Daily Media Links 11/20

November 20, 2019   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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In the News 

MassLive: Ending your right to petition the government as we know it

By Luke Wachob

The First Amendment protects your right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The Supreme Court has said the right to petition is “among the most precious” liberties and implicit in “the very idea of” government. It’s inseparable from the freedoms of speech and assembly.

Yet this fundamental freedom is routinely endangered by the very elected officials who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. Earlier this fall, Senator Elizabeth Warren unveiled a sweeping plan that would violate the free speech, petition, and assembly rights of Americans.

Senator Warren says she wants to “end lobbying as we know it.” Her plan would regulate as a “lobbyist” anyone who is paid to influence lawmakers – no matter how little they spend in time or money – and ban those “lobbyists” from contributing to political campaigns. To top it off, she would impose a special tax on lobbying. Government can’t, and shouldn’t try to, tax our right to speak…

Aside from being unconstitutional, the plan is counterproductive. Its stated goal is to put power “back where it belongs – in the hands of the people.” But banning certain Americans from making campaign contributions and encumbering ordinary citizens with complex, overbroad regulations harms our democracy…

Moreover, corruption and undue influence will not be rooted out by regulation. After all, many groups attempt to “influence” government for the very purpose of fighting corruption. Good government groups and watchdogs will be harmed by regulations that limit their ability to speak about, or to, government leaders. And corrupt officials will face far less criticism if advocacy is tightly controlled by the feds…

The best way to fight corruption is to protect freedom of speech and the right to vote. Americans should be free to advocate for the policies they agree with and to support them with their vote. They should have the right to join groups and hire professionals to help put their beliefs into action.

Washington Post: Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

By Associated Press

The Orange County Register on social media monitoring by law enforcement agencies:

Social media monitoring by law enforcement agencies has drawn scrutiny from a coalition of free speech and civil rights groups, raising important questions about privacy as well as oversight of the use of government power.

A statement released on Nov. 6 was signed by more than 50 organizations including the Brennan Center for Justice, the ACLU, the Institute for Free Speech and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It cites harmful impacts from social media surveillance that should concern lawmakers and the public.

Of particular concern, activities protected by the First Amendment could be stifled or chilled by online surveillance. Local police and federal agencies have monitored social media to track political protests and events. “This information may be disseminated to other federal, state and local government agencies, which leads to further surveillance, watchlisting, unnecessary interactions with law enforcement, and more dire consequences, such as overreaching immigration enforcement,” the groups stated.

Online Speech Platforms 

Ad Age: Facebook’s Director Of Business Integrity Explains The Platform’s Political Ads Policy

By Garett Sloane

Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of business integrity, is one of the social network’s more vocal exponents when it comes to the company’s much-maligned policy decisions around political ads and speech on the service…

Ad Age caught up with Leathern by phone on Tuesday to ask him where Facebook stands on the political ads front. Here’s that conversation with edits for clarity:

How is Facebook thinking about its political ads policy these days?

There’s three main areas that we think about: fighting foreign interference, increasing transparency and reducing misinformation…

Twitter now bans just about all political ads. You’ve taken a different approach. Why?

I won’t talk specifically about the decisions other companies are making. I can talk a little bit about how we think about political ads and social issue ads. When it comes to issue ads obviously there’s a challenge about where to draw the line. Things that mention candidates or an election campaign are clearly political, but there are a lot of ads that are about highly politicized issues: health care, veterans services, climate change, other areas. We think it’s important to take kind of a broad approach here.

We also have to give people a place to express their voice. It’s not just about the presidential and well-known candidates, but it’s also about the local, little-known or new candidates that don’t typically have access to the same kind of media, the same kinds of ways to get their message out there.

We think that if we stopped running political ads on our services then the people who would really benefit are going to be the incumbents and established politicians, the newcomers would not benefit. Challengers don’t have the ability to spend $60,000 to produce a TV ad, let alone the media costs of running it.

Campaigns & Elections: Privacy and Online Targeting: What Digital Professionals Need to Consider

By Eric Wilson

Last year in Washington state, Facebook and Google decided to stop selling political ads rather than comply with campaign finance regulations around advertising disclosures. But that hasn’t stopped campaigns in the state from slipping ads through. Ads that do make it through and get enough attention typically get taken down. This is the earliest glimpse we’ve gotten into how difficult a ban on such ads by Twitter will be to enforce.

In California, a new state law that gives consumers additional rights to privacy and adds responsibilities for corporations regarding data protection and usage will go into effect on Jan. 1, but the only probable impact to campaigns seems to be increased costs from vendors who must comply with the law.

