Ed. note: The Daily Media Update will return Monday, November 29. Happy Thanksgiving from the Institute for Free Speech!
In the News
Bucks County Courier Times: Judge prevents Pennsbury from enforcing parts of public comment policy in free speech case
By Ashley R. Williams
A U.S. District judge Wednesday granted a preliminary injunction in the free speech lawsuit against the Pennsbury School District.
Judge Gene Pratter issued an order stating that the defendants in the case, which include Pennsbury solicitors Peter Amuso, Michael Clarke and several members of the Pennsbury School Board, were prohibited from enforcing certain parts of the school board policy that “restrict free speech.”
Four Pennsbury taxpayers filed suit against the school district in October in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania after being censored or interrupted during public comment periods at school board meetings that happened over the past school year.
Robert Abrams, Doug Marshall, Simon Campbell and Tim Daly’s lawsuit asked a judge to deem the school board’s speech policies, particularly Policy 903, unconstitutional.
The suit claimed Pennsbury’s censorship of public comments at school board meetings violated the First Amendment.
Pending final judgment, Pratter’s order prevents the school board from enforcing Policy 903’s prohibitions of free speech deemed “personally directed,” “abusive,” “irrelevant,” “offensive,” “otherwise inappropriate” or “personal attacks.”
The same goes for Policy 922’s prohibitions of free speech that are deemed “verbally abusive,” “disruptive,” and “intolerant,” according to the order.
By Tom Sofield
Following news of the preliminary injunction being issued on Wednesday, Alan Gura, the vice president for litigation for the Institute for Free Speech, issued comment: “We’re thankful that the court taught Pennsbury officials what they should have known all along: the First Amendment guarantees everyone’s right to criticize the school board and its policies. Parents and other community members are free to dispute the official narrative on any topic without being shouted down by government officials. The Constitution does not tolerate the ugly scenes of censorship and repression that played out at Pennsbury school board meetings earlier this year.”
By Eugene Volokh
From Judge Gene Pratter’s opinion today in Marshall v. Amuso (E.D. Pa.):
. . . The School Board personnel interrupted and terminated comments deemed “personally directed” as violations of Policy 903. As Policy 903 is applied (and as confirmed by the Board’s witnesses and counsel at the preliminary injunction hearing), positive and complimentary personally-directed comments supportive of Board and school employees are permitted to be expressed, but negative, challenging, or critical personally-directed comments are prohibited. Likewise, those who express support for a decision by singling out a School Board member are welcome, but those who criticize a decision are cut off. This is viewpoint discrimination regardless of whether speakers are at other times allowed to make a verbal personal attack.
New from the Institute for Free Speech
A federal judge on Wednesday ordered a Pennsylvania school board to allow parents and community members to criticize school policies and officials by name at public meetings. The court cited abundant evidence in its opinion that the Pennsbury School Board has abused its policies governing speech at meetings to discriminate against speakers based on their viewpoints. The ruling is an important step towards holding school boards everywhere accountable for their treatment of parents and citizens during public comment periods.
“Public speech at school board meetings is in fact protected by the First Amendment,” wrote Judge Pratter of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania…
While Pennsbury’s aggressive censorship of parents is shocking, its policies restricting speech at public meetings are common in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Earlier this month, the Institute for Free Speech represented the Brevard chapter of Moms for Liberty in a legal challenge to similar school board policies in Florida. As in Pennsbury, the Brevard County School Board is accused of selectively enforcing its ban on “personally directed” comments to allow praise but ban criticism.
Judge Pratter found ample evidence of selective enforcement in Pennsbury when the case went to trial in Philadelphia last week.
Politico (Influence): Whitehouse, Warren renew request for investigation into Chamber
By Caitlin Oprysko
Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have renewed their request that the congressional offices tasked with enforcing the Lobbying Disclosure Act investigate whether the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has violated lobbying disclosure laws.
The pair reiterated a similar request of the secretary of the Senate and clerk of the House from 2019, accusing the Chamber of violating a requirement that trade groups disclose any companies or groups that contribute at least $5,000 per quarter toward their lobbying work and “actively participate in the planning, supervision or control of such lobbying activities.” The Chamber denied the assertion through a spokesperson, who told PI that the group “takes seriously its obligations under the Lobbying Disclosure Act and complies fully with its requirements.”
In their letter to Clerk Cheryl Johnson and Secretary Sonceria Berry last week, Whitehouse and Warren wrote that the Chamber’s alleged lack of disclosure has taken on greater urgency with the group working furiously to defeat Democrats’ reconciliation bill.
By Scott Bland
A left-leaning, secret-money group doled out a whopping $410 million in 2020…
The Sixteen Thirty Fund’s multi-million dollar grants singlehandedly powered some other organizations on the left, and it also incubated other groups as a “fiscal sponsor” …
Its massive 2020 fundraising and spending illustrates the extent to which the left embraced the use of “dark money” to fight for its causes in recent years. After decrying big-money Republican donors over the last decade, as well as the Supreme Court rulings that flooded politics with more cash, Democrats now benefit from hundreds of millions of dollars of undisclosed donations as well.
“Altogether this is absolutely one of the largest fundraising machines I have ever come across,” said Robert Maguire, the research director for the open-government group CREW and an expert in political nonprofits. “I am really struggling to think of any other group, especially recently, that could rival it,” he added, comparing the amount of money flowing through Sixteen Thirty Fund to the Koch brothers’ network at the height of its influence earlier this decade.
While Sixteen Thirty Fund has grown to a similar scope in dollar terms, the organization rejects comparisons to the Koch network, casting both its mission and its model as different than the longtime liberal bogeymen. Sixteen Thirty Fund’s fiscal sponsorship model — in which it serves as an incubator and administrator to help get new progressive advocacy organizations off the ground — is a point of emphasis for the group, as is its backing of campaign finance reforms that would require it and other nonprofit groups to disclose donors and potentially reduce their influence on politics.
By Elena Schneider
A major Democratic donor is funding a new media outlet that launched Thursday, aimed at covering state and local races in the Midwest as the latest entrant into the growing partisan-media landscape.
The outfit combines Heartland Signal, a new digital news site that will focus on midterm coverage, and WCPT, an existing progressive talk radio station with a large footprint in Midwestern states. It’s all backed by Fred Eychaner, a Democratic donor based in Chicago, who has given approximately $100 million to Democratic causes over the last two decades, according to federal campaign finance records.
It’s part of a recent trend of explicitly Democratic-backed digital news projects that have popped up in the last several years, as candidates and movements across the political spectrum try to speak directly to supporters, drive viral attention and shape the media ecosystem by creating their own content instead of working through legacy outlets.