Daily Media Links 10/9

October 9, 2020   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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The Courts

Fresno Bee: Devin Nunes lost in court against a magazine. Now he wants to change US libel law

By Kate Irby

In a new legal brief, [Rep. Devin Nunes] is urging a federal appeals court to reconsider a 1964 Supreme Court case that’s considered the bedrock of U.S. libel law. That case, known as New York Times vs. Sullivan, holds that public officials can successfully sue news organizations only if they can prove that journalists act with “actual malice” in publishing false information.

It’s a high bar that Nunes so far has not been able to clear in the five lawsuits he’s filed against media companies since 2019.

The new brief is an appeal to an August decision by a federal judge in Iowa dismissing Nunes’ lawsuit against Esquire Magazine, which in 2018 published a story about the congressman’s family moving its dairy from California to Iowa and suggested that the operation likely relies on undocumented immigrants for farm labor.

Knoxville News Sentinel: Slur by Trump-supporting Nashville dispatcher was racist, not protected speech, court says

By Jamie Satterfield

Nashville officials were justified in firing a dispatcher who used a racist slur in a social media post supporting Donald Trump’s 2016 election, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

A three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals struck down a lower court decision in favor of former Metro Government Emergency Operations Center dispatcher Danyelle Bennett.

Bennett was placed on paid leave and eventually fired after she posted on her public Facebook page – which identified her as a dispatcher – her support of Trump’s election and used the n-word in a comment on the post. Bennett is white.

The post showed an electoral map of the United States with Trump presidential victories highlighted in red. A commenter on the post wrote, “Redneck states vote for Trump, (n-word) and Latinos vote for Hillary.”

Bennett replied, “Thank god we have more America loving rednecks. Red spread across all America. Even (n-word) and Latinos voted for Trump too!”

U.S. District Judge Eli Richardson ruled last year that Bennett was fired for making a political statement – not for using a racist slur – and her speech was therefore protected by the First Amendment.

“From the words of the comment itself, it related to voting patterns, and who voted for one of the candidates, in the 2016 presidential election,” Richardson wrote.

But 6th Circuit Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey said she and her colleagues disagreed. Bennett, Daughtrey wrote in a majority opinion, was fired for using offensive language – a racist slur – rather than her support of Trump.


Times of San Diego: Darrell Issa Broke ‘Soft Money’ Rules of Federal Campaign Law, D.C. Group Says

By Ken Stone

Washington-based End Citizens United sent a 900-word letter to the Federal Election Commission alleging that Republican Darrell Issa violated solicitation rules in promoting a Lakeside fundraiser Thursday.

Specifically, the group says Issa broke the Federal Election Campaign Act as amended by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which bars federal candidates from raising “soft money” – funds outside of the federal contribution limits and source restrictions – in connection with an election.

As evidence, the group cites an Oct. 6 email to supporters and Facebook posts by Issa promoting the Lakeside event set to start at 5:30 p.m.

“Congressman Darrell Issa invites you to a fundraiser for East County [candidates] benefiting” 15 state and local candidates, said a quoted email.

On Facebook, Issa said: “I hope you will join me this Thursday in Lakeside for a meet and greet and to raise funds for all the local Republicans running in East County. … Contributions accepted payable to The Republican Party of San Diego County or to the candidate of your choice.”

The Issa campaign denies it broke federal rules.

“This is a free event,” said John B. Franklin, an Issa campaign spokesman and adviser. “After reviewing the flyer with FEC counsel, we confirmed our belief that the flyer does not constitute a solicitation under law.”

He noted that no dollar amount was requested…

“Darrell Issa has clearly violated the federal law ‘soft money’ solicitation prohibition as alleged in the complaint,” [Paul Ryan, vice president of Common Cause] told Times of San Diego on Thursday.

He rejected the Issa campaign’s argument that he didn’t violate the law because “no dollar amount was requested.”

