for the government to seek a warrant before searching through mountains of private data on Americans.”


El País: Russian and US visitors, targets for the Spanish firm that spied on Julian Assange

By José María Irujo

David Morales, the director and owner of Undercover Global S. L., the Spanish defense and security company in charge of protecting the Ecuadorian embassy in London during Julian Assange’s long stay there, called on his team to catalogue “the Russian and American citizens” who visited the cyberactivist as a maximum priority, according to testimonies and documents to which EL PAÍS has had access. The company allegedly spied on the WikiLeaks founder for the US intelligence services, and in the wake of revelations published by this newspaper is being investigated by the Spanish High Court, the Audiencia Nacional.

Morales gave written instructions to his employees in London for them to give advance warning of the priority targets from both countries. All of the information collected about these and other visitors was sent to an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) server in Jerez de la Frontera, the headquarters of UC Global S. L., in southern Spain…

Employees who worked for UC Global S. L. have told this newspaper that the CIA had access to this server, and that Morales did not want to reveal the identity of “his American friends” when there were technical problems and there was a request for contact with the client.

The IP numbers registered come from the US and one of them matches a company that provides security services for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)…

The monitoring of the dozens of people who visited Assange during the seven years he was in the embassy was comprehensive. But in the case of the priority targets – Americans, Russians, attorneys and journalists – it was intensified as much as possible. Employees of UC Global S. L. took apart and photographed the cellphones of American journalists who visited the founder of WikiLeaks, according to testimony and graphic documents to which EL PAÍS has had access. Their visits were monitored, the video and audio were recorded, and reports about the conversations were drawn up and were sent to the server in Jerez de la Frontera, to which the CIA allegedly had access.

Candidates and Campaigns 

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Target Center operator: Covering Trump rally costs would be campaign contribution

By Miguel Otárola

The company that operates Target Center told the city of Minneapolis that it could not cover the city’s costs for President Donald Trump’s re-election rally Thursday because that would be considered a campaign contribution, city records show.

The city says its contract with AEG, which operates the city-owned arena, requires the company to cover event-related police and other city services, estimated at $530,000 for the Trump rally. But AEG warned that if the campaign didn’t pay those costs, it would have to cancel the event, according to an e-mail sent by an AEG official to the city Saturday.

By Tuesday, after threats of a lawsuit and sniping between Mayor Jacob Frey and the president on Twitter, the Trump campaign announced AEG would honor the contract without extra cost to the campaign and the rally would go on as scheduled.

It’s not clear what changed. AEG officials did not respond to numerous requests for comment, and city officials say they still believe the campaign should pay the security costs, though they acknowledge that other campaigns haven’t done so in the past…

In a news release Monday night, Trump’s campaign team said AEG had threatened to cancel its event contract if the campaign did not pay in advance for security costs and other services. The release accused Mayor Jacob Frey of “abusing the power of his office” by “conjuring a phony and outlandish bill for security,” and that the Secret Service is responsible for coordinating security.

Frey reiterated his position at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “It’s my job to look after the taxpayers of the city of Minneapolis, and that’s not a cost that we’re just going to bear,” he said. The city’s 2007 contract with AEG requires the company to cover “all operating expenses” of events in the Target Center…

Other cities have unsuccessfully tried to get the Trump campaign to pay for city costs after rallies, with at least 10 of them requesting reimbursements. Federal election rules don’t require campaigns to reimburse cities for security costs.

Wall Street Journal: Political Campaigns Know Where You’ve Been. They’re Tracking Your Phone.

By Sam Schechner, Emily Glazer and Patience Haggin

Last September, the campaign of then-Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke was able to identify some attendees’ mobile device ID numbers during a rally with musician Willie Nelson.

A company collected the unique ID numbers of phones that pinged their location while at the event, according to people familiar with the Senate campaign. The company, working with an O’Rourke campaign consulting firm, then matched some of those IDs with contact information, such as email addresses. The resulting list allowed the campaign to follow up with those contacts later on. “It’s just a neat idea, and it worked,” one of the people said…

El Toro tells clients that it can pinpoint devices that were in a place going back six months and deliver digital ads to any device in the home of a specific voter, according to pitch documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The company promises to boost turnout by at least 5%, or campaigns get their money back in big campaigns, the documents say.

Users include candidates and political groups on both the left and the right, according to Federal Election Commission records…

El Toro Chief Executive Stacy Griggs says his company doesn’t “provide any raw data back to our customers that would in any way allow them to identify those individuals.” He says he is proud of the company’s political work, which is about 30% of its business in an election year: “Frankly, this type of usage of our technology makes America better-more voters engaged enough to show up at the polls.”…

“People might get freaked out about this technology,” said Democratic political strategist Kimberly Taylor, who said she used Phunware to target people who went to events including the Women’s March as part of her work in 2018 as a co-founder of the Fire Ted Cruz PAC that aimed and failed to unseat the Texas senator. “But we’re trying to use it for good, trying to engage more people in the process.”

The States

Los Angeles Times: California’s only ‘independent’ political party won’t have to change its name

By John Myers

An effort to limit voter confusion in California by banning the use of the word “independent” in a political party’s name was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday, a rejection of a proposal that would have forced one of the state’s lesser-known political parties to change its name.

The bill was the product of years of complaints by elections officials and political watchers who noted that voters who wanted to be unaffiliated with any party had been mistakenly registering with the American Independent Party of California instead of selecting the “no party preference” choice on voter forms. There were almost 518,000 voters registered with that party as of the last official state report, an increase of almost 30% over the past decade.

Newsom’s veto message said he couldn’t sign a bill that only impacted one group.

“By requiring one existing political party to change its current name, this bill could be interpreted as a violation of the rights of free speech and association guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” he wrote…

Though SB 696 was approved by both houses of the Legislature last month, it landed on Newsom’s desk with the same concerns over its constitutionality raised by the governor. Critics have said that the state couldn’t ban a political party from using a name of its choice, insisting that the only thing the state could do was to keep educating voters about how to fill out the section of the registration form that asks about political party preference.

Courthouse News Service: Minnesota Court Strikes Down Coercion Law on Free Speech Grounds

By Matt Reynolds

Minnesota prosecutors charged a man under an unconstitutional statute after he threatened to send video of his ex-girlfriend talking about marijuana to her employer, a state appeals court ruled Monday.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the ruling of a trial court judge who found that the criminal law restricted free speech under the First Amendment.

The state had appealed the dismissal of its complaint against John Jorgenson. Prosecutors said he threatened to release a video of his ex-girlfriend to the Minnesota Department of Human Services…

Amid the dispute, Jorgenson called the woman’s father and told him that he wanted $25,000, according to court records,. In return, he said he would not send the video of her “talking about smoking marijuana” to the department where she worked.

Prosecutors later charged Jorgenson with attempted coercion. Earlier this year, Olmsted County District Court Judge Joseph Chase denied Jorgenson’s motion to dismiss for lack of probable cause but found the statute was too broad and violated the First Amendment.

The appeals court agreed Monday that the state had criminalized constitutionally protected speech.

“The breadth of the threats proscribed by [the statute] is troubling because, for example, it would prohibit a former classmate or coworker from privately threatening to disclose to the media an elected official’s embarrassing past if the official does not resign from public office,” Judge Diane Bratvold wrote in the 20-page ruling.

The law criminalized threats that did not involve extortion of money and threats that were not defamatory, the ruling states. That meant it could prevent a prosecutor from pressuring “a defendant to plead guilty in exchange for not filing charges on an unrelated incident,” for example, Bratvold noted.

Because the language in the section of the law cannot be separated from the rest of the statute, the court ruled that the entire section is invalid.

Washington Post: Emily’s List makes record donation to Virginia Democrats

By Laura Vozzella

Emily’s List will plow an additional $1.5 million into Virginia House and Senate races this year, backing female Democrats who support abortion rights as the party tries to flip the General Assembly.

The money comes on top of a $600,000 contribution that Emily’s List made jointly in June with another Democratic political action committee, Priorities USA. Combined, the investments are the largest Emily’s List has ever made in an individual state’s legislative elections, the group said Monday in announcing the latest contribution.

“We are hopeful that other individuals and organizations will follow our lead in directing their energy and support to these incredibly important state legislative races that too often remain underresourced and underfunded,” Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, said in a written statement…

Emily’s List, which has endorsed 39 women running this year in Virginia, has worked directly with some individual campaigns to provide advice on things such as fundraising and communications.

Several of the endorsed candidates will receive direct, six-figure donations out of the $1.5 million, while $150,000 of it will go to the Democrats’ coordinated campaign, an Emily’s List spokeswoman said.

Alex Baiocco

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap