Daily Media Links 10/17: The Citizens United Disaster That Wasn’t, A review of surveys on free speech and expression, and more…

October 17, 2017   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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Free Speech

Inside Higher Ed: Presidents and Provosts Gather to Consider Free Speech Issues

By Scott Jaschik

Just last week, students shouted down talks at Columbia University and the University of Michigan. Those doing the shouting down were generally students aligned with the political left, but supporters of President Trump also shut down a talk at Whittier College by California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, shouting “America First” and “build that wall” to prevent him from answering questions. And those events followed the interruption of speakers (sometimes preventing events from taking place at all) at the College of William & Mary, Texas Southern University, the University of Oregon and Virginia Tech.

With these events becoming increasingly common, the University of Chicago invited presidents and provosts from a range of institutions to come to campus this weekend for a closed-door discussion of how higher education should respond…

Daniel Diermeier, Chicago’s provost, said that the university wanted a group large enough to have different kinds of institutions represented, but small enough for intense interaction among participants. Sixty-six presidents and provosts were there.

Diermeier and other participants said the presidents were in strong agreement with principles of free speech, without exceptions. “Those principles apply irrespective of the ideological perspective of the speakers,” he said.

FIRE: A review of surveys on free speech and expression

By Kelsey Naughton

This is not a new area of research – survey data on Americans’ attitudes toward free expression has been systematically collected since 1972, and various researchers have analyzed the views of college freshmen since 1966. But it can be difficult to sort through all the data, especially because each study samples different populations, uses different methodologies for collecting and analyzing data, and asks respondents different questions.

We provided a cursory review of these reports in our survey’s FAQ, but the following discussion is a more in-depth look at various public surveys on free speech and expression. What follows is not a comprehensive literature review – we include very few academic publications, which are often barred by a paywall – so all of our readers can easily access the resources we link to. But right here is good place to start for those interested in public opinion on campus expression.

First Amendment

Washington Square News: Journalism Institute Launches First Amendment Watchdog Site

By Sakshi Venkatraman

On Wednesday Oct. 11, the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute introduced its First Amendment Watch website to analyze and contextualize key news events relating to the freedoms of speech and press.

Spearheaded by journalism professor Stephen D. Solomon, the site is meant to be a watchdog for freedom of expression, providing updates, legal background, historical context and commentary to First Amendment events and cases.

“It’s really an educational site,” Solomon said. “I hope it goes a long way in making a contribution to people’s understanding of First Amendment conflicts. We put a very high priority on the site being non-partisan. We cover the First Amendment, we’re not in the business of being anti-anybody.” …

The three person team aggregates First Amendment news stories that they determine to be important on issues such as news gathering, hate speech, fake news, libel, campus speech and censorship. Included along with the news stories are various opinion pieces on the subject and historical and legal context.

Internet Speech Regulation

Wall Street Journal: You Can’t Buy the Presidency for $100,000

By Mark Penn

The fake news about fake news is practically endless. Americans worried about Russia’s influence in the 2016 election have seized on a handful of Facebook ads-as though there weren’t also three 90-minute debates, two televised party conventions, and $2.4 billion spent on last year’s campaign. The danger is that bending facts to fit the Russia story line may nudge Washington into needlessly and recklessly regulating the internet and curtailing basic freedoms…

No one wants foreign governments meddling in American elections. In 1996, the Chinese government had the “China plan” and pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign. There were congressional investigations, and several fundraisers were prosecuted, but Attorney General Janet Reno rejected calls for an independent counsel. Campaigns tightened up their donor-validation procedures, and life moved on. The same is called for here. Internet companies should improve their screening of electioneering ads, impose clearer standards on all ads, and do a better job weeding out phony accounts.

Millions of taxpayer dollars have probably been spent already poring over that $100,000 of Facebook ads. Better to keep it all in perspective, as everyone did in 1996.

U.S. News & World Report: Facebook Can’t Do Congress’ Job

By Ian Vandewalker and Larry Norden

To truly protect the sanctity of our elections, Congress must step up and bring regulation of political ads into the 21st century…

To that end, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Mark Warner, D-Va., each of whom are on committees looking into Russian meddling, are already working on a bill that would require social media platforms to create a public database of political ads along with information about who paid for them… 

Requiring the big platforms to keep and make available repositories of political ads will ensure that the media and general public can review even those ads meant to secretly target a small number of people. Congress should also make political advertisements on the internet subject to the same kind of rules that apply to ads on TV or the radio. That means that spending on “sham issue ads,” which mention a candidate shortly before an election without the magic words “vote for” or “against,” must be disclosed.

Finally, we must change campaign finance disclosure rules to eliminate “dark money” spent by entities that don’t disclose their donors – both so the public knows who is behind the ads they see, and the platforms and other broadcasters can ensure that Russia or other foreign nationals are not breaching the longstanding rule that prohibits them from political spending in the United States.

Citizens United

Wall Street Journal: The Citizens United Disaster That Wasn’t

By Floyd Abrams

There’s now solid data, filed with the Federal Election Commission, showing how much money corporations have spent in recent elections. It turns out the apocalyptic forecasts were not just inaccurate but utterly insupportable.

It is true that in the wake of Citizens United many groups sprang up that are permitted to spend unlimited sums supporting or opposing candidates and issues. These so-called super PACs have proved themselves a political force. But the money they have spent since 2010 has not come primarily-or even mostly-from corporations.

Super PACs across the political spectrum raised $1.8 billion between Jan. 1, 2015, and Dec. 31, 2016, according to data analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics. Of that, $1.04 billion came from individual donors and $242 million from unions, trade associations, politically active nonprofits and other organizations. Only $85 million was contributed by business corporations. The table nearby shows the top 20 donors. Among the Top 40 contributors to super PACs during the 2016 election cycle were eight unions and only one corporation.

The Courts

Santa Fe New Mexican: Judge holds key to Pearce’s war chest

By Andrew Oxford

With hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake in the race for New Mexico’s highest office, Pearce’s campaign maintains he should be able to use all the funds the Hobbs Republican has raised to run for Congress through the years.

And the campaign has asked a federal judge to intervene, leading to a daylong hearing in Albuquerque on Monday that raised allegations of partisan bias by New Mexico’s top election official and concerns that big donors could effectively skirt the state’s donation limits. But it still didn’t settle the question of what will become of Pearce’s campaign cash.

U.S. District Judge Judith Herrera did not issue any decisions from the bench after the hearing but suggested any ruling that bars the Secretary of State’s Office from enforcing its interpretation of New Mexico’s campaign finance laws would likely hinge on the First Amendment.

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, Pearce’s attorney, Matthew Hoyt argued the Secretary of State’s interpretation of the law violates Pearce’s right to free speech by tightly restricting money he has raised.

Trump Administration

CNBC: Trump says ‘massive’ campaign spending fuels rise in drug prices

By John W. Schoen

President Donald Trump on Monday renewed his attack on the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, complaining that drug prices are too high and saying campaign contributions to Congress are partly to blame.

“Prescription drug prices are out of control,” Trump said in a Cabinet meeting. “The drug prices have gone through the roof.”

Later, in an informal press conference with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Trump said the drug industry’s political contributions helped explain the high costs of prescription drugs in the U.S.

“They contribute massive amounts of money to political people – I don’t know, Mitch, maybe even to you,” Trump told reporters. “But I have to tell you: Me? I’m not interested in their money. I don’t need their money.”

The States

Rapid City Journal: Republicans won’t restore IM 22’s contribution limits

By Bob Mercer

Sen. Craig Kennedy, D-Yankton, saw his plan to reduce South Dakota’s contribution limits for political candidates rejected 7-4 Monday during the final meeting of the Legislature’s Government Accountability Task Force…

Kennedy said he was trying to restore one piece of the campaign and ethics package known as Initiated Measure 22 that South Dakota voters approved in the general election…

The campaign team that led the fight for IM 22 announced Monday it would be filing a proposed constitutional amendment later this week seeking many of the same changes for the 2018 general election ballot.

Los Angeles Times: Trump won’t have to disclose tax returns to get on California’s ballot, as Gov. Jerry Brown vetoes bill

By John Myers

An unprecedented effort to force President Trump and other White House hopefuls to disclose their personal income tax returns was blocked by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday, who argued the plan would likely be overturned by the courts.

Brown’s veto of Senate Bill 149 put him at odds with legislative Democrats who insisted its mandate for five years of income tax information would help voters make an informed choice. In his veto message, though, the governor said the proposal could have led to other litmus tests for candidates.

“Today we require tax returns, but what would be next?” Brown wrote. “Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards? And will these requirements vary depending on which political party is in power?” …

The bill sparked a robust debate as to whether any state could impose such a litmus test for access to its presidential primary ballot. Legislative lawyers wrote an opinion just before its final passage suggesting SB 149 was unconstitutional, and critics pounced on U.S. Supreme Court rulings against qualification rules imposed on congressional candidates as proof the presidential limit would also be struck down.

Blackfoot Morning News: Idaho candidates talk transparency in buildup to 2018

By Associated Press

Separate from the political races, the Idaho Legislature has tasked a bipartisan panel with submitting recommendations on possible changes for lawmakers to consider during the 2018 session. The panel has focused on campaign finance reforms, but Republican Rep. Tom Loertscher of Iona has suggested legislation that would mimic Utah’s personal financial disclosure requirements.

The panel meets later this month to consider Loertscher’s proposal. But even if the Idaho Legislature advances a proposal in 2018, the law wouldn’t take effect until July – after the May GOP primary, the more competitive election in Republican-dominant Idaho.

Seattle Times: Do Seattle’s democracy vouchers work? New analysis says yes

By Gene Balk

The program went into effect this year, and it’s had a bit of a bumpy start. One City Council candidate has been accused of defrauding the program. A libertarian-leaning group has sued, saying the program violates the First Amendment. And a Seattle Times analysis showed that the vouchers haven’t gotten big money out of politics, as some proponents claimed they would.

But a new, early look at donor-participation statistics shows that the democracy voucher program does appear to live up to its name – that is, it is helping to democratize political giving in Seattle by diversifying the donor pool to better reflect Seattle residents.

The data analysis was performed by two liberal political-advocacy nonprofits: Seattle-based Win/Win and Washington, D.C.-based Every Voice. Both groups were major contributors to the Initiative 122 “Honest Elections Seattle” campaign that established the voucher program.

Pacific Legal Foundation: Can government force you to pay for someone else’s expression?

By Ethan W. Blevins

Think on these three statements:

  1. A law forbids you from posting a sign that says, “Vote for Voldemort.”
  2. A law forces you to post a sign that says, “Vote for Voldemort.”
  3. A law forces you to pay for someone else’s sign that says, “Vote for Voldemort.”

Should the First Amendment treat these laws differently?

The Supreme Court has said no. Government can neither shut your mouth nor pry it open. Compelled speech offends our right to express and stay true to our own beliefs as surely as compelled silence. And that includes being forced to sponsor someone else’s speech. If you don’t want to express support for Voldemort, you don’t have to. We wouldn’t have much of a democracy if the government could force individuals to sponsor viewpoints and political candidates that they abhor.

Seattle, though, has other ideas. Under the City’s “democracy voucher” program, taxpayers are forced to pay for other people’s campaign contributions. Seattleites get $25 vouchers that they can donate to a candidate of their choice, and that money in turn comes from a dedicated property tax.

Mississippi Business Journal: Changes to Mississippi campaign finance laws affect business community

By Spencer Ritchie

The new Act alters these provisions to reduce the time that political committees must file statements of organization from ten days of being formed to forty-eight hours of being formed and authorizes a fine of up to $5,000 for a committee’s failure to do so.

The Act also transfers to the Mississippi Ethics Commission authority previously held by the Mississippi Secretary of State for enforcing finance disclosure requirements, and clarifies the authority of the Ethics Commission to pursue judicial remedies against noncompliant political committees.

Finally, as with officeholders and candidates, the Act requires political committees to itemize all expenditures made using a credit card in their finance disclosure reports.

Alex Baiocco

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