Daily Media Links 12/2

December 2, 2019   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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Ed. Note: The Institute for Free Speech’s Daily Media Update is being passed on to our new Media Manager, Tiffany Donnelly. Starting tomorrow, the Update will come from Tiffany’s email address, tdonnelly@ifs.org. Please be sure to update any email filters or safe sender lists accordingly. I remain at the Institute for Free Speech as a Policy Analyst. In this role, I will assist with the development of the Institute’s policy ideas and educational resources. Should anyone need further assistance or clarification, please feel free to reach out at abaiocco@ifs.org. It’s been a pleasure serving you and hearing from you for more than three years. Thanks for reading!

In the News

Daily Caller: Bloomberg News’s Refusal To Scrutinize Michael Bloomberg’s Candidacy Raises ‘Serious’ Concerns, Former FEC Commissioner Says

By Andrew Kerr

Former FEC Chairman Bradley Smith told the DCNF that the key factor to determining whether Bloomberg News’s editorial policy puts its press exemption at risk is whether the commission determines that Trump is Michael Bloomberg’s opponent at this stage of the Democratic primary.

“A good argument nonetheless could be made that the press exemption should not apply here, given Bloomberg’s own declaration, ‘I’m running for president to defeat Donald Trump and rebuild America,'” Smith said, citing Michael Bloomberg’s campaign website.

However, Smith said he believes the better argument is that Michael Bloomberg and Trump aren’t officially considered opponents from a campaign finance perspective until they have secured their respective parties’ nominations.

“I don’t believe that the FEC or a court have ever ruled on this type of situation, so I suppose it’s an open question,” Smith said. “Certainly, it reveals the flaws of having a regime in which some very large, influential corporations (those designated ‘press’) have a freedom that other Americans do not.”

Supreme Court

Ars Technica: Supreme Court allows climate scientist’s defamation case to proceed

By Scott K. Johnson

The political opposition to climate science in some countries breeds nasty attacks on the scientists themselves. Penn State’s Michael E. Mann, for example, became a favorite target after his work on tree-ring records of past climate produced a “hockey stick” graph showing that a gradual cooling trend flipped into sharp, human-caused warming…

The original suit was prompted by articles written by Conservative columnist and radio show host Mark Steyn and Rand Simberg of the Conservative Enterprise Institute. The articles claimed that Mann’s research was fraudulent-that he had intentionally manipulated data. And Simberg added a regrettable analogy that Steyn quoted in his piece: “Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except for instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data.”…

Mann’s lawsuit focused on the damage to his professional reputation, arguing that the articles were intentionally malicious…

The defendants attempted to get the lawsuit dismissed under SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) laws. When that motion was rejected, as the judge found reasonable grounds for the case to go to court, they began several rounds of appeals that eventually reached the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court basically rejected the appeal without comment by declining to hear the case. Only Justice Alito commented, issuing a dissenting opinion. In it, he describes concern about the tension underlying this case-between Mann’s claim to defamation and freedom of speech.

Must Read Alaska: Uniquely vulnerable to corruption?

By the Anchorage Daily Planet

In an unsigned opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court has told the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its opinion upholding Alaska’s $500 limit on annual campaign contributions…

The court, which said in Citizens United v. FEC, that campaign expenditures by independent entities were constitutionally protected political speech, seemed unimpressed with Alaska’s campaign finance law. They are, the court said, squeezed by inflation and are more than 23 years old. Add to that: Alaska’s individual-to-candidate contribution limit is substantially lower than other states.

Oddly, while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg went along with remanding the case to the 9th Circuit, she wrote a separate, disturbing opinion.

She noted Alaska’s reliance on resource development, specifically the oil industry, may make the state more prone to political corruption, and so that may justify the low limits.

She said, “Alaska has the second smallest legislature in the country and derives approximately 90 percent of its revenues from one economic sector-the oil and gas industry. As the District Court suggested, these characteristics make Alaska “highly, if not uniquely, vulnerable to corruption in politics and government.”

Because of that, Ginsberg said, Alaska is particularly vulnerable and the lower limit may be justified.

Incredible. We are left to wonder what she thinks about campaign limits in states such as Nevada, with its reliance on gambling, or Michigan, with its automotive industry, or Florida, with its income from the tourism industry…

It is disquieting, even insulting, for a Supreme Court justice to assume the oil and gas industry in Alaska is corrupt or endorses corruption and, because of that, making it harder for Alaskans to contribute to the candidates of their choice may be in order. That does not even make sense.

Online Speech Platforms 

Washington Post: The Technology 202: Twitter suspends accounts impersonating Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Fiona Hill

By Cat Zakrzewski

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and former National Security Council Russia expert Fiona Hill were key witnesses in the impeachment inquiry into whether President Trump misused his office for personal political gain.

And some Internet users believed they had more to say on Twitter when accounts with handles matching their names popped up in the aftermath of their publicly televised testimony. The only problem: the accounts were fakes.

Twitter moved Monday night to suspend the accounts named @FionaHillPhd and @LtColVindman, the social media service confirmed to The Technology 202, but only after they had amassed thousands of followers in the wake of the real witnesses blockbuster Capitol Hill testimony. Users were widely retweeting those handles, seemingly under the impression the real Hill and Vindman were authoring the missives.

Hill and Vindman don’t actually have Twitter accounts – and their legal teams raced to set the record straight and ensure that Twitter took swift action against the false accounts. 

The accounts were of particular concern because some of the tweets appeared credible in light of the witnesses real testimony. Both accounts included photos of the officials. 

Wall Street Journal: Don’t Buy the Outrage Over Digital Ads

By Steven Law

“Did Hipster Tech Really Save the Obama Campaign?” fawned a Wired headline in the aftermath of the 2012 race. “Microtargeting sounded intrusive, even a little creepy,” the article admits, “but it had the potential to return politics to the most local level of all: the individual voter.” Mother Jones similarly gushed: “Using digital analytics, Team Obama was likewise able to squeeze every last cent out of supporters in ways unimaginable only four years ago.” 

Then the 2016 election changed everything. Now these same tactics, when used by President Trump and other Republicans, have been recast as sinister and antidemocratic. Even members of the media who are smart enough to know better have characterized digital targeting as tantamount to mind control or election tampering…

Not true. My organization, the Senate Leadership Fund, is one of the many political groups using digital techniques to contact potential voters. Like corporate advertisers, we use targeting tools to reach people who are open to the issues and candidates we’re promoting…This isn’t mind control, it’s savvy marketing…

Legacy media have lost billions in revenue to the far more efficient advertising marketplace of search-driven ads and social media…

Calls to limit the ability of candidates and groups to communicate with voters are, in effect, a plea to restrict Americans’ First Amendment freedom. 

Buzzfeed News: Influencers And Bloggers Are Being Offered Money To Post Sponcon In Support Of Cory Booker

By Tanya Chen

A political sponsorship opportunity pitched to at least one microblogger on an influencer marketing platform is causing discussions about where influencers should draw the line when it comes to paid promotions.

On Friday, 23-year-old fashion and lifestyle blogger Amanda Johnson was matched with a campaign, that’s since been removed, that would pay her to post her support for 2020 presidential candidate Cory Booker.

The offer was first posted to the site AspireIQ, a large database that connects brands with sponsorship opportunities to influencers. To use the platform, the brand posts the requirements of their ad. If the user or influencer is interested in the paid deal, they can submit their rate to the company.

The campaign was removed following the publishing of this story…

Johnson, who runs a small but growing blog and Instagram account…told BuzzFeed News…

“I was intrigued…But it felt off to me originally because it doesn’t seem like something politicians maybe should use.”

“My thing is there are already a lot of influencers who aren’t disclosing their partnerships, even though the FTC requires them to. And now they won’t be disclosing partnerships [with politicians] and it’s even more iffy to me.”

The campaign, which was titled “United We Win: Keep Cory Booker in the Fight,” offered potential collaborators the chance to share a post on various social media channels in exchange for payment. The post asked them to tell their supporters to “keep Cory in the fight with a small donation.”

Cory Booker’s election team denied that they were directly associated with the social media campaign, as Democratic Super PAC United We Win later confirmed to BuzzFeed News that they created the spon.

Recode: Why everybody is freaking out about political ads on Facebook and Google

By Emily Stewart

[L]ast week, Google said it would restrict advertisers’ ability to microtarget political ads across its products, such as Search and YouTube. As of January 6, political advertisers will still be able to target people using age, gender, and zip code, but they won’t be able to get as granular with specific voters and groups as they used to…

One of the most important features Google is nixing is “Customer Match,” which allows campaigns to match people’s online profiles with the voter data they have and target them specifically. On Facebook, a similar tool is called “Custom Audiences.”

Here’s how it works: Political campaigns create databases about voters that include information about whether a person is registered to vote, how often they vote, their party affiliation, their mailing address, their email address, and their phone number. They can then upload those voter files to Google and Facebook to find those people’s online profiles, and then advertise specifically to them. Google is now banning political campaigns from doing this. So politicians will no longer be able to serve an ad to me, Emily Stewart, specifically. But they can still advertise to women like me, ages 25-35, in Brooklyn, New York.

“If a campaign knows where the people they’re trying to target live, then they can still target them on Google,” said Alan Rosenblatt, a director at progressive strategy group Unfiltered.Media. “That said, it isn’t as precise, and as a result, you’ll have to buy more Google ads to reach the people you want as frequently as you want.”

The Guardian: Google and YouTube reportedly pull hundreds of Trump ads for violating policies

By Dominic Rushe

Google and YouTube have pulled hundreds of ads for Donald Trump over the last few months, according to 60 Minutes on CBS.

A review of the tech companies’ advertising archive found at least 300 Trump ads had been pulled from the platforms, mainly over the summer, after they had been found to violate advertising policies.

In an interview with 60 Minutes, YouTube chief executive officer Susan Wojcicki confirmed that there were “ads of President Trump that were not approved to run on Google or YouTube”…

Wojcicki was also asked about a Trump ad that falsely accuses former vice-president and Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden of offering military aid to Ukraine in exchange for the firing of a prosecutor investigating a company tied to his son, Hunter…

Wojcicki told 60 Minutes the ad also appeared on YouTube and was not in violation of the company’s policies.

“Can a politician lie on YouTube?” 60 Minutes presenter Leslie Stahl asked.

“For every single video, I think it’s really important to look at it,” Wojcicki said. 

Independent Groups 

Politico: Super PAC backing Booker will shut down

By Maggie Severns

A super PAC created to back Sen. Cory Booker’s bid for president will shut down, its operator said Wednesday, after Booker denounced super PACs and donors showed little interest.

The PAC, called Dream United, was created almost a year ago by Steve Phillips, a Democratic donor and activist who helped raise money for high-profile black candidates, including Barack Obama and Stacey Abrams…

“I have traveled across the country meeting with dozens of Cory Booker supporters, and it is clear to me that the donor community is strictly adhering to Senator Booker’s publicly articulated wishes that he does not welcome independent support (a position he re-articulated just this month),” Phillips said.

Phillips did not indicate in the statement that he would switch to aiding a different Democratic candidate such as former Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, who recently entered the race and said he would accept help from a super PAC in order to “catch up” in pursuit of the nomination…

Dream United was no longer the only outside group supporting Booker: A new super PAC formed by the candidate’s supporters in New Jersey in November, called United We Win, plans to spend $1 million trying to help Booker break out of the crowded Democratic field.

The Guardian: Billionaire-funded protest is rearing its head in America

By Hamilton Nolan

Last week, Elizabeth Warren went to Atlanta to give a major speech about issues of concern to black women. Her speech touched on knotty, existential topics such as the legacy of slavery, institutional racism, voter suppression, mass incarceration and reparations. But the next day’s headlines overwhelmingly focused on the fact that the speech was interrupted by a loud group of pro-charter school protesters…

The protesters themselves were, by all accounts and appearances, a group of concerned people who passionately oppose Warren’s plan…But they did not all materialize in the crowd together in matching shirts by chance. Their existence was orchestrated by pro-charter school groups that are funded by an array of billionaires…

And so we are all left to gaze in dread at our dystopian very near future, when an increasingly small and savvy pool of billionaires is responsible for not only the majority of businesses, political connections and wealth, but also protests. If you thought that misleading stories on Facebook were bad, imagine a horde of angry activists, staging classic protests around the country, whose existence is entirely facilitated by the richest and most powerful people on earth…

The most straightforward way to avoid this creeping problem, of course, is to have everyone personally flog a billionaire before being granted admission to a protest.

Free Speech

Bloomberg Law: Labor Board’s Power Challenged in Offensive Speech Case

By Robert Iafolla

The National Labor Relations Board invited public briefing in its consideration of when profane, racist, or sexist language loses the protection of federal labor law. The board signaled that it could strike down rulings involving scenarios not at issue in the General Motors case-including in speech in social media posts and on a picket line-and establish a legal framework that’s applicable to multiple situations…

The board’s consideration of offensive speech comes as it’s moving on two fronts to remake federal labor law…

Offensive speech presents difficulties under workplace laws, as it can be unclear whether it’s activity protected by the NLRA or workplace harassment that violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a brief in General Motors saying the NLRB should consider adopting a standard that lets employers address the use of offensive language, including with discipline as appropriate…

“What the board is doing is conflating these cases because they want to exploit the inflammatory nature of racially offensive and profane speech to change the law on what should be protected speech,” said Mark Gaston Pearce, the Democrat who led the NLRB when it decided those three cases.

Lobbying

WGBH News: Former House Speaker DiMasi: ‘I’ve Paid My Debt To Society’

By Matt Murphy, State House News Service

Former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi on Tuesday made a public appeal for a “second chance” after his conviction on federal corruption charges eight years ago, resuming his battle with Secretary of State William Galvin over the Democrat’s quest to return to Beacon Hill as a lobbyist.

DiMasi, a former North End Democrat who led the House from 2004 until 2009, said he wants the chance to build a new career advocating on issues like homelessness and prison reform. Galvin denied his application to register as a lobbyist in March base on his conviction, but DiMasi appealed that decision and appeared before a hearing officer Tuesday to formally make his case.

“Whatever you think I did, I think I’ve paid my debt to society and I think I can get a second chance to be a contributing citizen so that I can benefit the citizens of Massachusetts,” DiMasi told reporters after the hearing…

Galvin’s lobbying division argued Tuesday that DiMasi’s criminal conviction merits an automatic disqualification from lobbying on Beacon Hill for 10 years under state law, but Fierro said Galvin was “overstepping his authority.”

The law, Fierro argued, only speaks to criminal convictions in state court for violations of state lobbying, campaign finance and ethics laws. The law, she said, says nothing about federal crimes or conduct proved in federal court that could be deemed in violation of state law.

Chicago Tribune: As members of Congress head for the exits, loosely regulated gravy train beckons

By Ben Wieder, McClatchy Washington Bureau

By law, members of Congress and their senior staffers are supposed to have a one- to two-year cooling-off period in which they refrain from lobbying their former colleagues.

But nearly 120 former members and senior staffers since 2015 have been the sole lobbyist or part of a lobbying team targeting their former chamber during their cooling-off periods, according to a McClatchy analysis of post-employment restriction data from the House and Senate as well as lobbying registration data.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they broke the law…

Violating the cooling-off period is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000, but lobbyists who break the law are unlikely to be detected. While the House and the Senate are responsible for flagging potential lobbying violations, both the offices of the House clerk and the secretary of the Senate confirmed to McClatchy that neither regularly checks whether lobbyists have violated the cooling-off period.

The Government Accountability Office annually audits a random sampling of lobbying forms for compliance with lobbying rules, but told McClatchy it doesn’t check for compliance with the cooling-off period. And while the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington D.C. is responsible for bringing charges against potential violators, the office couldn’t recall any recent instances in which it actually did.

Candidates and Campaigns 

Slate: Michael Bloomberg Isn’t Interested in You

By Jim Newell

Michael Bloomberg, who is worth $53 billion-give or take a billion, depending on the market-doesn’t need donations to his brand-new presidential campaign. He could shatter all-time presidential campaign spending records by orders of magnitude and still have enough personal money left over to purchase anything for sale on Earth. But even if someone wanted to help him out, he won’t accept donations, of any size, from anyone else, and he wields that fact as a badge of honor…

This isn’t really how Democratic primary voters think about corruption in the campaign finance system, or how someone familiar with Democratic primary voters would speak about it. The corruption stems from large contributions from wealthy interests who then expect favors in return. The antidote is not through a billionaire self-funding a campaign, but through candidates building broad, grassroots small-dollar funding bases…

Michael Bloomberg may be running for president, but he’s not engaging in anything that resembles politics as we know it. He is not organizing in early states or trying to cultivate grassroots energy. He’s not building coalitions, he’s not competing in early trial heats, and he’s not participating in debates. He is, instead, using his unlimited resources to determine if there’s a price point at which a national election can be won without having to participate in politics.

The Hill: Democrats take in lobbying industry cash despite pledges

By Alex Gangitano

The lobbying industry has donated $545,173 to 2020 presidential campaigns with nearly 80 percent going to Democratic candidates, even as many of those hopefuls vow not to take donations from lobbyists.

Over $114,498 of that has gone to President Donald Trump’s re-election while the rest, $430,675, has been given to Democrats, including those who have dropped out of the race, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics…

The Center for Responsive Politics number includes state and local lobbyists, lobbying firm’s political action committees (PACs) as well as people who work at lobbying firms who are not registered – including support staff and lawyers. Lobbyists who are in-house at a corporation are not included in the count.

If a contribution from a federally registered lobbyist was returned by the campaign, it would be subtracted from the calculation, according to the group.

The over $500,000 figure includes both donations to campaigns and money directed to outside groups, like candidates’ political action committees…

Democrats who have pledged not to take money from lobbyists in Washington have returned checks in many cases, but that doesn’t often extend to donations from state and local lobbyists or from people who work at lobbying firms.

HuffPost: Pete Buttigieg’s PAC Was Supposed To Help Elect Democrats. It Mostly Touted Him.

By Kevin Robillard

Pete Buttigieg launched a political action committee in June 2017 to relatively little fanfare. The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, at the time was still a minor political figure…

His PAC, dubbed “Hitting Home,” would “mobilize resources to elect Democrats, at every level and in communities both red and blue, who will put the lived experiences of Americans front and center,” Buttigieg wrote…

Two years later, as his 2020 presidential campaign began to take off, Buttigieg shut down the group…

The PAC had done relatively little to help Democrats during the 2018 midterm elections, when the party waged its hard-fought battle to win control of the U.S. House. But it had paid significant sums to a host of Democratic consultants and staffers to promote Buttigieg’s image. Of the slightly more than $400,000 Buttigieg raised for the PAC, it donated just $37,000 to other Democratic candidates…

The PAC helped Buttigieg catapult from a well-credentialed mayor of a 101,000-population college town to a leading contender for the nation’s highest office. It served as a springboard that had more to do with personal promotion than it did with aiding other Democrats.

The States

New York Daily News: Campaign finance system and election overhaul coming to New York

By Denis Slattery

The panel tasked with overhauling New York’s campaign finance laws and creating a public matching funds system from scratch released its final report Sunday evening – a day before it was due.

The report from the nine-member Public Campaign Financing Commission, created as part of the state budget after lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on the issue, offers an unprecedented revamping of the state’s election laws.

The commission chose to create an oversight committee under the umbrella of the state Board of Elections and to cap contributions for statewide races at $18,000, down from the $70,000 allowed under current law.

Donations for Assembly race will be capped at $5,000 and Senate races at $10,000.

For all races, only in-district donations of $250 or less will be matched. Candidates must return all matching funds from any donor who exceeds $250 in any election cycle. For statewide races, the match ratio is 6:1. For legislative races, the first $50 will be matched at a 12:1 ratio, the next $100 at 9:1 and the final $50 at 8:1.

WBUR News: Gov. Baker Signs Bill To Overhaul Campaign Finance Rules

By The Associated Press

Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has signed into law a bill aimed at overhauling the state’s campaign finance rules.

The new law requires state lawmakers and some mayoral candidates to adhere to a system that already covers statewide and county officials.

Under the new law signed Tuesday by Baker, state lawmakers must report campaign contributions and expenditures in monthly statements filed by their banks.

Democratic state Sen. Diana DiZoglio sponsored the bill and said increasing the frequency of campaign finance reports will result in more transparency.

DiZoglio said it’s important that voters be able to quickly access to information about those giving money to candidates and where candidates are spending their money.

The change will also help identify discrepancies between candidates’ public disclosures of campaign finance activity and their bank accounts.

New York Post: How cynical insiders exploited NY’s campaign-reform commission

By Post Editorial Board

New York’s Public Campaign Finance Commission has settled on its plan for rewriting state laws. Now it’s up to the Legislature to veto the changes…

The main hullabaloo centers on the commission’s move to kick most minor parties off the ballot: It raised the bar for automatic ballot access so high that only the Conservative Party is likely to qualify. And it also made it far harder for parties to win a ballot line by gathering petition signatures…

But the Greens and the Libertarians are genuinely principled third parties whose dissent will be crushed by a panel that was supposed to be bolstering democracy.

Commission chief Jay Jacobs, the head of the state Democratic Party, insists the pruning is necessary because otherwise the new scheme for taxpayer support of political campaigns will be just too expensive. Impressively, he says that with a straight face.

Ironically, the zealots who want taxpayer-paid campaigns are disappointed by the matching-funds rules the commission settled upon. We hope they’ll push hard to get the Legislature to go back to Albany for a special session to overrule this plan.

If Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins don’t move for a special, it’ll be yet another sign that this whole endeavor was nothing but a cynical insider play to exploit the ninnies pushing for “reform.”

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly

https://www.ifs.org/author/tdonnelly/

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