Fox News: Iowa Republican files FEC complaint over ‘dark money’ going to Sen. Ernst’s Dem rival

A prominent Iowa Republican has filed a Federal Election Commission complaint alleging Iowa Democrat Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield is improperly coordinating with outside political action groups, Fox News has learned.

Greenfield has coordinated more than $900,000 worth of communications with the Senate Majority PAC run by the allies of Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the complaint alleges.

Independent Groups

Washington Free Beacon: Liberal Donors Pass Millions in Secret Election Cash Through Sixteen Thirty Fund

By Joe Schoffstall

Democratic donors are obscuring millions in 2020 election cash by using a dark money entity to mask the original source of the contributions, federal filings show.

Nearly $30 million in secret cash has been pumped into the elections through the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a progressive incubator managed by Arabella Advisors, a D.C.-based consulting firm. Because the Sixteen Thirty Fund does not disclose its donors’ identities, individuals can use the group to fund super PACs anonymously. Many Democratic PACs report the Sixteen Thirty Fund as their largest donor, which means that their most generous backers remain hidden from public view.

The 2020 cycle marks the first time the Sixteen Thirty Fund has been used to pass money to presidential and congressional electoral efforts…

“The Sixteen Thirty Fund is confronting the biggest social challenges in our country through fiscal sponsorship, advocacy, and electoral action like many other 501(c)4 organizations,” Amy Kurtz, the group’s executive director, told the Washington Free Beacon. “We support investing in the health and strength of our democracy and have lobbied in favor of reform to the current campaign finance system (through H.R. 1), but we are equally committed to following the current laws to level the playing field for progressives in this election.”

Online Speech Platforms

Washington Post: Facebook bans marketing firm running ‘troll farm’ for pro-Trump youth group

By Isaac Stanley-Becker

Facebook said Thursday that it will permanently ban from its platform an Arizona-based marketing firm running what experts described as a domestic “troll farm” following an investigation of the deceptive behavior prompted by a Washington Post article last month.

The firm, Rally Forge, was “working on behalf” of Turning Point Action, an affiliate of Turning Point USA, the prominent conservative youth organization based in Phoenix, Facebook concluded. The inquiry led to the removal of 200 accounts and 55 pages on Facebook, as well as 76 Instagram accounts – many of them operated by teenagers in the Phoenix area.

The fake accounts, some with either cartoonlike Bitmoji profiles or images generated by artificial intelligence, complemented the real accounts of users involved in the effort, which largely entailed leaving comments sympathetic to President Trump and other conservative causes across social media.

Vice: Facebook Just Forced Its Most Powerful Critics Offline

By David Gilbert

The Real Facebook Oversight Board, a group established last month in response to the tech giant’s failure to get its actual Oversight Board up and running before the presidential election, was forced offline on Wednesday night after Facebook wrote to the internet service provider demanding the group’s website – realfacebookoversight.org – be taken offline…

Facebook denied that it was responsible for the website being taken offline. “This website was automatically flagged by a vendor because it contained the word “facebook” in the domain and action was taken without consulting with us,”  a spokesperson told VICE News.

But, an email from the ISP, SupportNation, sent to the Real Facebook Oversight Board and viewed by VICE News, links to a message from the original complainant sent in the early hours of Friday morning after the website was taken offline. 

The message tells SupportNation that “notices of trademark abuse/trademark infringement were sent out in error.” The message comes from what appears to be a Facebook email address.

Courthouse News: Facebook Letting Advertisers Sow Climate Denialism: Analysis

By Agence France-Presse

Facebook is allowing climate misinformation ads to proliferate despite claiming it is committed to rooting out the problem, a new report by a think tank said Thursday.

Candidates and Campaigns

National Review: Biden Says He Will Announce Position on Court Packing ‘When the Election Is Over’

By Zachary Evans

Joe Biden told reporters on Thursday that voters would learn his position on packing the Supreme Court after the election.

Politico: The mystery of a GOP congressman’s seemingly rent-free campaign office

By Daniel Newhauser

For at least seven years,GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn appears to have enjoyed rent-free use of a campaign office supplied by a political donor – which would be a clear violation of federal election law that comes amid mounting scrutiny of his finances.

The States

Anchorage Daily News: State regulator orders ‘No on 2’ campaign to change ads

By James Brooks

A group opposed to Ballot Measure 2, which would change how elections work in Alaska, must change its radio ads within three days or pull them from the air entirely, Alaska’s political campaign regulator ordered Thursday

In a written decision, the Alaska Public Offices Commission ruled that Defend Alaska Elections – Vote No on 2 isn’t properly disclosing its donors.

State law requires political ads to list the top three donors behind a campaign, but Defend Alaska Elections’ top donors changed significantly between the time it booked a large series of radio ads and the time those ads first aired. Without an order, the older list of top donors would have aired until Election Day…

“This scheme to deceive voters disgusts me, as it should disgust all Alaskans. This group’s willingness to hide the sources of dark money they’re using to fight Ballot Measure 2’s disclosure requirements just proves how badly we need to pass this measure,” said Shea Siegert, campaign manager for Yes on 2 for Better Elections. 

Ballot Measure 2 does not require greater disclosure for groups supporting ballot measures, only those supporting candidates…

Tom Lucas, a staffer for the commission, had advised Huber that he interpreted state law as requiring disclosure of top donors at the time the ads are booked and produced.

The commission decided differently. It said an ad doesn’t need to be updated every time the top donors change, “but the group must ensure the disclosure is accurate on the date the ad first airs.”

Montana Free Press: Anti-marijuana group files dark money complaint

By Hunter Pauli

Anti-marijuana activist and Billings auto dealership owner Steve Zabawa filed a complaint Thursday with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices demanding that a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group called North Fund be required to disclose its donors. North Fund, a nonprofit registered in Washington, D.C., has given nearly $5 million to New Approach Montana, the political committee that organized the upcoming vote to legalize recreational marijuana in the state…

Zabawa’s complaint comes on the heels of Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan’s own request that North Fund reveal its funders. On Sept. 11, Mangan determined that North Fund is not an “incidental committee” – a category that is not required to disclose its donors – but an “independent committee,” which by state law must be transparent about where its money comes from…

Mangan previously gave North Fund until Sept. 30 to reveal its donors or appeal his decision. On Sept. 30, the group requested an appeal without disclosing its funders. In a letter prepared by two attorneys, North Fund claims it should not be reclassified as an independent committee, on the basis that, according to Montana’s 2015 anti-dark money Disclose Act, it has only incidentally supported marijuana legalization in Montana, with the majority of the group’s spending being done on other issues in other states.

Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Watchdogs cry foul as Sarasota County leaders push for campaign finance reform

By Timothy Fanning

Records show that Mark Pienkos, who is running to unseat Moran in County Commission District 1, accepted three $500 contributions from the Sarasota County Democratic Executive Committee and a $6,000 contribution from the Florida Democratic Party. 

Democratic District 5 commission candidate Alice White and Cory Hutchinson, who is running to unseat District 3 incumbent Nancy Detert, both accepted two contributions of $500 from the Sarasota Democratic Executive Committee. 

The Democratic candidates called the situation a misunderstanding and have returned the money…

JoAnne DeVries, the chair of the Sarasota County Democratic Party, cited a state statute that allows political parties and executives to donate up to $50,000. However, the county’s charter states that no candidate for any county office can accept any contribution from any contributor, including political committees, in excess of $200. 

“I think that state law is superseded in this case by the county ordinance,” said Ben Wilcox, the research director for Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan research institute and government watchdog. 

Sarasota County is one of the few counties in the state that have a lower donation threshold than what the state allows. 

NorthJersey.com: Murphy signs law allowing office holders, candidates to use campaign funds for child care

By Ashley Balcerzak

Public officials and parents running for political office in New Jersey will soon be able to use campaign funds to pay for certain child care expenses, after Gov. Phil Murphy signed S698 into law Thursday.

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly


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