Daily Media Links 11/14

November 14, 2019   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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Congress

Office of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: Election Security Defenses Are Stronger, Crucial Work Continues

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding election security:

“Last Tuesday was Election Day in dozens of states and localities, including my home state of Kentucky. But there was one important aspect of Election Day that didn’t get much attention: Unlike in 2016, last week’s elections were not marred to the same extent by foreign interference from our nation’s adversaries. And neither were the 2018 midterm elections last year.

“As of now, no reports of foreign intrusion into voter records. No reports of significant and successful disinformation efforts on social media or anywhere else…

“Our adversaries are still at the door — but two Election Days in a row, now, we have benefited from stronger defenses. Progress like this should earn bipartisan applause. And like I said, behind closed doors, it did.

“But in public, my Democratic colleagues have not loudly cheered these successes. Instead, they are trying to use the very serious issue of election security to re-package their long-held liberal view that Washington D.C. needs far more power over elections.

“Look, nobody really believes that all the partisan proposals from Speaker Pelosi and company are some kind of tailored response to Russian meddling. Not when they transparently serve the same goals Democrats have wanted since way before 2016…

“So let’s not mistake these long-held liberal policy goals with some new, targeted response to Russian meddling. Election security is too important to become a Trojan horse for ideological goals that Democrats have wanted for many years.

Roll Call: Some Democrats see political system overhaul as winning 2020 issue

By Kate Ackley

[Rep. Max] Rose was among the challengers who pressed the party’s leadership to take up a sweeping campaign finance, ethics, voting rights and lobbying law revamp, assigned the symbolically significant HR 1 bill number, as a first order of business this Congress…

He and other Democrats say they can’t get traction on other issues because, in their view, well-financed industries can put their thumbs on a legislative scale, tipping the balance in their favor with campaign donations and lobbyists…

“To get action on these other issues, we need to address these structural issues,” said another freshman Democrat, Jason Crow of Colorado, who flipped a seat previously held by a Republican, Rep. Mike Coffman. “I absolutely will be running on this again, and it will be a prominent part of my campaign.”…

House Democrats’ mega overhaul bill, which runs hundreds of pages deep, seeks to remake the nation’s voting, campaign finance, and ethics and lobbying laws and to shore up security at ballot boxes. The overhaul would create an optional public financing system, providing candidates who agree to accept no more than $200 per contributor with $6 in public funds for every $1 raised…

The measure also would require lobbying organizations that engage in certain types of political expenditures to disclose more information about their donors; those groups say it would have a chilling effect on their political engagement…

With impeachment as the backdrop, overhaul groups such as End Citizens United and Public Citizen have amped up their advocacy in preparation for a potentially sweeping slate of overhaul measures to come.

“We are making sure it’s clear that this is a top priority,” said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for Public Citizen, a liberal group.

Politico: Morning Cybersecurity

By Tim Starks

ONLINE MILITARY SCAMS BUMP INTO TECH LIABILITY FIGHT – The chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will kick off a hearing on online exploitation of service members this afternoon with a threat to Facebook and Twitter: Crack down on scammers impersonating service members and veterans, or Congress may look to revisit tech’s sweeping protections against lawsuits over their users’ posts and activity. “I continue to believe in protecting our freedoms of speech and innovation under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. But there is a very real, and growing, problem here – and unless the platforms themselves do more to eliminate the issue of internet spoofing, then Congress may need to step in more directly,” Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) will say, according to prepared remarks shared with Morning Tech.

Legislation in the offing: The hearing was prompted largely by reports that fraudsters are abusing digital platforms to con people out of money and push disinformation and political propaganda. And Takano isn’t the only lawmaker floating a legislative solution. A bill from Air Force veteran Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) to hold tech giants accountable for failing to catch scams is just about ready for primetime, his office told MT. (Kinzinger in July revealed that someone impersonated him as part of a Facebook romance scam.)

The platforms weigh in: According to written testimony, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, plans to outline company policies aimed at combating misrepresentation – including requiring users to register using their real names and prohibiting the use of fake accounts or multiple profiles. “We are testing new detection capabilities to help spot and remove accounts that pretend to be some of the most frequently impersonated members of the U.S. military and veterans,” he’ll add. Twitter’s public policy manager, Kevin Kane, in his testimony will highlight a September policy update clarifying rules against scams and will tie the issue to Twitter’s broader efforts to curb misinformation and safeguard against foreign-backed inauthentic behavior.

Online Speech Platforms 

The Hill: Civil rights groups demand changes to Facebook’s political speech policy

By Chris Mills Rodrigo

A coalition of civil rights groups are demanding that Facebook overhaul its political speech policy, according to a letter obtained by The Hill Thursday…

Among the requests made in the letter is putting “guardrails on the newsworthiness exemption,” referring to Facebook’s community guideline allowing content from political figures to stay up even if it breaks some of the social media platform’s policies…

The civil rights groups also called on Facebook to subject political ads to third-party fact-checking.

Facebook has come under intense scrutiny for its policy, launched in October, not to fact-check or block advertisements from politicians over false or misleading claims. The social media giant has defended the policy, saying it is not the place of private companies to police political speech.

The groups asked that posts found to contain such claims be demoted to “reduce the virality of misinformation.”

Facebook has carved out exceptions in its blanket political speech policy for content inciting violence or voter suppression. The groups demanded that the exceptions be defined more clearly to “reflect real world harms.”

They also needled Facebook for allowing political ads to be narrowly targeted to population subgroups…

The civil rights groups called for increased transparency on ad targeting, including information about the intended audience.

Finally, the letter demands Facebook put more effort in fighting hateful activities on the platform…

Facebook on Wednesday announced that it had pulled down 7 million posts over the past three months for violating its policies against hate speech.

Philadelphia Inquirer: How Twitter just might save democracy in America

By Lawrence Lessig

If we’re lucky, then someday we’ll look back to October 2019 and say that’s when the recovery began. If we’re lucky, we’ll look back to a decision that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey made, and recognize that at that single moment, sanity began to return. That decision was Dorsey’s resolve not to sell political ads on Twitter. If we’re lucky, that critical decision will be followed by other social media platforms. And someday we’ll look back and recognize just how important that corporate self-restraint was.

Because it is so easy for thinking to get swallowed by the mindless slogans of the day. Mark Zuckerberg tells America that Facebook won’t ban political ads, even just before an election, because Facebook believes in “free speech” – by which Zuckerberg means the speech that will earn Facebook more than $400 million in ad revenue in the 2020 election.

But Dorsey doesn’t oppose free speech. Dorsey instead recognizes how his extraordinary platform can sometimes do more harm than good. By giving political advertisers the tools to buy speech that Twitter has to slice and dice an incredibly digitally active public, political advertisers have the ability to divide us and anger us and render us just nuts…

Social media ads are meant to anger or engage; they help divide so as to conquer; they help turn out one kind of vote while suppressing another. I don’t believe the data support the claim that Facebook and Twitter elected Donald Trump. But I do believe that there are plenty of examples of ad-driven social media political campaigns driving the public to do what the public, upon reflection, didn’t want to do…

Advertising on social media platforms is the hack of the day. Twitter deserves great respect for shutting down that hack on its platform.

The Hill: Progressives ramp up fight against Facebook

By Emily Birnbaum

The groups, representing a large swath of the progressive left, say they have been unfairly caught up in Facebook’s efforts to crack down on fake accounts and election manipulation, leaving them scrambling to maintain their Facebook pages and millions of followers.    

Members of the Campaign to Regulate and Break Up Big Tech, a new coalition in the nascent stages of organizing, have been meeting with regulators and lawmakers after direct talks with top Facebook officials broke down, according to the groups.

“It became increasingly clear that dialogue was not going to get us very far,” a progressive strategist involved with organizing the coalition told The Hill.

“That’s why an increasing number of groups have come together to jointly strategize, to coordinate planning to achieve those two goals: regulation of the platform on the one hand, and breaking up Big Tech,” the strategist added…

“In every aspect and every decision Facebook has made, it has skewed conservative,” Kyle Tanner, the national digital director for Fight for 15, said. “Even as they’ve made moves to … stop the digital interference and campaigning of state actors in domestic elections post-2016, those moves have hurt progressives, have hurt Democrats.” Facebook has denied all allegations of bias…

Progressives who spoke to The Hill said they asked for the meetings after Facebook removed or restricted many of their pages amid the company’s October 2018 purge of “spam-like” political content…

Many organizers across the political spectrum know Facebook is a vital tool to organize, amplify their messages and ask for donations. But increasingly over the past year, popular left-wing political pages have been taken down suddenly or had their reach limited by Facebook, the sources said, as the platform tries to act more aggressively against bots and spam following the 2016 presidential election…

The progressives participate in a weekly call to discuss and strategize around antitrust issues, multiple sources confirmed. And the group has brought the anti-Facebook crusade to key lawmakers and at least one state attorney general.

The States

Associated Press: Georgia election officials investigate prominent critics

By Ben Nadler

Georgia election officials have opened an investigation into two prominent critics of the state’s new touchscreen voting machines, secretary of state Brad Raffensperger’s office confirmed Wednesday.

Those critics called the investigation an attempt to intimidate detractors of the new machines.

Marilyn Marks, executive director of the nonprofit Coalition for Good Governance, and Richard DeMillo, a cybersecurity expert and Georgia Tech professor, are accused of “interfering with voters by being in unauthorized areas” of voting locations while observing pilot elections conducted on the new machines on Nov. 5…

Marks responded, “I have absolutely no idea what this could be about other than just an effort to try to discredit us, because much of what we observed was not pretty.”

Marks said they worked with local election officials that day and hadn’t heard any concerns at the time. She said Raffensperger should be promoting open and transparent elections rather than “trying to make examples of people who want to exercise their right to learn more, who want to observe, who want to promote transparency.”…

Marks’ group Coalition for Good Governance is a plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit challenging the new machines…

An investigation like this is generally conducted by the secretary of state’s office before being presented to the state board of elections, which will vote on whether the alleged violations should be reported to the state attorney general for further investigation and prosecution.

NM Political Report: ‘Democracy Dollars’ voted down, but other public financing improvements, bonds pass

By Matthew Reichbach

A high-profile ballot question in Albuquerque endorsed by three Democratic presidential candidates failed….

The Democracy Dollars ballot initiative would have shored up the city’s public financing program and allowed city residents to direct vouchers of $25 for qualified candidates.

Democratic presidential candidates Julian Castro, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren each lent their support to the proposal, with the latter two doing so on Election Day. And Castro endorsed it on Oct. 29, as early voting was about to end…

Another ballot to update public financing, Proposition 1, did pass. The proposal, which would provide language to deal with “in-kind” donations, increases how much each candidate could raise in “seed money” and makes other changes to public financing, easily passed.

The proposal will also allow mayoral candidates who qualify for public financing to receive $1.75 per registered voter, an increase from $1.00, and for qualified city council candidates to receive $0.60 per registered voter, up from $0.33.

New York Daily News: Commission crafting public financing program for New York elections nears consensus

By Denis Slattery

The Public Finance Reform Commission held one of its final public meetings Wednesday with just two weeks to go before it will unveil a $100 million plan to allow political candidates to fund their campaigns with public dollars. The commissioners spent the day hashing out how much candidates should have to raise, and from how many small donors, to qualify for public matching funds as advocates and good government groups called for action. Preliminary votes were held on a variety of topics. One measure that gained approval would permit incumbents to use money from previous election cycles, a boost for incumbent pols. Commissioners also discussed delaying the implementation of the matching funds program until 2024. Critics cried foul and protesters interrupted the meeting as the panel voted to allow contribution limits of $10,000 for State Senate and $5,000 for Assembly candidates. Chants of “Big money out! Voters in!” rang through the room at Westchester Community College as the commission discussed limits for legislative and statewide races…

“The competing proposal by Senate appointee Getachew is much stronger than the Commission’s preliminary proposal, and should be the very least the Commission is prepared to adopt,” Dave Palmer, campaign director of the Fair Elections for New York said in a statement. Getachew suggested setting donation limits of $5,600 statewide, $4,200 for the Senate, and $2,850 for the Assembly for candidates participating in the program, and lowering donor limits for candidates not participating. She also called for the creation of a campaign finance board, similar to one that monitors the city’s matching program, to keep track and regulate the system. What the program will ultimately look like remains to be seen and the panel’s final report, set to be released the day before Thanksgiving, could be vastly different from what was discussed Wednesday.

Grand Forks Herald: North Dakota ethics study broaches ‘dark money’ in elections

By Jack Dura, Bismarck Tribune

North Dakota lawmakers heard examples Wednesday, Nov. 13, of so-called “dark money” at play in recent elections in the state.

The Legislature’s interim Judiciary Committee heard testimony from two attorneys and a former Montana state representative about the effects of influential “dark money,” or campaign contributions from organizations’ undisclosed donors, criticized as secretive and pervasive.

The committee is undertaking a two-year study of provisions in a new constitutional amendment voters approved in 2018 mandating state government ethics, including the disclosure of “the ultimate and true source of funds spent” to influence state elections or actions, effective in 2021.

The 2019 Legislature passed Republican majority leaders’ framework to implement provisions of the constitutional amendment. Greg Stites, an attorney representing the measure’s sponsors, said many of those statutes “either hinder, restrict or impair what the constitutional provisions say.” …

State ethics law narrows or restricts qualifications for disclosing the “ultimate and true source,” according to Erin Chlopak, director of campaign finance strategy for the Campaign Legal Center.

She gave examples of “dark money” in North Dakota as recent as spending in the state’s 2018 U.S. Senate race, in opposition to the 2018 ethics measure and in support of the 2016 ballot measure that legalized medical marijuana.

“In both of those ballot measures, North Dakota voters were deprived of fundamental and essential information about the true sources of substantial amounts of money, often from out-of-state special interests, spent to influence their votes on matters directly affecting their lives,” Chlopak said.

Alex Baiocco

Alex Baiocco