Ed. Note: The Media Update is going on vacation and will return on Monday, 12/2. Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at the Institute for Free Speech!
In The News
By Rick Moran
The Daily Caller has a summary of what Reps. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilham Omar are accused of — less than a year after they took office.
Ocasio-Cortez and her former campaign chair Saikat Chakrabarti were appointed to hold two of the PAC’s three board seats in December 2017, but the Federal Election Commission was never notified of the affiliation between her campaign and Justice Democrats.
Multiple former FEC commissioners told the Daily Caller News Foundation that Ocasio-Cortez could face civil or criminal penalties for failing to disclose her campaign’s affiliation to the outside PAC.
“At minimum, there’s a lot of smoke there, and if there are really only three board members and she and [Chakrabarti] are two of them, sure looks like you can see the blaze,” said former FEC Chairman Brad Smith.
Fox Business: Progressive Democrats face campaign finance accusations
By Evie Fordham
Less than a year into their terms, progressive Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are facing accusations that they mishandled campaign finances – and the outcomes could have big impacts on their political careers.
Tlaib, Omar and Ocasio-Cortez are three out of four members of the so-called “Squad,” a group of up-and-coming female members of Congress who have been outspoken about their beliefs as they appear to pull their party to the left.
Here are the questions they’re being asked about their campaign finances as the 2020 election looms…
Ocasio-Cortez is facing scrutiny after she and her former campaign manager, Saikat Chakrabarti, had majority control of the Justice Democrats PAC that raised nearly $2 million for her ahead of her June 2018 primary victory.
The arrangement was first revealed by The Daily Caller News Foundation in March, and former FEC Commissioner Brad Smith told the DCNF that the setup, if purposefully concealed, could mean jail time for Ocasio-Cortez and Chakrabarti.
New York Times: Supreme Court Acts in Campaign Finance and Libel Cases
By Adam Liptak
The Supreme Court on Monday returned a challenge to Alaska’s limits on campaign contributions to a lower court, suggesting that the limits were too low…
Alaska allows individuals to contribute no more than $500 to political candidates, one of the lowest limits in the nation. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, upheld the limits notwithstanding a 2006 Supreme Court decision, Randall v. Sorrell, that struck down Vermont’s $400 limit on contributions to candidates for statewide office.
The Sorrell decision was splintered, but Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s plurality opinion said contribution limits could be so low that they”harm the electoral process by preventing challengers from mounting effective campaigns against incumbent officeholders, thereby reducing democratic accountability.”
In an unsigned opinion with no noted dissents, the Supreme Court sent the Alaska case back to the Ninth Circuit, instructing it to “revisit whether Alaska’s contribution limits are consistent with our First Amendment precedents.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a separate statement, wrote that she did not oppose having the Ninth Circuit take another look at the case. But she added that “Alaska’s law does not exhibit certain features found troublesome in Vermont’s law.”…
Quoting the trial judge in the case, Justice Ginsburg wrote that “these characteristics make Alaska ‘highly, if not uniquely, vulnerable to corruption in politics and government.'”
By Bernie Pazanowski and Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson
The U.S. Supreme Court was skeptical of Alaska’s $500 campaign contribution limit on Nov. 25, but the justices avoided an outright rejection of it in what one reform group called a “win” in the conservative-majority court.
In addressing whether to accept a First Amendment challenge to the state restriction, the court vacated a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and asked it to take another look at whether the atypically low campaign contribution limit is consistent with previous high court precedent.
The unsigned per curiam opinion was narrow, which appeared to be good news for campaign finance reformers who support reasonable limits on contributions from individuals to either a candidate or a group other than a political party.
“This basically counts as a win with this Court,” tweeted Daniel Weiner, of the pro-reform group Brennan Center for Justice.
This was the Supreme Court’s first foray into campaign finance since it struck federal contribution limits in 2014. The Roberts Court has been hostile to campaign finance reforms, Weiner said…
But the court’s decision in the Alaska case suggests there’s hesitation on the part of at least some justices to take on contribution limits as a whole, said campaign finance lawyer Jason Torchinsky of Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky. He filed an amicus brief in the Alaska case, urging the justices to take the case.
Washington Examiner: Supreme Court proves hostile climate for free speech case
By Quin Hillyer
The Supreme Court severely undermined free speech on Monday. It erred by refusing to hear an appeal of a defamation suit filed by a controversial climate scientist against the conservative publication National Review.
At issue was whether courts should allow the suit to reach a jury or whether instead, the magazine should enjoy what Justice Samuel Alito called “the protection afforded to journalists and others who use harsh language in criticizing opposing advocacy on one of the most important public issues of the day.” Alito dissented eloquently from the court’s refusal to review the case. Alito was absolutely right.
In 2012, National Review published a short, caustic blog post by Canadian writer Mark Steyn that semi-favorably cited an even more caustic third-party blog post criticizing Michael Mann, a professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University. The other blogger, Rand Simberg, used hyperbole and wordplay to compare a disputed climate-change graph published by Mann to the child sex-abuse scandal, also at Penn State, involving football coach Jerry Sandusky.
“Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science,” wrote Simberg, “except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science.”
National Review: Free Speech in Abeyance
By the Editors
We are disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to take up our appeal in the case of National Review Inc. v. Michael E. Mann, and we can express our disappointment no better than did Justice Samuel Alito in his dissent from the denial of certiorari. “The petition in this case,” Alito writes, presents questions that go to the very heart of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and freedom of the press: the protection afforded to journalists and others who use harsh language in criticizing opposing advocacy on one of the most important public issues of the day. If the Court is serious about protecting freedom of expression, we should grant review.
At stake in this case are nothing less than two of the core guarantees that undergird American life. The first is the promise that all people may engage in robust political debate without fear of retribution from the sensitive and the malicious. The second is the promise that when legal disputes do arise, they will be resolved in a timely manner – before, not after, the targeted party has been bled of precious time and resources. Thus far in National Review Inc. v. Michael E. Mann, neither of these guarantees has been upheld…
Justice Alito notes that “in recent years, the Court has made a point of vigilantly enforcing the Free Speech Clause even when the speech at issue made no great contribution to public debate.” And so it should. But one would expect that a Court that takes the time to superintend the marginal cases would have time for the foundational cases, too. And make no mistake: This is a foundational case. Aware of what is at risk here, a host of media organizations from across the entire political spectrum have filed amicus curiae briefs in support of National Review. We may not agree with the Washington Post, Time Inc., the ACLU, and the Cato Institute on everything – or, often, on much – but on this we all speak as one.
Online Speech Platforms
By Eliza Newlin Carney
Should social media platforms ban the “microtargeting” that allows politicians to hand pick narrow audiences while evading public scrutiny? Google recently took steps to limit microtargeting, but political players say that will just cut off small donors and hurt challengers…
The movement to revive civic learning has focused fresh attention on students’ media literacy. But what about their parents and grandparents? Older Americans are even worse than students at distinguishing factual news from opinion news, studies have found, and are more likely to repost fraudulent stories. Yet adults have been largely left out of the push to tackle the “upstream” side of the misinformation explosion – the viewers and readers who make false stories “go viral.”
That is starting to change. The News Literacy Project, whose digital Checkology curriculum now reaches educators in every state and in 110 countries, is rolling out today a new tool specifically aimed at both students and adults. The group’s new mobile app, Informable, trains users how to sort truth from fiction with games that develop fact-checking and other news literacy skills. The app enables the group to expand “beyond the classroom” to reach the general public…
Media industry advocates tackling misinformation in politics, including election interference by Russia and other foreign adversaries, cite news consumers as a critical line of defense.
Cato Institute: Speech Paternalism and the People Most Likely to Advocate It
By John Samples
Facebook has decided not to suppress putative falsehoods in political ads on its platform. This decision has many critics. I see three ways forward for Facebook.
First, stay with the policy. The policy is close to the American free speech tradition. It assumes Facebook users have the right and ability to discern truth and falsehood…
Second, refuse to run ads with “falsehoods.” Suppressing falsehoods in ads would produce false positives: some “lies” would turn out to be truths. Many “lies” would turn out to be contestable propositions that one side or the other deems “an obvious lie.” Some valuable speech will be suppressed…
Third, limit the reach (but not the content) of ads with falsehoods. Here’s the idea: instead of presenting a political ad to 500 users, all of whom might be open to the content of the ad, Facebook could refuse to sell political ads to fewer than 5,000 users…Where a smaller audience might not have seen any debate about the ad, the larger audience will have many people who have doubts about the content of the ad. A debate might well ensue. The 500 users that might have heard nothing against the ad have the possibility of hearing “more speech” about the “lie.”
This third option is brilliant in its own way. This revised policy would not suppress speech directly. Instead, Facebook could say that broadening the audience for an ad would foster more speech about the ad and thereby improve public debate.
By Billy Perrigo
On Nov. 13, Facebook announced with great fanfare that it was taking down substantially more posts containing hate speech from its platform than ever…
Facebook removed more than seven million instances of hate speech in the third quarter of 2019, the company claimed, an increase of 59% against the previous quarter. More and more of that hate speech (80%) is now being detected not by humans, they added, but automatically, by artificial intelligence…
The algorithms Facebook currently uses to remove hate speech only work in certain languages. That means it has become easier for Facebook to contain the spread of racial or religious hatred online in the primarily developed countries and communities where global languages like English…dominate…
Facebook tells TIME it has functional hate speech detection algorithms (or “classifiers,” as it calls them internally) in more than 40 languages worldwide. In the rest of the world’s languages, Facebook relies on its own users and human moderators to police hate speech.
Unlike the algorithms that Facebook says now automatically detect 80% of hateful posts without needing a user to have reported them first, these human moderators do not regularly scan the site for hate speech themselves. Instead, their job is to decide whether posts that users have already reported should be removed.
Languages spoken by minorities are the hardest-hit by this disparity.
By Casey Newton
Baron Cohen is exactly the sort of person I’d expect to be warning us about social networks. As a rich celebrity who has no need for the free communication tools they provide, and who can thrive without relying on the promotional benefits that come with active use of the platforms, blasting Big Tech costs Baron Cohen nothing.
Meanwhile, few people would have ever even heard of Baron Cohen’s speech had it not thrived on social media – first on Twitter, then on YouTube – where social media critiques, particularly of Facebook, have grown increasingly popular. In coming to bury the big platforms, Baron Cohen inadvertently proved their benefit: providing a wide lane for an outsider – in this case, a comedian with no previous experience as a tech pundit – to come in and start a worthwhile discussion…
Unfortunately, Baron Cohen’s proposed solution for making tech platforms accountable is to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to make Facebook and other sites legally liable for what their users post…
In an environment in which democracy is in retreat around the world, and the internet is increasingly controlled by far-right authoritarian governments, the prospect of surging censorship in our communications tools sends a chill down my spine. How will Baron Cohen feel when a government orders the takedown of one of his satires across the entire internet? If 230 disappears, and other countries adopt similar measures, I can’t imagine a likelier target.
By Chris Chandler
Kentucky Sports Radio’s Matt Jones will be returning to the airwaves soon.
Jones announced Monday that [he] re-signed with iHeart Media to continue doing KSR for another five years.
Jones stepped down from the show briefly after the Republican Party of Kentucky filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), accusing Jones of violating regulations by accepting campaign contributions from corporations.
Jones announced he wouldn’t be running for Senate on Nov. 15.
“I am very happy to continue the show as we enter our 10th year on the air,” Jones tweeted…
Jones will return to the air Dec. 26.
Wall Street Journal: Bloomberg’s New Trump Rules
By James Freeman
The Journal’s Lukas Alpert reports:
Bloomberg News won’t do investigative reporting on any Democratic presidential candidates now that the news organization’s multibillionaire owner, Michael Bloomberg, has jumped into the 2020 race, but it intends to cover day-to-day campaign events normally, the company said…
“We will continue our tradition of not investigating Mike (and his family and foundation) and we will extend the same policy to his rivals in the Democratic primaries,” [Editor-in-chief] John Micklethwait wrote in a memo to newsroom staffers on Sunday after Mr. Bloomberg announced his intention to run. “We cannot treat Mike’s Democratic competitors differently from him.”
The note said the news outlet would continue to investigate the Trump administration, as it is “the government of the day,” and that if Mr. Bloomberg were to win the Democratic nomination, the company would reassess how it would handle covering its owner. It also said the news service would publish investigative articles by other “credible journalistic institutions” or summaries of them on Mr. Bloomberg or other Democratic candidates.
Paul Farhi of the Washington Post notes that “Bloomberg operates one of the world’s largest media organizations, with about 2,700 journalists in TV, radio, magazine and digital operations” and observes:
The decision not to initiate stories about Democrats’ wealth and family is itself a potential conflict, as it may leave readers and viewers in the dark about important developments involving Bloomberg’s rivals. It would also unfairly give greater weight to stories involving potential corruption by Trump, his family or his administration.
Santa Fe New Mexican: Newly elected Santa Fe city councilor used public financing for gift cards
By Daniel J. Chacón
A newly elected Santa Fe city councilor who received $15,000 in public financing spent part of the money to buy gift cards for her volunteers, generating criticism on social media and raising questions about the use of public campaign funds.
Jamie Cassutt-Sanchez, who won the three-way race for the open council District 4 seat in the Nov. 5 municipal election, purchased $220 in gift cards from a local coffee shop to hand out to her volunteers before writing the city a check for $3.93 for the remaining public finance dollars she didn’t spend, according to the last and final batch of campaign finance reports.
The eyebrow-raising purchase of gift cards with taxpayer money comes after incumbent City Councilor Renee Villarreal disclosed in campaign finance reports filed before the election that she had spent $501 – or a third of the $1,500 she received from the city in public campaign financing – to throw a victory night celebration. Villarreal, who ran unopposed, was the subject of public criticism for her spending of public funds.
City Council candidates in contested races are eligible to receive $15,000 in public financing, plus matching funds under a provision that allows would-be officeholders to bolster their public disbursements with a limited amount of private contributions matched by the city. Council candidates in uncontested races, such as Villarreal, qualify to receive only $1,500.
City Journal: Donors Beware
By James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley
In this accusatory age, donors must approach their generosity with caution. In deference to manufactured mobs, major universities and museums now oversee extensive investigations of potential donors before accepting financial support…
In response, universities have enacted new policies. Earlier this fall, for example, Brown University released a “gift acceptance policy.” Responding to student-group outrage over donations from the Whitney Museum’s former board cochair, Warren Kanders-whose company sold tear gas used on migrants at the Mexican border-the school’s administration explained: “The policy affirms the enduring principle that acceptance of a gift does not imply endorsement of donor views, businesses, or activities.” According to administrators’ rationale, they can accept money earned by selling tear gas while also explaining that they don’t support its use. Time will tell whether this approach placates protesters at Brown; it didn’t work at the Whitney.
The university’s policy also “re-articulates standards against accepting gifts if the funds or property were not acquired legally, or if the intended purpose or association with the donor could inflict damage on the University’s standing or integrity, or runs counter to University values.” The question of whether money is acquired legally is easy to answer, but whether a gift could affect a university’s standing or clash with its values is more fraught. In today’s climate, any gift could conceivably test university standards.
By Tom Precious
The New York State Public Campaign Financing Commission on Monday wrapped up its three-month sprint of public meetings with votes to lower contribution limits for those candidates who participate in a public campaign financing system…
The program will not be in place for the next statewide elections in 2022, and its total annual costs will be capped, for now, at $100 million in taxpayer matching grants for all candidates. It also grows the bureaucracy at unknown levels; one board member said the plan requires “a much bigger unit” within the state Board of Elections to administer and regulate the new initiative…
A statewide candidate, under the new program, will be eligible for up to $7 million in taxpayer matching grants to fund primary and general election[s]…
The matching program varies by office being sought, but the board approved a measure to have the state match donations of $250 or less…
“Matchable” donations are those made between $5 and $250, and non-matchable include loans, transfers from other politicians’ campaigns, donations from lobbyists or in-kind contributions…
The board lowered current campaign donation limits for those participating in the program. Statewide candidates can get up to $70,000 from individual donors; the board Monday set the new limit at $18,000, down from $25,000…
Individual donations to Senate candidate donations, now at $19,300, will be capped at $10,000 apiece.
By Jessica Anderson
An attorney who was hired to be a Baltimore Police deputy commissioner – only to have the job offer pulled after her allegations against State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby became public – has agreed to a tentative $75,000 settlement with the city.
Michelle Wilson claims “the Baltimore Police Department conditionally offered her the position of Deputy Commissioner and that shortly thereafter the offer of employment was withdrawn in violation of her constitutional rights, including her First Amendment rights,” according to the city’s Board of Estimate agenda…
While Wilson and the city have agreed to the terms, they won’t be final until a vote by the BOE scheduled for Wednesday.
Commissioner Michael Harrison announced on May 21 that Wilson would be rounding out his an executive staff. But two days after holding a news conference with Wilson in attendance, the department announced she would not be overseeing the public integrity bureau, which includes the internal affairs unit that investigates officer misconduct.
Wilson had weighed in publicly about a lawsuit against Mosby. In a Facebook post and in a sworn statement in the lawsuit file in April Wilson alleged Mosby was not truthful when testifying in a civil lawsuit.
Former city prosecutor Keri Borzilleri had sued Mosby, claiming she was fired as retribution for supporting the political campaign of then-State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein, whom Mosby beat in the 2014 primary election. Borzilleri’s attorneys claimed Mosby made a “throat-slitting gesture” toward another former prosecutor who supported Bernstein, which Mosby denied on the stand.
Wilson wrote a Facebook post during the trial that said Mosby “lied on that witness stand under oath.” She later deleted the post.
Michigan Capitol Confidential: News Story Got Lawyers? State Elections Bureau Shoots Down Union PAC Payroll Deductions
By Holly Matkin
The Michigan Secretary of State office is now headed by Democrat Jocelyn Benson, but its elections bureau recently shot down a union’s attempt to get corporations to deduct contributions to a union PAC from employee paychecks. The action came in response to a request from the AFL-CIO for a legal interpretation.
Before a 2015 change in Michigan’s campaign finance law, corporations often agreed to provisions in union labor contracts requiring them to deduct contributions to a union’s political action committee, or PAC. A PAC, known in this law as a “separate segregated fund,” pays for political activities. Unions would then reimburse corporations for the cost of making the deductions.
But that is no longer allowed, according to the Michigan Secretary of State’s chief legal director, Michael Brady, who issued a statement on Nov. 15.
“As a result of the 2015 amendments, corporations may take advantage of checkoff plans to facilitate contributions from corporate employees to corporate PACs, but unions may no longer use the same system to facilitate contributions from the same employees to union PACs,” Brady wrote. The statute, he said, prevents corporations from paying into such segregated funds.
Corporations, he went on to say, are barred from transferring money to a PAC they did not establish. Under the law, a corporation found in violation of the statute could be fined up to $10,000, with individuals subject to criminal sanctions of up to three years in prison and a fine of $5,000.
WAMC Northeast Public Radio: Public Campaign Finance Plan Condemned By NY’s Minor Parties
By Karen Dewitt
New York state’s public campaign finance commission has voted on a package of bills that would enact a public matching donor program, and put strict new limits on the abilities of minor parties to qualify to be on the ballot…
The commissioners, by a vote of 7 to 2, approved a plan to allow a matching small donor program for state officeholders…
Donation thresholds will be higher than for New York City Mayor. Candidates for the governor’s office can receive donations of up to $18,000. But only donations of $250 or less will qualify for matching funds at a rate of $6 for every $1 contributed. Candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller can receive donations eligible for matching funds from all over the state.
But candidates for state Senate and Assembly will only be allowed to receive public matching funds from donors who live in their district.
The earliest the program can take effect, says the commissioners, is more than 6 years from now, in 2026, two years after the next governor’s race is held in 2022.
Audience members, many of them from government reform groups, loudly voiced their disagreement with the proposal, saying it’s designed to help incumbents and hampers democracy…
The commission’s work is being challenged in court by the Working Families Party, the Conservative Party, and republicans in the senate and assembly.
By Keaton Thomas
This month Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler donated $16,000 to charities that originally came as campaign donations from the man at the center of last week’s impeachment inquiry hearings, Gordon Sondland.
One KATU News Viewer wanted to know why Wheeler didn’t give the money back.
Turns out, politicians have a lot of freedom in what they can do with campaign donations in Portland and Oregon.
“You can use your money for anything other than personal benefit,” said Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University.
“He can give the money to almost anything that is not a for-profit organization,” said Dan Meek, a campaign finance expert.
Under Oregon law, a campaign is allowed to use the money for their campaign, transferred to political committees or political parties, donated to nonprofits, and more.
One of the few things that isn’t allowed: using the money personally or giving it to someone else for personal use…
Wheeler’s campaign said the charitable donations were made after it became “clear that Sondland’s actions are potentially counter to the law.”
By Jerrick Adams
Earlier this month, New York City Councillor Brad Lander, who represents District 39, announced his intention to introduce legislation that would expand donor disclosure requirements for entities making independent expenditures in municipal elections…
What is the proposal? In a statement given to Gotham Gazette, Lander said, “In 2014, we created a great law to provide disclosure for independent expenditures on behalf of candidates, and there is already evidence that it is working. This year, the first significant expenditure on behalf of a ballot measure revealed to us the need to expand our disclosure rules, already among the strongest in the nation for candidates, to cover spending for ballot measures as well. I am working on introducing legislation to do just that, to ensure that the same level of transparency applies across the ballot.”…
What comes next? As of Nov. 22, Lander had not formally introduced legislation. Should Lander introduce this legislation and win city council approval, the measure would then go to Mayor Bill DeBlasio, who would have 30 days to act on it. The city council can override a mayoral veto by a two-thirds vote.
By Gloria Lloyd
After two weeks of intense public comments at the St. Louis County Council, Presiding Officer Ernie Trakas and the council hope to minimize “activism” during the meetings by imposing new rules and enforcing existing ones on residents and the media…
Along with added security in the form of about 10 more county police officers, Trakas debuted what he called “basic ground rules” at the Nov. 12 meeting, along with a rope barrier between the podium and the crowd that county police officers lift to allow public speakers to get to the front and address the council. Some of the rules already existed, such as enforcing a three-minute time limit.
But some were new: Residents are not able to move around to take photos or video, as they have always been allowed to do, and the media is confined to a “designated area” of the press box, with photographers and reporters unable to move to the aisle or get closer to take photos…
The 6th District councilman told The Call that there were no specific threats that prompted the added security measures and changes to public comments, but he wants to create an atmosphere that limits activism and makes everyone feel safe to speak, showing the community an “enlightened, tolerant, participatory democracy.”…
Shahid is with a group of citizens who are arguing that a police officer should be fired because, they say, he stopped a 63-year-old black woman in North County for no reason and mistreated her to the point of molesting her. The woman has also been appearing with the group, begging for the council to fire the officer.
To protest what he sees as police brutality toward African Americans, Shahid “took a knee” during his comments…The next week, Shahid held a noose around his neck and stomped on the U.S. flag in protest.