Daily Media Links 11/16: Private Forums for Political Speech, Democrats, Others Suing Over Arizona Political Spending Law, and more…

November 16, 2017   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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In the News

Richmond Times-Dispatch: Scott Blackburn column: Wave election possible because of Virginia’s campaign finance laws

By Scott Blackburn

That wave elections happen is welcome news for democracy. Incumbent legislators have many advantages over challengers, particularly those without a political pedigree. The only way many new faces get a chance in politics is on the back of a political groundswell.

But how many newcomers get to “ride the wave” depends greatly on how easy or hard it is to run a campaign. Luckily for candidates in Virginia, the state has some of the most pro-free speech campaign laws in the country.

Like just 10 other states, Virginia has no limit on how much individuals may donate to a candidate’s campaign…

In every seat that flipped parties in the election, the candidate who won received a contribution that would have been prohibited as too large under federal campaign finance rules…

Ironically, now the wave of newcomers becomes the incumbents… 

More importantly, they will have the ability to reshape campaign rules for the future.

Let’s hope that they don’t tilt those rules in their own favor. That they are good stewards of democracy. That they remember that campaigning is hard, that campaigns are expensive, and that the goal of the law should be to make it as easy as possible for the future outsider to get into politics. 

New from the Institute for Free Speech

Broomfield, Colorado’s Ballot Question Reminds Us There is Room for Individuals and Groups in Elections

By Alex Cordell

On Election Day last Tuesday, voters in Broomfield, Colorado decisively approved Question 301; a ballot initiative that grants the city greater authority to regulate the oil and gas industry operating within its borders…

While only a local ballot initiative, both campaigns garnered a good deal of support and attention throughout the race. Broomfield Health and Safety First, the group in favor of passing the initiative, raised around $46,000 to help spread their message, with $35,000 of that total coming from the Sierra Club and the rest originating from small-dollar contributions from individuals. Those who opposed Question 301 were able to raise a significantly higher sum – nearly $350,000 – largely from groups such as the Colorado Petroleum Council and Vital for Colorado, a coalition that seeks to limit the state’s regulatory oversight of the energy industry.

Despite what those who favor greater campaign finance regulation would have you believe, the Broomfield question serves as another example of “big money” failing to buy an election. The “Vote No on 301” campaign outraised their competitors by more than 7:1, and yet, at the end of the day, they lost because their message failed to adequately resonate with Broomfield’s residents.  

Free Speech

Orange County Register: The war on free speech is a bipartisan issue

By Editorial Board

The idea of using force, be it physical or legislative, to punish people for forms of speech or expression one doesn’t agree with is a disturbingly authoritarian impulse that has infected many across the political spectrum.

In the past few years, colleges have been clear showcases of conflicting attitudes toward free speech. Speakers have been shut down, met with violence or disrupted by protestors who don’t want certain ideas expressed. Meanwhile, colleges like Pierce College have imposed speech-stifling restrictions like “free speech zones,” while others have sought to root out the often dubious concept of “microaggressions.” … 

With so many people trying to control the marketplace of ideas rather than engage in it, it’s no wonder constructive dialogue is becoming harder. We must reject all efforts to control or legislate away freedoms of speech and expression if we are to remain a free society.

Daily Caller: University Of Arkansas Profs Bash Proposal That Could Fire Profs For Not Being ‘Cooperative’

By Rob Shimshock

University of Arkansas is receiving heated criticism for a policy proposal that professors claim could make it possible to fire professors for not being “cooperative” or simply being conservative…

“The proposal permits termination if a faculty member is not sufficiently ‘cooperative,’ said Silverstein, speaking with TheDCNF. “It takes little imagination to see how such a standard will be used to deem ‘uncooperative’ faculty who express unpopular views in their teaching and research.”

The law professor said that the issue was the most controversial higher education issue in the state since he moved to Arkansas over a decade ago…

Robert Steinbuch, another UA law professor, told his fellow faculty members that even UA’s own attorney described the proposed change as “limiting and may be controversial,” in electronic comments made on the policy document uncovered with a Freedom of Information Request filed by Silverstein and obtained by TheDCNF. 

Supreme Court

Washington Post: May the government restrict political T-shirts and pins inside polling places?

By Eugene Volokh

Minnesota, for instance, forbids people from wearing insignia (including slogans on clothing) that contains “issue oriented material designed to influence or impact voting” (such as “‘Please I.D. Me’ buttons”) and “material promoting a group with recognizable political views (such as the Tea Party, MoveOn.org, and so on).” Is this constitutional? The Supreme Court will decided that in Minnesota Voters Aliance v. Mansky… 

As the challengers’ petition argued, the law “often requires election officials to rely on their own subjective judgments about whether certain apparel falls within the ambit of the law’s ban on ‘political’ speech.” Which groups have “recognizable political views”? Which “issue oriented” messages are “designed to influence or impact voting”? What about religious insignia in elections where some religious group is closely associated with a particular position on a particular ballot measure? What about rainbow insignia, when a gay rights measure is on the ballot? Clothing that’s used as a symbol of racial or ethnic identity, when an election campaign has had a prominent racial or ethnic dimension? Once the law goes beyond express advocacy (itself not the sharpest of lines) and covers mention of groups with “recognizable political views” or “issue oriented” messages, the lines get murkier still. 

Internet Speech Regulation

Cato: Private Forums for Political Speech

By John Samples

Congress is considering the Honest Ads Act, an effort to force disclosure of political advertising on the Internet. We ought to be skeptical anytime Congress seeks to manage a private forum for purposes of improving political speech…

Facebook has announced a host of changes to its advertising marketplace, attempting to forestall regulation by satisfying congressional concerns through private action. Facebook is acting to counter a threat of regulation and that itself is disturbing. We do not wish to see Facebook bullied into actions that run counter to their own inclinations. Yet, Facebook also has a history of seeking to satisfy its users, and it is possible that such business motives are at work. Perhaps we should avoid for now deciding that Facebook has been coerced. That said, there is good reason to believe that self-regulation can address the concerns of lawmakers more effectively than government action…

Legislation cannot be tested before it is implemented, let alone tested at any sort of realistic scale, and, particularly given its once-size-fits-all approach and partisan salience, is unlikely to be updated as time goes on. If enacted, attempts to amend or improve the Honest Ads Act will be politically fraught as Republicans and Democrats identify and re-litigate specific elements of the law which may seem to advance the cause of one party over the other. 

CNBC: Tighter rules for online political ads gain momentum – but Trump’s tweets may remain disclaimer-free

By John Shinal

More than two dozen members of Congress and a broad range of political groups, individuals and companies posted comments to the FEC’s notice that it was considering ending the exemption… 

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for free speech online, said in its comments that “Regulations that intrude on anonymous speech will undermine our democracy by discouraging citizens from engaging in important public speech that could put them at personal risk for harassment, threats or violence.”

That cautionary note was echoed in comments of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a trade group that represents Facebook, Google and other tech and media companies. It its note, it said “CCIA believes that transparency can be improved and that voters should be informed regarding what ads they see online, but also urges the FEC to ensure that legitimate speech and honest political discourse are not stifled.”

Washington Examiner: Surprise: Unanimous FEC to push for Internet regulation

By Paul Bedard

In a major shift, Republicans on the Federal Election Commission plan to join Democrats Thursday in calling for new Internet regulations on paid digital political ads.

In a statement issued late Wednesday, the three GOP members cited the “thousands of comments” from the public calling for new disclosure rules in light of concerns Russian activists used Internet posts on Facebook to try to influence the 2016 presidential elections.

“We hereby move to direct the Office of General Counsel to draft a notice of proposed rulemaking, as soon as is practicable, that proposes revisions to commission rules governing disclaimers on paid Internet and digital communications,” said the three, Vice Chair Caroline C. Hunter, Matthew S. Petersen, and Lee E. Goodman.

They called for a public hearing before any changes would take place…

[I]t is a victory for Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub who has been pushing for regulations. She issued a note Wednesday saying that she would introduce a new regulation at Thursday’s meeting. In a separate note, FEC Chairman Steven T. Walther said he would move on the issue Thursday and called on Congress to consider new Internet laws.

The States

U.S. News & World Report: Democrats, Others Suing Over Arizona Political Spending Law

By Bob Christie, AP

A group of Democratic lawmakers, a union and a voter advocacy group are challenging a 2016 Arizona law that expanded the ability of some groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections without disclosing their donors.

The lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court Wednesday seeks to overturn parts of the law allowing corporations and some nonprofits to avoid disclosure. It also seeks to invalidate provisions removing the Citizens Clean Elections Commission from enforcement authority over outside campaign spending.

The lawsuit says they violate the state Constitution because they illegally change the 1998 Clean Elections Act.

The provisions were part of a massive rewrite of campaign finance laws pushed by Secretary of State Michele Reagan last year. Reagan spokesman Matt Roberts says they’re reviewing the lawsuit.

Oregonian: ACLU sues Portland police, Mayor Ted Wheeler over June 4 protest tactics

By Allan Brettman

The ACLU filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of what it said were 200 to 250 protesters who police illegally corralled and detained – a practice called a “kettle” — at the protest…

The pro-Trump “free speech” rally organized by Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson of Vancouver and the three counter-protests co-existed peacefully for about four hours, said Mat dos Santos, ACLU-Oregon legal director. Police kept the right-wing demonstrators and the three other groups – Portland Stands United, labor unions and Rose City Antifa — separated.

“But things took a dangerous turn as police deployed flashbang grenades, chemical irritants and so-called less-lethal bullets at the antifascist gathering,” dos Santos said at the news conference held in the ACLU’s downtown office.

“While we understand that policing is no easy task, the pattern in Portland is clear. After a rock, stick or liquid is thrown, Portland protests regularly devolve into chaotic scenes involving the indiscriminate use of force and crowd control weapons.”

Boston Herald: Lawyer sues Boston officials for 1st Amendment violations

By Bob McGovern and Dan Atkinson

A self-styled Bernie Sanders progressive has hit city officials with a lawsuit for what he called “extreme violations” of the First Amendment at this summer’s Free Speech Rally – and he wants local authorities barred from repeating those alleged actions this weekend at another Boston Common event.

“I have never seen such extreme violations of the First Amendment, and I don’t think there has been anything like it in decades,” said Rinaldo Del Gallo, the attorney and former state Senate candidate from Pittsfield who brought the suit. “If municipalities are allowed to act like this, you can kiss the First Amendment goodbye.”

He argues in the federal civil suit that Boston officials prevented him from speaking at the Aug. 19 Free Speech Rally, that people weren’t allowed near the Parkman Bandstand to hear the speakers, and that event organizers weren’t allowed to use “sufficient amplification” to have their voices heard.

He added that the media was improperly barred from the bandstand.

CBS News: Texas sheriff concerned about truck with anti-Trump message

A Houston-area sheriff said Wednesday he’s concerned the driver of a truck displaying an expletive filled message against President Trump and those who voted for him is creating a situation that could lead to confrontations with people offended by the sign.

In a Facebook post, Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls said he discussed with a local prosecutor the possibility of a disorderly conduct charge — a misdemeanor — against the driver.

But at a news conference later Wednesday, Nehls seemed to back down from that idea, saying he supports freedom of speech and acknowledging a 1971 Supreme Court case that overturned the conviction of a man for disturbing the peace for wearing a jacket with an expletive as part of an effort to protest the military draft and the Vietnam War…

“It would be dangerous to our freedoms if you start going that route where a sheriff has the right to start censoring people about what might be offensive,” said Philip Hilder, a Houston criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor…

“Is (the sign on the truck) tasteful? No. Is it dignified? No, but it’s still a person’s statement that is constitutionally protected,” Hilder said.

Alex Baiocco

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