Daily Media Links 12/21

December 21, 2020   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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ICYMI

Washington Examiner: Facebook takes the muzzle off Georgia Senate races, but is it too late?

By Tiffany Donnelly

Luckily, Facebook eventually listened to the bipartisan backlash and reversed the ban on election speech in Georgia. But this is really just another case of Facebook caving to pressure from the loudest voices in the room – those voices just happened to be right this time. One wonders, if this wasn’t a federal election with the fate of the Senate hanging in the balance, would Facebook have recognized its error? If these races were for state Senate, would there have been enough backlash to get it to make a change? A “ban first, make exceptions later” approach is another structural advantage for powerful actors who can raise hell about the policies hurting them. What about the rest of us?

For that matter, what about the other 49 states? Facebook’s radical ban on all political and social-issue ads is still firmly in place outside Georgia. These sweeping restrictions harm our ability to speak to fellow citizens, hold government accountable, and advocate for change. 

DOJ

New York Times: I Am Guilty of Violating the Espionage Act

By Laura Poitras

I am guilty of violating the Espionage Act, Title 18, U.S. Code Sections 793 and 798. If charged and convicted, I could spend the rest of my life in prison.

This is not a hypothetical. Right now, the United States government is prosecuting a publisher under the Espionage Act. The case could set a precedent that would put me and countless other journalists in danger.

I confess that I – alongside journalists at The Guardian, The Washington Post and other news organizations – reported on and published highly classified documents from the National Security Agency provided by the whistle-blower Edward Snowden, revealing the government’s global mass surveillance programs. This reporting was widely recognized as a public service…

I have experienced the chilling effect of the Espionage Act. When I was in contact with Mr. Snowden, then an anonymous whistle-blower, I spoke to one of the best First Amendment lawyers in the country. His response was unnerving. He read the Espionage Act out loud and said it had never been used against a journalist, but there is always a first time. He added that I would be a good candidate because I am a documentary filmmaker without the backing of a news organization.

It is impossible to overstate the dangerous precedent Mr. Assange’s indictment under the Espionage Act and possible extradition sets: Every national security journalist who reports on classified information now faces possible Espionage Act charges.

Congress

Framingham Source: Sen. Warren Re-Introduces the Anti-Corruption & Public Integrity Act

The following is a media release from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office…

United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) this week reintroduced the Anti-Corruption & Public Integrity Act, bicameral legislation to fundamentally change the way Washington does business and restore the American public’s faith in democracy, which has been at “historic lows” for over a decade…

-End Lobbying as We Know It by exposing influence-peddling in Washington; banning foreign lobbying; banning lobbyists from donating to candidates and members of Congress; strengthening congressional independence from lobbyists; and instituting a lifetime ban on lobbying by former members of Congress, Presidents, and agency heads…

-Boost Transparency in Government and Fix Federal Open Records Laws by requiring elected officials and candidates for federal office to disclose more financial and tax information; increasing disclosure of corporate money behind Washington lobbying; [and] closing loopholes in federal open records laws…

-Reform the Country’s Campaign Finance Laws to Get Big Money out of Politics by ending the corrupt system of money for influence; disrupting the system of dark money for influence that allows the wealthy, well-connected, and foreign actors to tilt the political process in their favor; empowering ordinary people through a small-dollar public financing system that gives candidates an incentive to spend more time courting working people, rather than just big donors; and reforming the Federal Election Commission, so that it can actually enforce election laws. 

Business Insider: Exclusive: Lawmakers ask FBI and Federal Election Commission to investigate Jared Kushner-backed Trump campaign company after Insider’s reporting

By Tom LoBianco and Dave Levinthal

Two lawmakers are asking the FBI and Federal Election Commission to investigate a shell company created in part by President Donald Trump’s most powerful advisor, Jared Kushner, in response to an Insider investigation published earlier on Friday.

In a letter to the agencies obtained by Insider, House Democrats Ted Lieu of California and Kathleen Rice of New York wrote late Friday that Trump’s campaign may have violated laws barring the spending of campaign cash for personal use and public disclosure requirements when it spent its money through American Made Media Consultants. 

Lieu and Rice noted that such violations upward of $25,000 are felonies punishable by up to five years in prison. Trump’s campaign and an affiliated committee regularly spent millions of dollars through American Made Media Consultants, according to FEC records.

Insider reported earlier Friday that Kushner, who is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, helped establish the shell company that secretly paid the president’s family members and spent almost half of the $1.26 billion in the campaign’s coffers, according to a person familiar with the operation.

“As former prosecutors, we know that this conduct, if true, violates multiple laws,” Lieu and Rice wrote in their letter to the FBI. “We respectfully request that you open investigations into whether or not Mr. Kushner and members of the Trump family violated federal campaign finance or other statutes.”

[Ed. note: the original Business Insider investigation is excerpted below under “Candidates and Campaigns.”]

FEC

Federal Election Commission: Shana Broussard, Sean Cooksey, Allen Dickerson sworn in as Commissioners

Shana M. Broussard, Sean J. Cooksey and Allen Dickerson have been sworn in as members of the Federal Election Commission, returning a quorum to the agency charged with administering and enforcing federal campaign finance law. The Commission has jurisdiction over the financing of campaigns for the U.S. House, Senate, Presidency and Vice Presidency.

Business Insider: A pro-Trump super PAC made illegal contributions to the president’s reelection campaign, a watchdog group says

By Dave Levinthal

A super PAC supporting President Donald Trump made “illegal, unreported, and excessive” in-kind contributions to his reelection campaign, a nonpartisan election watchdog group said today in a federal complaint obtained by Insider.

The Campaign Legal Center accused Our American Century of spending up to $251,000 to redistribute an existing Trump campaign video while failing to reveal the super PAC – not the Trump campaign – bankrolled the ad blitz.

The Our American Century-funded ad campaign, which ran during October on Google-owned YouTube, targeted voters in Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, according to political ad data Google publicly discloses…

“This is an incredibly straightforward violation of the law,” said Brendan Fischer, the Campaign Legal Center’s director of federal reform who filed the complaint with the Federal Election Commission. “It’s also a law the FEC has a history of enforcing.” …

The Campaign Legal Center identified Our American Century’s ad spending through Google’s voluntary political ad disclosure database. 

But for that database, “these very egregious violations wouldn’t likely have been discovered,” Fischer said. 

Nonprofits

Rumble (Video): I Served 8 Months for a Campaign Contribution. Will Zuckerberg Get Punished for His $500M?

By Dinesh D’Souza

“Many of you know that I was, in effect, incarcerated overnight for 8 months and had a whole range of other penalties for the crime of giving $20,000 of my own money, over the limit, to a college friend of mine who was running for the Senate in New York. This was my campaign finance violation…So if I serve 8 months for 20 grand, how many years should Bloomberg serve? How much time in prison should Zuckerberg get? Now of course the counterargument which I’m sure is coming is “Wait a minute, Dinesh. You violated the campaign finance law; they didn’t. They found a way to give the money legally.” First of all, even if that’s true, what does that say about the campaign finance law?…But let’s say it is true. The point to make about Zuckerberg is that Zuckerberg gave his money in a very sneaky way. He set up his own [tech education] nonprofit…He put the $500 million into that, and that $500 million bought a lot of very interesting stuff…And the point here is that Zuckerberg is directly influencing the election process, and not only is he doing that…he’s doing it in a manner to benefit Democratic voters and Democratic districts to the disadvantage of Republican voters and Republican districts. In other words, he’s in flagrant violation of equal protection of the laws. He’s also in flagrant violation with what a nonprofit is supposed to do. Nonprofits get tax protection in return for which they agree not to lobby for this or that particular party or candidate, so on this basis, I’m looking forward to the prosecution of Mark Zuckerberg.”

Online Speech Platforms

USA Today: Don’t let Donald Trump crush internet free speech

By Ron Wyden and Chris Cox

President Trump has promised to veto the National Defense Authorization Act…[and as] a condition for signing the bill, he has called for the complete repeal of Section 230.

But repealing the law entirely would return us to the legal no-man’s land that necessitated Section 230 in the first place…

[If] platforms are made responsible for everything millions of users post on their sites, they will have to read it all first. This would mark the end of the internet as a forum for real time communication.

It would also force every website hosting user content to create round-the-clock legal and editorial review teams…to continually monitor every message, video, photo, and blog. Alternatively, websites would face exorbitant legal damages at every turn. That is not realistic.

More realistic is that the many online avenues that ordinary citizens currently use to express themselves would be closed. Hosting user-created content will be too costly and risky…

By all means, Congress should examine whether it’s possible to amend Section 230 without doing more harm than good. But…we must be careful what we wish for. Because sometimes, those complaining about online speech are doing worse than crying wolf.

Bloomberg: Facebook Shares New 2020 Election Report With Biden, Trump Teams

By Kurt Wagner

Facebook Inc. told U.S. lawmakers it blocked or removed 265,000 posts for violating the social network’s policies against voter interference and rejected 3.3 million ad submissions as part of its effort to protect the recent U.S. elections against misinformation and foreign influence.

The action was cited in a 22-page report summarizing the company’s election work that was distributed Friday to a wide array of members of Congress as well as officials in the outgoing Trump administration and incoming team of President-elect Joe Biden. Facebook had previously publicized many of its actions cited in the report.

The report also mentions Facebook’s voter registration efforts and removal of coordinated influence campaigns. It ends by repeating a familiar Facebook request that lawmakers in Washington write more rules and regulations for the internet so that job isn’t left up to companies like Facebook.

Elections in the future “must include rules set by governing democracies, not private companies, on a range of critical issues,” Facebook said in the report. “Next year, we hope progress can be made in Washington, D.C., in updating the rules of the internet.”

Candidates and Campaigns

Business Insider: Exclusive: Jared Kushner helped create a Trump campaign shell company that secretly paid the president’s family members and spent $617 million in reelection cash, a source tells Insider

By Tom LoBianco and Dave Levinthal

President Donald Trump’s most powerful advisor, Jared Kushner, approved the creation of a campaign shell company that secretly paid the president’s family members and spent almost half of the campaign’s $1.26 billion war chest, a person familiar with the operation told Insider.
The operation acted almost like a campaign within a campaign. It paid some of Trump’s top advisors and family members, while shielding financial and operational details from public scrutiny…

Insider independently verified details of this person’s account with other people close to the Trump campaign.

The shell company – incorporated as American Made Media Consultants Corp. and American Made Media Consultants LLC – allowed Trump’s campaign to skirt federally mandated disclosures. The tactic could attract scrutiny from federal election regulators.

Campaign-finance records showed Trump’s reelection effort and its affiliated committee with the Republican National Committee spent more than $600 million through American Made Media Consultants since its formation.

For months, some of Trump’s top advisors and campaign staff told Insider they had no idea how the shell company functioned, which cast an air of mystery around the operation.

Trump’s campaign leaders even launched an internal audit of the shell company and operations that were conducted under former campaign manager Brad Parscale but never reported the results of that review. 

Center for Responsive Politics: Four of the 10 most expensive House races of all time happened in 2020

By Ollie Gratzinger

When excluding districts that saw special elections, four of the 10 most expensive House races of all time happened in 2020:  New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, Texas’ 22nd Congressional District, Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District and New York’s 14th Congressional District.

The most expensive of these 2020 House races – counting both candidate cash and outside spending – was New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District. Of the roughly $37.3 million spent, $12.9 came from candidates. Incumbent Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small raised around $8.4 million, but Republican challenger Yvette Herrell won the seat despite raising about $2.8 million…

In Texas’s 22nd Congressional District, Republican Troy Nehls beat Sri Kulkarni, a Democrat, despite raising significantly less in a race that ultimately cost more than $34.3 million. Kulkarni raised $5.6 million and Nehls just under $1.8 million.

The States

Los Angeles Times: Santa Monica politics upended by pandemic, George Floyd protests and economic woes

By Faith E. Pinho

The [Santa Monica] City Council elections attracted a slate of newcomers with a platform of slowing development in the wealthy oceanside community.

With that came massive spending from local political action committees, text messages from candidates pinging on voters’ phones and an all-out push from the city’s establishment to hang on to power.

On Nov. 3, residents voted in three of the four newcomers – a historic shift for a city where elected office has been contingent on incumbency and the support of a single organization, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights.

“It’s an epic blowback,” said Oscar de la Torre, 49, who is founder of the Pico Youth & Family Center and resigned his seat on the school board to join the City Council. “We were outgunned, outspent … you name it, we were up against the entire establishment and we beat them in a pretty powerful way.”  

WOSU: Ohio Lawmakers Pass Bill Limiting Protests At Oil And Gas Pipeline Sites

By Julie Grant

People who protest oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure in Ohio could face stiffer penalties, under a bill passed by the Ohio House late Thursday.

The bill creates heavier penalties for trespass and tampering of critical infrastructure like oil, gas, electric, water, telecommunications and railroads.

Tampering with these types of facilities could mean a third degree felony charge, which carries a maximum fine of $10,000 and up to three years in prison, more severe than trespass charges at other locations…

More than 170 Ohioans previously testified against the measure, many calling it an effort to shut down protests, especially against pipelines and energy development.

The bill calls for penalties not just for individuals who trespass, but for groups seen to encourage them. Environmental groups fear that even chanting “stop the pipeline” could be construed as encouraging damage to critical infrastructure, which could lead to fines 10 times those levied against individuals.

“SB 33’s purpose is to intimidate individuals, communities, and organizations lawfully exercising their First Amendment and other fundamental rights,” wrote Cheryl Johncox of the Sierra Club in her testimony to an Ohio Senate committee opposing the bill.

The Ohio bill has now passed the House and Senate, and would need Gov. Mike DeWine’s signature to go into law.

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly

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

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