Daily Media Links 12/4

December 4, 2019   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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The Courts

Des Moines Register: Judge issues order preventing enforcement of Iowa’s new ‘ag-gag’ law

By Donnelle Eller

A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction preventing Iowa officials from enforcing a new law that would make it a crime for whistleblowers or undercover activists to take pictures or videos at meatpacking plants and livestock facilities.

The injunction will remain in place while a lawsuit challenging the state’s so-called “ag-gag” law proceeds.

The court also denied the state’s attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed…

In April, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa filed a lawsuit challenging the ag-gag law, arguing it’s unconstitutional, chills free speech and criminalizes a free press.

“The First Amendment rights of journalists, investigators and advocates that are at stake in this case are vital to our democracy. Today’s win was an important step toward securing those rights,” Rita Bettis Austen, Iowa’s ACLU legal director, said Monday…

The new law is similar to 2012 legislation that a federal judge ruled in January was unconstitutional. The state is appealing that decision.

The legal challenges are moving through the courts separately…

In Monday’s order granting the preliminary injunction, James Gritzner, a senior judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, said “the deprivation of First Amendment rights is a serious harm, and plaintiffs have shown that their planned undercover investigations will not proceed due to the risk of prosecution.

New York Times: Prominent Political Donors Charged in Campaign Finance Scheme

By Daniel Victor

An influential political power broker who was a witness named in the Mueller report was among eight people charged with conspiring to conceal the source of excessive contributions to groups supporting Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, the Justice Department announced on Tuesday.

Prosecutors say George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who was a cooperating witness in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, conspired with Ahmad “Andy” Khawaja, the owner of an online payments company, to conceal more than $3.5 million in donations to the groups. The donations let Mr. Khawaja gain access to Mrs. Clinton during the campaign…

Prosecutors said Mr. Khawaja made the donations in the names of himself, his wife and his business, but that the money actually came from Mr. Nader. While arranging the payments, Mr. Nader reported to an official of an unspecified foreign government about his efforts to gain influence, according to an indictment unsealed on Tuesday.

Mr. Khawaja, who hosted a fund-raiser in Los Angeles for Mrs. Clinton in 2016, was charged with conspiracy, making illegal contributions through someone else, causing excessive contributions, making false statements, causing false records to be filed, and obstruction of a federal grand jury investigation.

New York Times: Duncan Hunter’s Guilty Plea: Answers to 5 Crucial Questions

By Ruth Marvin Webster and Patrick J. Lyons

Representative Duncan D. Hunter, Republican of California, pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday to conspiracy to steal campaign funds. The guilty plea threatened to end what had once been seen as a promising career in conservative politics…

As he left the courthouse afterward, he told a crowd of reporters that he had “made mistakes,” but he did not respond to questions…

Mr. Hunter is scheduled to be sentenced on March 17 and faces a maximum of five years in prison, though a lesser sentence is more likely…

In August 2018, a federal grand jury in San Diego indicted Mr. Hunter and his wife, Margaret Hunter. They were charged with converting more than $250,000 in campaign funds to pay for personal expenses, and with filing false campaign finance records with the Federal Election Commission.

The indictment details scores of instances, beginning in 2009 and continuing through 2016, in which the Justice Department said the Hunters spent campaign money on themselves. The department said that the improper use of campaign funds continued despite “numerous warnings” and “repeated inquiries” from Mr. Hunter’s campaign treasurer about questionable purchases.

Online Speech Platforms 

Vox: 2020 Democrats weigh in on the biggest issue in tech

By Rani Molla and Emily Stewart

[Vox]: What’s the most important tech-related issue that Americans are facing in the next four years?

Bernie Sanders: [I believe] the most important tech-related issue of today is the enormous concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a few massive, unaccountable technology firms. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and others have amassed huge political power, influencing regulators, lobbying legislators, and even attempting to buy out entire city councils…[W]e must regulate tech companies to serve the public interest, not just their bottom lines, and rid our democracy of corporate money once and for all. 

Elizabeth Warren: Giant companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google have too much power over our government and our economy. They decide the rules – influencing our government to help tilt the playing field toward themselves – and away from working people. We need to pass my Anti-Corruption Plan to clean up Washington and we need to break up big tech – both of these plans will put power in the hands of the American people, where it belongs.

Pete Buttigieg: …First, we need to hold our online platforms accountable, demand comprehensive privacy protections, set standards of accountability and transparency for online political ads…To do so, I will enact comprehensive privacy reforms, modernize our antitrust laws, double antitrust enforcement budgets, and support the SHIELD Act and Honest Ads Act to rectify our online ads problems.

Forbes: How Regulation Of “Harmful Speech” Online Will Do The Real Harm

By Clyde Wayne Crews Jr.

In July 2018…the Columbia Journalism Review reported on a leaked draft white paper from Sen. Mark Warner containing a wide-ranging slate of proposals to regulate content, speech and (most ominously to me) anonymity

The loss of the civil right of anonymous online speech is an unexplored vulnerability (or intended consequence?) created by the various social media regulatory campaigns. (See here and here for some aggravated fretting over the foundational importance in America of the right to anonymous speech.) 

Social media firms bear no obligation to enable anonymity for anyone, of course, any more than they have the duty of objectivity that conservatives mistakenly think they have.

But regulation could make it such that other vendors could not provide that vital capability of mass-anonymous speech; and in the bargain regulation would protect incumbents from the competitive necessity to do so or be replaced. As is the case with the tech regulatory proposals from Republicans, the federal administrative state apparatus would inevitably expand under Democratic alternatives like Warner’s, with bodies like the FTC and FCC appointed to oversee and punish…

It is legislation and regulation, not their absence, that threaten to remove guardrails-and undermine America’s bedrock principle of free expression in the process. 

Deadline: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Doubles Down On Controversial Political Ad Policy

By Greg Evans

Zuckerberg has repeatedly refused to hold Facebook political ads to a standard of truth, despite 200 of his own employees urging him to reconsider the policy, noting “free speech and paid speech are not the same.”

“Well, this is clearly a very complex issue,” Zuckerberg said (watch the video above), “and a lot of people have a lot of different opinions. At the end of the day, I just think that in a democracy, people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying.”

At another point in the interview, Zuckerberg reiterated his opinion that Facebook shouldn’t be in the business of fact-checking ads.

“What I believe is that in a democracy, it’s really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying, so they can make their own judgments,” he said. “And, you know, I don’t think that a private company should be censoring politicians or news.”…

The Facebook exec dodged King’s questions about his recent meeting with President Donald Trump, who is an opponent of political ad monitoring.

Epoch Times: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg Says Trump Didn’t Lobby Him During Private Dinner

By Henry Jom

In a recent interview with CBS, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that President Trump did not lobby him during a private dinner in October…

Financial Times reporter Kadhim Shubber criticized CBS’s question posed to Zuckerberg.

“No better example of Facebook’s power than Zuckerberg being asked here whether Trump lobbied him, rather than whether he lobbied Trump,” Shubber wrote on Twitter.

News of the private dinner…received criticism from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who said it was “corruption, plain and simple,” Common Dreams reported…

Facebook came under fire in October after it declined former Vice President Joe Biden’s request to remove an advertisement by President Trump’s 2020 campaign…

“Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Facebook’s head of global elections policy, Katie Harbath, wrote in the letter to the Biden campaign, according to The New York Times

CBS has reportedly pushed for further censorship of content deemed “questionable,” “controversial,” and “harmful” on YouTube, which is owned by Google.

Gizmodo: Republican Challenger to Rep. Ilhan Omar Banned From Twitter for Rhetoric Trump Uses All the Time

By Matt Novak

Danielle Stella, a Republican who’s trying to unseat Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar in Minnesota, has been banned from Twitter. Stella’s last tweet, while admittedly horrible, is pretty damn close to the kind of tweets that President Donald Trump sends on a daily basis.

“If it is proven @IlhanMN passed sensitive info to Iran, she should be tried for #treason and hanged,” Stella tweeted from her account @2020MNCongress last week…

Stella’s other Twitter account, @StarDanielle, has also been suspended.

Stella followed up on Facebook, complaining that she said Omar should be tried in court first, and only be executed if she’s guilty…

“Treason is the only thing mentioned in the constitution for the death penalty, punishable by hanging or firing squad. I believe all involved should be thoroughly investigated. I did not threaten anyone,” Stella wrote on Facebook…

Trump also regularly accuses Democratic politicians of “treason,” something that is punishable by death…

But Trump has never been suspended from Twitter, based on a principle that political speech by politicians is inherently newsworthy…

“Who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy,” Trump said at a fundraiser this past September. “You know what we used to do in the old days, when we were smart, right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”

Lobbying

Washington Post: State lawmakers acknowledge lobbyists helped craft their op-eds attacking Medicare-for-all

By Jeff Stein

Lobbyists either helped draft or made extensive revisions to opinion columns published by three state lawmakers in a way that suggested Medicare-for-all and other government involvement in health care posed dangers, according to emails obtained by The Washington Post.

Montana state Rep. Kathy Kelker (D) and Sen. Jen Gross (D) acknowledged in interviews that editorials they published separately about the single-payer health proposal included language provided by John MacDonald, a lobbyist and consultant in the state who disclosed in private emails that he worked for an unnamed client.

Gross said MacDonald contacted her on behalf of the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, a multimillion-dollar industry group…funded by hospitals, private insurers, drug companies and other private health-care firms.

Additionally, an aide to Ohio state Sen. Steve Huffman (R) confirmed in a brief interview that the lawmaker’s op-ed criticizing Medicare-for-all was written with the help of Kathleen DeLand, an Ohio-based lobbyist…

The emails raise troubling ethical implications about the undisclosed involvement of private interests in lawmakers’ public statements, said Larry Noble, who served as general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center and the Federal Election Commission.

“It’s disturbing,” Noble said. “I think there’s a certain ethical obligation to be upfront about who wrote the editorial.”

Candidates and Campaigns 

Yahoo! Finance: Here’s what happens to a candidate’s money when they drop out

By Kristin Myers

According to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), there are several permissible things that a candidate can do with the money they’ve received while fundraising. They can use it for moving expenses, pay campaign staff, purchase gifts of “nominal” value to those who aren’t a member of their family, donate it to charity, move it to a state or local party committee, transfer it to a future campaign, or to a state/local candidate…

Candidates can also return funds to their donors, but that might be easier said than done.

“Sometimes, they do [give it back],” says Ann Ravel, former chair of the FEC. “I wouldn’t say it’s the usual thing to do. But I have seen it. For me, that seems to be the appropriate way to go, though obviously, it might be a difficult computation problem.”… 

Sometimes, candidates keep the money flowing from their campaigns, long after they’ve stopped running for office. An investigation earlier this year from the Tampa Bay Times discovered some 50 campaigns that were still paying for goods and services, despite a candidate not running.

These “dormant” campaigns, Ravel says, are a “really big issue,” pointing out the case of Hawaii Rep. Mark Takai whose campaign continued to pay people – even though he had died.

The States

Wall Street Journal: New York State Lawmakers in No Rush to Tweak Campaign Finance Plan

By Jimmy Vielkind

New York state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Tuesday he wasn’t alarmed by any of a state panel’s controversial recommendations to overhaul how elections are conducted, rebuffing calls that lawmakers take action before the recommendations go into effect later this month.

The Campaign Finance Reform Commission, whose nine members were appointed by the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, issued a formal report on Sunday. The report recommended lowering caps on individual campaign contributions, increasing the support thresholds for minor political parties to appear on the ballot and multiplying political donations of up to $250 with public funds.

Progressive groups that pushed for the public-matching system said the commission’s framework was unworkable and are petitioning lawmakers to reject it. Minor parties have panned the new thresholds and are pursuing legal action to stop them from taking effect…

The recommendations will become law on Dec. 22 unless Mr. Cuomo and lawmakers agree to reject or modify them.

Democrats, who control the state Senate, are scheduled to hold a retreat next week. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in an interview last month that tweaks to the commission’s work can also be made through separate legislation when lawmakers begin their new session next year.

WSKGDue To Missing Provision, Courts Could Sink New York’s Public Campaign Finance Plan

By Karen DeWitt

Earlier this week, the state’s public campaign finance commission issued a plan to allow candidates for state offices to receive public matching grants for some campaign donations under $250.

But advocates worry that the final report left out a key legal clause – and that could jettison the entire program if any one part of it is successfully challenged in court.

It’s called a severability clause, and it’s often included to protect a new law from court challenges.

Chisun Lee, who is senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, said in layman’s terms, it means that if one part of a new statute is successfully challenged and struck down in court, then the rest of the law still stands.

“It’s a standard, boilerplate piece of the legislation,” she said.

But Lee said even though the commission, in its final meeting on Nov. 25, voted to include the provision, she was surprised to see that it was left out of the final report.

“We’re very concerned about that,” Lee said.

The commission’s recommendations include a public matching fund program for the races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller and Senate and Assembly seats, which Lee said is an “enormous step forward.”

Los Angeles Times: L.A. is planning to limit campaign money from developers. But first, more fundraising

By David Zahniser

L.A.’s elected leaders are on the brink of passing a law that would deprive them of one of their biggest sources of political money – real estate companies with projects pending at City Hall.

Under the proposal, those companies and their executives would be prohibited from giving directly to the election campaigns of city candidates. But enforcement of those new restrictions could still take a while – more than two years…

Rob Quan, an organizer with the group Unrig L.A., said he believes council members slow-walked the new donation restrictions so they could continue collecting checks from real estate interests – and improve their odds of staying in office in 2022. As many as seven incumbents could seek re-election that year…

The proposed ordinance, scheduled for a vote Wednesday, comes little more than a year after FBI agents raided the home and offices of Councilman Jose Huizar, who for years ran the powerful council committee that greenlights large-scale real estate projects. It also comes as a developer in Harbor Gateway is facing bribery and campaign money-laundering charges tied to city approval of an apartment complex in 2015…

Council members first proposed a ban on developer donations in January 2017, when city leaders were trying to defeat a ballot measure that would have barred the approval of many large-scale development projects. After voters rejected the measure, the proposal languished. But it was revived in the wake of the FBI raids.

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly