Daily Media Links 10/15

October 15, 2020   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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New from the Institute for Free Speech

No Evidence of Scandal at ActBlue

By David Keating

Take Back Action Fund recently peddled a so-called “preliminary computer analysis” of contributions made through ActBlue, a PAC that is the nation’s largest bundler of candidate contributions. As you might guess from the PAC’s name, it bundles for Democrats only.

The Action Fund’s analysis was then “obtained exclusively by Fox News,” which reported on the data with the scary headline: “Data shows that half of 2019 donations to ActBlue came from untraceable ‘unemployed’ donors.”

Here’s an excerpt from the story:

Action Fund President John Pudner questioned the veracity of those donations and called it a loophole that must be closed for the sake of election integrity.

“After downloading hundreds of millions of [dollars in] donations to the Take Back Action Fund servers, we were shocked to see that almost half of the donations to ActBlue in 2019 claimed to be unemployed individuals,” he said. “The name of employers must be disclosed when making political donations, but more than 4.7 million donations came from people who claimed they did not have an employer. Those 4.7 million donations totaled $346 million ActBlue raised and sent to liberal causes.”

In fairness to the story, it did also say “ActBlue defends the integrity of its donations and said many come from retirees and people who aren’t counted as employed, such as homemakers.” But the rest of the story reproduced “data” that appeared to show the opposite, that ActBlue was hiding the employer and occupation information of its donors…

I can report that ActBlue appears to be right, and Pudner and Fox are wrong.

The Courts

The Gazette: Court tells FEC to take action on complaint against dark money group tied to Joni Ernst

By James Q. Lynch

A U.S. District Court judge has entered a default judgment against the Federal Election Commission, ordering it to take action on a complaint involving a so-called dark money group tied to Sen. Joni Ernst’s campaign.

The action Wednesday was brought by the left-leaning Washington-based Campaign Legal Center, which told the court the FEC had failed to take action on its complaint that Ernst’s campaign had illegally coordinated with the dark money group, Iowa Values, a political nonprofit backing Ernst. Candidates and outside groups are prohibited from coordinating their political activities.

FEC

Tampa Bay Times: Anna Paulina Luna files elections complaint against Twitter over verification

By Josh Solomon

Congressional candidate Anna Paulina Luna just took her feud with Twitter to the next level.

Her campaign said Wednesday that it has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against the social media giant over the company’s refusal to “verify” her account…

The complaint, which the campaign sent to the news media, says Twitter broke campaign finance rules by withholding the elusive blue check mark that accompanies verification from her Twitter profile while giving it to her Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist. That amounts to a contribution to Crist, the complaint argues, even though corporations are barred from contributing to political candidates.

The complaint also argues Twitter violated the Federal Communications Commission’s “equal time rule” by verifying Crist but not Luna.

Luna’s campaign asks the election commission to force Twitter to verify her account and sanction the company.

Nonprofits

Washington Post: Videos show closed-door sessions of leading conservative activists: ‘Be not afraid of the accusations that you’re a voter suppressor’

By Robert O’Harrow Jr.

The partisan commentary and election-related discussions captured on the videos [of the Council for National Policy meeting] involved members of an array of nonprofit organizations, including tax-exempt charities. In exchange for the right to accept tax-exempt donations, charities are prohibited from actively supporting political candidates or working in coordination on candidates’ behalf.

Such laws are rarely enforced, in part because of murkiness about what constitutes a violation, and because of the complex interactions between some charities and nonprofits known as “social welfare” groups, tax specialists said. Social welfare groups are permitted to engage in lobbying and advocacy but must devote less than half of their resources to political activity. An individual may serve as a leader of both a charity and an affiliated social welfare group.

Some of the sessions at the CNP conferences are designated as run by CNP Action, a social welfare affiliate that shares leaders with CNP.

Two tax law specialists who viewed hours of video at The Post’s request said some of the remarks and planning on the videos could be improper for the groups that are registered with the IRS as charities.

Independent Groups

Daily Beast: Bernie World Builds a Dark Money Campaign Apparatus After Decrying It

By Lachlan Markay

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is perhaps the nation’s most outspoken critic of undisclosed money in the American political process. But as the 2020 campaign kicked into gear, some of the Senator’s former senior aides quietly constructed a formidable political apparatus financed by the type of untraceable “dark money” that their ex-boss decried.

America’s Progressive Promise, a new super PAC run by Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ former campaign manager, received two donations totaling $4.75 million in the third quarter of the year from a prominent progressive nonprofit known for masking the identity of high-dollar political donors. That represented the vast majority of money that the group has raised to date.

But Weaver’s organization spent little of that money on direct politicking. Within days of each of the two contributions, it passed along nearly all of the cash it received from the dark money group, the Sixteen Thirty Fund, to another super PAC also founded by a former Sanders aide, Chuck Rocha. Rocha’s group, Nuestro PAC, took that money and immediately used it to finance seven-figure advertising and direct mail campaigns attacking President Donald Trump and boosting his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.

The series of transactions show how millions in untraceable cash can be funneled on to the airwaves ahead of a tight electoral contest. But what stands out in this case is that it was all done by way of organizations run by people ostensibly committed to rooting out undisclosed political money in politics.

Online Speech Platforms

Politico: How Facebook and Twitter’s content moderation could shape the final weeks of the election

By Alexandra S. Levine

Facebook and Twitter found themselves under siege on Wednesday over their handling of the New York Post’s polarizing Biden-Burisma story – a saga that has shed light on how tech platform’s content moderation calls could shape the final weeks of the election cycle.

Each company’s response quickly added fuel to longstanding allegations of tech firms perpetuating bias against conservatives. (President Trump suggested as much Wednesday night.) …

Both social media sites moved to limit the spread of the Post’s story on Wednesday, with Facebook referring the content to third-party fact checkers and Twitter blocking users from sharing links to the article in question…

“[Twitter] has plainly decided that the American people should not be seeing or discussing this particular story, which could significantly influence voters’ views of candidate Biden,” Sen. Ted Cruz wrote Wednesday to Dorsey (a similar letter went to Facebook). “This can only be seen as an obvious and transparent attempt by Twitter to influence the upcoming Presidential election.” Sen. Josh Hawley, who also fired off letters to Mark Zuckerberg and Dorsey – and plans to ask them to testify on their handling of the matter – raised with the Federal Election Commission “the possibility that egregious campaign-finance violations benefitting the Biden campaign may be playing out in real time, just weeks before the presidential election” and urged the FEC to investigate.

New York Times (“Sway” Podcast): Can Big Tech Prevent Meddling in the 2020 Election?

By Kara Swisher

In part one of Sway’s two-part election integrity series, Kara Swisher speaks to Alex Stamos, former Facebook chief information security officer and current director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, about what went wrong in 2016 and what Big Tech can do better in 2020.

Mr. Stamos – known in Silicon Valley for his willingness to speak truth to power – rose to national prominence when he departed Facebook amid disagreement about the tech giant’s handling of Russian interference in the last presidential election.

As Election Day draws nearer, social media platforms are amending their policies around political advertising, disinformation warnings and moderation of online groups like QAnon. But how do these decisions get made? What do these platforms plan to do if there is a contested presidential election? And whom can we really trust?

Bloomberg: Twitter, Like Facebook, to Remove Posts Denying the Holocaust

By Kurt Wagner

Twitter Inc. will remove posts that deny the Holocaust for violating its hateful conduct policy, according to a company spokeswoman.

Twitter’s policy doesn’t explicitly state that denying violent events is against the rules, but the spokeswoman confirmed that “attempts to deny or diminish” violent events, including the Holocaust, would be removed based on the company’s interpretation of the policy.

“We strongly condemn anti-semitism, and hateful conduct has absolutely no place on our service,” she said in a statement. “We also have a robust ‘glorification of violence’ policy in place and take action against content that glorifies or praises historical acts of violence and genocide, including the Holocaust.”

Wall Street Journal: Facebook’s Conservative Emergency

By The Editorial Board

This week the German Marshall Fund published a report under the headline “New Study by Digital New Deal Finds Engagement with Deceptive Outlets Higher on Facebook Today Than Run-up to 2016 Election.” Recall that Facebook was one of several scapegoats that the left fixated on for losing that election. This year corporations and activists have been waging a media and boycott campaign against the social-media giant to demand it censor more content. The GMF report, which was quickly amplified in the New York Times and Axios, is worth examining because it shows what the exercise is really about.

What are these “deceptive outlets” that most concern the Marshall Fund researchers? In a word, they’re conservative. Engagement with political outlets that “fail to gather and present information responsibly-especially Fox, Daily Wire, and Breitbart-has grown 293 percent,” the report claims.

While left-leaning sites are also labeled as deceptive in the GMF methodology, “the top sites are conservative,” the authors say…

Such outlets allegedly “pose a threat to informed democratic discourse.” Their content reaches readers because it is “often oppositional to ‘mainstream media’ and so-called elite or conventional wisdom.” The horror!

Naturally, the report has a solution: Stop Facebook users from seeing content that rudely challenges elite views…Presumably Facebook can swap in unimpeachable sources like CNN.

Candidates and Campaigns

CNN: Exclusive: Feds chased suspected foreign link to Trump’s 2016 campaign cash for three years

By Katelyn Polantz, Evan Perez, and Jeremy Herb

For more than three years, federal prosecutors investigated whether money flowing through an Egyptian state-owned bank could have backed millions of dollars Donald Trump donated to his own campaign days before he won the 2016 election, multiple sources familiar with the investigation told CNN.

The investigation, which both predated and outlasted special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, examined whether there was an illegal foreign campaign contribution. It represents one of the most prolonged efforts by federal investigators to understand the President’s foreign financial ties, and became a significant but hidden part of the special counsel’s pursuits.

The investigation was kept so secret that at one point investigators locked down an entire floor of a federal courthouse in Washington, DC, so Mueller’s team could fight for the Egyptian bank’s records in closed-door court proceedings following a grand jury subpoena. The probe, which closed this summer with no charges filed, has never before been described publicly.

Center for Responsive Politics: North Carolina Senate race blows away spending records

By Karl Evers-Hillstrom and Jim Morrill

In a year that’s shattered campaign spending records, North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race is poised to claim one of its own – the most expensive Senate race in American history.

The race between Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Democrat Cal Cunningham has seen the most outside money ever spent in a congressional contest.

Dozens of deep-pocketed national groups such as super PACs and “dark money” organizations that don’t have to reveal their donors have spent nearly $141 million to influence the Senate race, according to an analysis by OpenSecrets and the Charlotte Observer.

Combined with the candidates themselves, they’ve spent more than $233 million on advertising alone, according to Advertising Analytics. The most expensive race until now had been the 2018 Florida contest, which saw $213 million in total spending.

“It’s unprecedented,” said political scientist Chris Cooper of Western Carolina University. “It’s not like it’s a small uptick. This is an exponential increase.”

The States

Sandy Post: Campaign ‘fix’ of Measure 107 would limit voters’ rights

By Kyle Markley

Ballot Measure 107 is a Trojan horse. It won’t limit the rich and powerful. Instead, it will disadvantage ordinary people against them…

Money does not buy elections. Michael Bloomberg’s failure in this year’s Democratic presidential primary was an exquisite demonstration that there are many factors far more important than money…

Money does not buy politicians, either. If my campaign slogan is “a chicken in every pot,” and the National Chicken Council gives my campaign a million dollars, they aren’t influencing me – I already supported their interests. Contributions naturally go from donors to candidates with similar values to support their persuasive political message. That is honest support, not an attempt at corruption.

Politicians are strongly ideological and therefore extremely difficult to corrupt. No environmentalist politician is going to vote for more pollution because they got a campaign contribution! …

The Measure 107 “cure” – limits on contributions and expenditures – doesn’t even address the alleged disease. If the problem is government officials using their power to benefit special interests, then the fault lies with those officials, not with the general public engaging in political speech. Measure 107 will take away the public’s right to freedom of political speech yet won’t affect the power of government officials. It is wrong to take away one person’s rights because of someone else’s actions.

South Seattle Emerald: New State Law Could Prevent Political Participation By Immigrants, Lawsuit Says

By Ben Adlin

The state’s largest immigrant rights organization is suing to overturn a new state law the group says could prevent hundreds of thousands of Washington residents from exercising their rights to free speech and assembly.

If allowed to stand, says Seattle-based immigrant and refugee rights nonprofit OneAmerica, the law could prevent even the most basic political participation by residents who aren’t U.S. citizens, such as donating money to advocacy organizations or weighing in on issues that affect their lives.

“If enforced, SB 6152 will have a dramatic and disastrous effect on the political discourse in Washington,” says the lawsuit, filed last week in King County Superior Court.

The law’s Democratic backers have described the legislation as a way to combat foreign meddling in U.S. elections and the influence of corporate spending after the Citizens United ruling, which lifted restrictions on corporate political spending.

Plaintiffs in the case, however, including OneAmerica, a local union group and three individuals, claim the law’s language is so vague and overbroad that it will stifle even legal political activity by non-citizen residents of the state. They’re asking the court to declare the law unconstitutional and unenforceable.

OPB: Mayor Ted Wheeler’s campaign takes city auditor to court and the city attorney is caught in the middle

By Rebecca Ellis

As the city auditor’s office gets a handle on enforcing Portland’s new campaign finance regulations, City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero has found her name on a mounting number of lawsuits.

One from mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone’s campaign. One from Portland campaign finance activist Ron Buel. And two from Mayor Ted Wheeler’s campaign.

Wheeler’s re-election campaign has twice appealed Mary Hull Caballero’s decisions, arguing she made “fundamental legal errors” when she levied two hefty fines against his campaign. The auditor fined him $4,200 on August 27 and $4,500 on Sept. 4.

City Attorney Tracy Reeve, who both works under the mayor and advises the city auditor, is now caught in the middle.

Citing a conflict of interest, Reeve declined to defend the auditor’s office in court and asked her to find an outside attorney. But Hull Caballero says the city attorney’s office is home to the clear experts on the complex campaign finance rules and she wants them in her corner.

She asked the City Council to step in.

On Wednesday, the council considered a resolution crafted by Hull Caballero that would have directed the city attorney’s office to represent the auditor in all matters involving campaign finance regulations – that includes litigation brought by the mayor’s campaign.

It did not go over well. 

Lansing State Journal: Attorney: Ingham commissioner’s comment did not violate campaign finance laws

By Craig Lyons

A county attorney found no wrongdoing on the part of an Ingham County commissioner who encouraged fellow Democrats to make campaign donations to a Democratic candidate for the Board of Commissioners during caucus meeting last month.

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly

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

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