This doesn’t mean campaigns are off the hook entirely. A recent study found that just 30 percent of the 2020 presidential field are following best practices when it comes to data privacy and consumer protection…

Twitter’s decision last month to ban all political advertising and the policy would take effect this week upended the conversation. Hillary Clinton and others called on Facebook to follow suit. Fortunately, other voices on the left, like Tara McGowan at ACRONYM pointed out that this would be a disaster for any candidate not named Donald Trump.

Banning paid political advertising won’t keep politics or bad actors off the social media platforms. If the big tech platforms – or state regulations – box campaigns into a place where the only way to reach social media audiences is organically, it’ll result in a backfire effect. The only way for a marketer to win at that game is to play up engagement, emotionality, and outrage…

Remember why digital targeting is important to us as campaign professionals: We want to reach more voters more efficiently. The bar for efficiency is set pretty high in politics given that broadcast media and cable TV always result in wasted impressions outside of a targeted electorate.

Wall Street Journal: How Google Interferes With Its Search Algorithms and Changes Your Results

By Kirsten Grind, Sam Schechner, Robert McMillan and John West

More than 100 interviews and the Journal’s own testing of Google’s search results reveal: …

– Google engineers regularly make behind-the-scenes adjustments to other information the company is increasingly layering on top of its basic search results. These features include auto-complete suggestions, boxes called “knowledge panels” and “featured snippets,” and news results, which aren’t subject to the same company policies limiting what engineers can remove or change.

– Despite publicly denying doing so, Google keeps blacklists to remove certain sites or prevent others from surfacing in certain types of results. These moves are separate from those that block sites as required by U.S. or foreign law, such as those featuring child abuse or with copyright infringement, and from changes designed to demote spam sites, which attempt to game the system to appear higher in results.

– In auto-complete, the feature that predicts search terms as the user types a query, Google’s engineers have created algorithms and blacklists to weed out more-incendiary suggestions for controversial subjects, such as abortion or immigration, in effect filtering out inflammatory results on high-profile topics.

– Google employees and executives, including co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, have disagreed on how much to intervene on search results and to what extent. Employees can push for revisions in specific search results, including on topics such as vaccinations and autism.

– To evaluate its search results, Google employs thousands of low-paid contractors whose purpose the company says is to assess the quality of the algorithms’ rankings. Even so, contractors said Google gave feedback to these workers to convey what it considered to be the correct ranking of results, and they revised their assessments accordingly, according to contractors interviewed by the Journal. The contractors’ collective evaluations are then used to adjust algorithms.

Forbes: Big Tech: Arise And Defend Online Bias And Controversial Speech From Aspiring Regulators

By Clyde Wayne Crews Jr.

Google again is the subject of a presumably revelatory story about its tweaking search results.

That gets a yawn from me. Each tech platform, and those yet to come, must police themselves vigorously.

As even the Wall Street Journal analysis notes, “bad actors are increasingly trying to manipulate search results, businesses are trying to game the system and misinformation is rampant across tech platforms.”

Even when it comes to “misinformation,” “fake news” and the like, competing biases can be superior to a pretended and non-achievable capital-“O” Objectivity, especially given that the alternatives consist of a range of regulatory shenanigans being touted by both Republicans and Democrats.

Social media platforms should stop asserting objectivity and non-bias sooner rather than later (even if they strive to achieve those) and defend that stance. Of course, that won’t end their being repeatedly subjected to accusatory “exposés” or legislation (from parties who themselves hold biases).

Competing biases are normal, virtuous, and need champions. To treat the matter otherwise is to assign credulity to the population and imply it needs government handholding…

One has a right to speak, but unpopular, divisive or hateful or merely conservative speech (or liberal, for that matter) does not get to force others to supply a web platform, newspaper, venue or microphone. Manipulating underlying algorithms is likewise an exercise of free speech, making this issue even more important for the next phase of evolution of the tech sector, where calls for regulation of bias from social warriors are apt to become vastly more pronounced at the very time experimentation with algorithms is most vital. Circumstances have already deteriorated such that even presidential candidates have called for the federal government to approve algorithms. That means replacing competing, ever-improving private algorithms with locked-in governmental ones…

If conservatives “triumph” in the quest for content regulation, they will have ironically implemented the control and censorship they claim to want to prevent.

Independent Groups 

Politico: Documents reveal massive ‘dark-money’ group boosted Democrats in 2018

By Scott Bland and Maggie Severns

The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a little-known nonprofit headquartered in Washington, spent $141 million on more than 100 left-leaning causes during the midterm election year, according to a new tax filing from the group. The money contributed to efforts ranging from fighting Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and other Trump judicial nominees to boosting ballot measures raising the minimum wage and changing laws on voting and redistricting in numerous states…

The Sixteen Thirty Fund’s rise last year is a sign that Democrats and allies have embraced the methods of groups they decried as “dark money” …

“In terms of the size of dark money networks, there are only a few that have gone into the $100 million-plus range,” said Robert Maguire, the research director for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington…

“These kinds of totals aren’t unheard of,” Maguire added. “I do think they’re unheard of on the liberal side. I think that’s what’s so striking about this.”…

The huge size of Sixteen Thirty Fund and its donations raise questions about whether it has its own independent base of donors or if whether acts as one part of a larger network, said Brett Kappel, campaign finance lawyer at Akerman LLP.

“When you see a very large contribution – which is more than a third of the money raised – that raises the possibility that other groups are funneling money to this group to distribute to individual states,” said Kappel. “Is this part of a dark money network? And what’s its function?”

There are some signposts that partly show Sixteen Thirty Fund’s operators and potential sources of its funding. Sixteen Thirty Fund is closely tied to Arabella Advisors, a firm that advises donors and nonprofits about where to give money and was founded by former Clinton administration appointee Eric Kessler. Kessler is president and chair of Sixteen Thirty Fund, and Arabella Advisors provides “business and administrative services” to the nonprofit, according to the tax filing.

The Hill: Joe Biden’s super PAC stumble

By Stephen R. Weissman

[U]ntil now, virtually all of Biden’s rivals for the Democratic nomination have spurned such plutocratic vehicles. Biden’s new stance could weaken their resistance. In recent days, the largest nurses’ union has stated it plans to reactivate its super PAC on behalf of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). And campaign advisers for the latest Democratic entry, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, reportedly have been “testing the groundwork for a super PAC.”

The Biden campaign points out that super PACs are “permitted by current law.” But there is more to be said about this. The “law” in question has not been passed by Congress. It is, rather, a deeply flawed, expansive interpretation by some federal appeals courts of the Supreme Court’s controversial opinion in Citizens United v. FEC…

There are signs that judges and prosecutors dealing with ground-level political behavior know better. Last year, the judge in the federal bribery case against Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), which ended in acquittal, affirmed that donations to super PACs potentially could corrupt candidates if the latter “placed subjective value” on the contributions, though he found insufficient evidence that the senator had entered into an explicit quid pro quo with a donor earmarking large super PAC contributions for his race.

A recent federal indictment of two businessmen – associates of presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani, regarding Ukraine – who contributed $325,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC alleges that they did so “to obtain access to exclusive political events and gain influence with politicians.”…

It is not too late for Joe Biden to admit error and change course. If he did, he might double down by supporting ongoing initiatives to force a Supreme Court review of the appellate decisions sanctioning unlimited contributions to super PACs. These efforts, encouraged by the reform group Free Speech for People, currently include a bipartisan congressional lawsuit (Lieu vs. Federal Election Commission) and passed or pending legislation to abolish super PACs in local or state elections in St. Petersburg, Fla., Seattle and Massachusetts.

Fundraising 

Politico: Inside Warren’s secret big-donor fan club

By Maggie Severns

Elizabeth Warren prohibits special access for big donors – but her campaign treasurer and another close ally are organizing wealthy supporters for Warren behind the scenes while she rips on the rich.

The pair, Boston businessman Paul Egerman and activist Shanti Fry, have maintained campaign titles as Warren’s finance co-chairs, even as her campaign sheared other links to the Democratic donor class earlier this year by forswearing closed-door, in-person fundraising events of the sort Warren did for years in the Senate. Fry and Egerman – a longtime friend of Warren’s who helped build support for her first run for office – are courting big donors in the Northeast by organizing trips, hosting events and acting as conduits for information about the campaign…

Their presence on Warren’s unorthodox campaign shows how the Massachusetts senator – whose campaign is funded primarily by small-dollar online donors and who rails against the corrosive influence of political donors and Wall Street billionaires, even selling a campaign mug labeled “BILLIONAIRE TEARS” on the side – is not completely blowing up her ties to the Democratic establishment. Egerman, her campaign treasurer, is a prolific political donor himself. And the wealthy supporters Egerman and Fry are organizing today may have another act to play in Warren’s campaign: If she became the nominee, those donors may help finance the national Democratic Party, which can collect six-figure sums and which Warren has said she would raise money for if chosen as the nominee, or help super PACs that would support Warren against President Donald Trump…

Last week, a crowd of Bostonians packed into the trendy Tiger Mama restaurant for a brunch benefiting Warren’s campaign – without Warren herself, per campaign policy. Instead, the event, which focused on LGBTQ support and was open to small- and large-dollar donors, had the next best thing: a cardboard cutout of Warren, as well as face time with Egerman and Fry.

The States

Center for Public Integrity: Puppies, Phones And Porn: How ‘Model Legislation’ Affects Consumers’ Lives

By Kristian Hernández and Pratheek Rebala

Earlier this year, the Center for Public Integrity, USA TODAY and the Arizona Republic analyzed model statehouse bills to take the first nationwide accounting of how prolific copycat legislation has become.

Today, the news organizations publicly released a new model legislation tracker that goes deeper, identifying copycat legislation by comparing statehouse bills to each other – and making that information accessible to the public.

The tool developed by Public Integrity reveals model bills – some previously unidentified – that impact nearly every aspect of American life, from who can grow hemp or breed puppies, to what can be called “milk” or “meat” for purchase at your local grocery stores.

Using the new model legislation tracker, Public Integrity retrieved nearly 1.2 million bills across all 50 states and compared their text to identify when two bills in different states have common language.

Oregon Public Broadcasting: Oregon Lawmakers Hear New Proposal For Capping Campaign Contributions

By Dirk VanderHart

At a meeting of the Senate Campaign Finance Committee he chairs, state Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, unveiled a proposal for new regulations that contains elements he believes are “ideal.” Those elements could become a key starting point as the Legislature prepares to grapple with the issue early next year…

Oregon is currently one of a handful of states with no limits on campaign contributions…

Under his proposal, individual donors would be limited to giving $2,000 per election for statewide races. That means they could give that amount to a candidate twice, once for the primary election and once for the general. In races for House and Senate seats, the limits would be set at $750 per election.

Those same restrictions would apply to candidates looking to give to other campaigns, as well as “multi-candidate” committees, which would be similar to current special-interest PACs.

Other groups would have more leeway in what they could give. State political parties and committees associated with party members in the House or Senate could give up to $40,000 per election to statewide candidates and $15,000 per election to legislative candidates.

The same limits would be applied to new “small-donor” committees, which Golden considers the most important innovation in his proposal. In exchange for being able to donate larger sums, those groups would be limited to supporting a single candidate, for a single election. They could accept no more than $200 per election from individuals and many PACs…

In November 2020, Oregon voters will decide whether to modify the state’s constitution to explicitly allow campaign finance limits. The Oregon Supreme Court is considering whether to reverse its own earlier prohibition on contribution limits.

Given all that, lawmakers hope to have a framework ready should the legal landscape shift.

Pontiac Daily Leader: GOP ethics package to address corruption

By Jared DuBach, Voice Correspondent

Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb has signed onto a House GOP ethics reform package that comes as the result of recent corruption charges against a state representatives and state senator – both Chicago Democrats.

The General Assembly last week passed Senate Bill 1639 and House Joint Resolution 93, which increase disclosure requirements for lobbyists and establishes a task force to study and recommend other ethics reforms. These laws placed blame on the lobbyist process rather than increase lawmaker accountability. Both the Senate and the House are overseen by a Democratic majority…

“The ethics reform measures passed by the General Assembly last week move our ethics standards in the right direction, but do not go far enough. I supported the legislation, but I’m disappointed that the Democratic majority refused to consider more serious, comprehensive ethics reform measures,” [said Rep. Hammond.]

The House Republican ethics reform package includes:

– House Bill 3954 revises statements of economic interest to include more details…

– HJRCA 36 requires a special election to fill General Assembly vacancies through the same laws governing party primaries…

– House Resolution 588 allows a chief co-sponsor of any bill with five co-sponsors from each party to call it for an up or down vote in a substantive committee.

– House Bill 3947 bans members of the General Assembly, their spouses, and immediate live-in family members from performing paid lobbying work with local government units. Currently, members of the Illinois General Assembly – state representatives and state senators – are prohibited from lobbying the State of Illinois, but are not prohibited from lobbying local government units, such as a counties or municipalities…

– House Bill 3955 creates mandatory and publicly available documentation of General Assembly communications with any state agency regarding contracts.

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly