Daily Media Links 2/10

February 10, 2021   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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We’re Hiring!

Senior Attorneys – Institute for Free Speech – Washington, DC or Virtual Office

The Institute for Free Speech is hiring three attorneys, including at least one Senior Attorney with at least 10 years of experience and two other experienced attorneys with at least four to six years of experience in an expansion of its litigation and legal advocacy capabilities.

This is a rare opportunity to work with a growing team to litigate a long-term legal strategy directed toward the protection of Constitutional rights. You would work to secure legal precedents clearing away a thicket of laws and regulations that suppress speech about government and candidates for political office, threaten citizens’ privacy if they speak or join groups, and impose heavy burdens on organized political activity.

A strong preference will be given to candidates who can work in our Washington, D.C. headquarters. However, we will consider exceptionally strong candidates living and working virtually from anywhere in the country. In addition to litigation or advocacy-related travel, a virtual candidate would be required to travel for quarterly week-long visits to IFS’s headquarters after the pandemic’s impact has receded.

[You can learn more about this role and apply for the position here.]

In the News

Washington Free Beacon: Whitehouse Pushes Justice Dept. to Support Controversial Donor Disclosure Rule

By Kevin Daley

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) and a group of Democratic lawmakers are urging the Justice Department to buck tradition and withdraw the Trump administration-backed challenge to a controversial California rule that would require charities to disclose their donors to the state’s attorney general.

Critics say the rule, which is currently before the Supreme Court, would allow the state government to violate the First Amendment rights of charities and donors…

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation has led the legal challenge to the California policy, claiming it chills speech, association, and donor contributions…

A broad coalition of advocacy groups supported AFPF before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The Supreme Court’s landmark association cases have their roots in the civil-rights era, when Jim Crow governments used state means to obtain internal records from groups like the NAACP. 

“The solicitor general got it right the first time. Nonprofits need the freedom to keep their donor lists private to protect their supporters from government harassment,” Institute for Free Speech president David Keating told the Washington Free Beacon. “In fact, the senators who are calling for the Department of Justice to reverse itself include some who encouraged the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups under the last Democratic administration.”

[Ed. note: The Institute for Free Speech filed an amicus brief in AFPF v. Becerra in support of the petitioners. We also filed a related lawsuit challenging then-Attorney General Kamala Harris’s demand for nonprofit Schedule B information in IFS v. Becerra. Read more about that case here.]

New from the Institute for Free Speech

H.R. 1 and S. 1’s “Honest Ads Act” Would Pad Facebook’s Pockets, Harm Competitors

By Nathan Maxwell

The new year has begun with renewed calls by lawmakers and media pundits to ramp up regulation of Big Tech, a move which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has welcomed. What these folks seem to forget is that Facebook has the least reason of all to fear increased government regulation in the tech industry. It has 2.7 billion users, raked in $85.9 billion in revenue in 2020 alone, and has already proven its ability to overcome even unprecedented financial penalties.

Now, Facebook is aiming to get its foot in the door with the Biden administration by increasing its efforts to police speech on its platform while expressing support for government regulation of social media. Its wish list of new laws stretch from reconstructing its own liability protections to increasing online political ad regulation. If it sounds too good to be true that Facebook is volunteering to shoulder the cost of placing greater controls on online speech, it probably is.

Facebook and Zuckerberg have hinted at, or explicitly asked for, greater government regulation of online content on more than one occasion. In particular, they have also voiced support for additional regulations on online political advertising. Their approach is the same in both contexts: promote complex regulatory mechanisms that only large, established companies like Facebook can navigate. These appeals have the added effect of deflecting responsibility for handling controversial speech and political advertisements onto the government.


Letter from Nine Former FEC Commissioners Expressing Concerns with H.R. 1 and S. 1

By former FEC Commissioners Thomas J. Josefiak, Darryl R. Wold, David M. Mason, Bradley A. Smith, Michael E. Toner, Hans A. von Spakovsky, Matthew S. Petersen, Caroline C. Hunter, and Lee E. Goodman

We write out of deep concern for the threat that the self-styled “For the People Act” (H.R. 1 and S. 1 in the current Congress, hereinafter the “FPA”) poses to the long-standing bipartisan structure of the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”)-a concern based on our many years of experience as commissioners of the FEC. The FEC is the federal agency entrusted with primary interpretation, civil enforcement, and administration of federal campaign finance laws.

The threat to bipartisanship in this federal agency should be a concern for the public, but also for members of Congress, who are among the most visible subjects of FEC scrutiny. Candidates for federal office know that the FEC is an intrusive presence in virtually every aspect of their campaigns, requiring disclosure of detailed aspects of their contributions and expenditures, initiating investigations, subpoenaing witnesses and records, imposing civil penalties for violations of its hundreds of pages of regulations, and conducting audits of campaign committees selected by the Commission to monitor compliance, among other actions.

Online Speech Platforms

Wall Street Journal: Twitter Blocks Some Accounts in India Again Following Government Demands

By Rajesh Roy and Eric Bellman

Twitter Inc. said it is reimplementing restrictions on some accounts in India after the government threatened legal action when the company refused to block hundreds of handles that New Delhi called inflammatory.

Twitter blocked the handles last week at the government’s request but then reversed its decision. After conducting an investigation, the company said the accounts should be allowed.

The Indian government threatened legal action which could have resulted in a fine or imprisonment for Twitter executives in charge of implementing government directives.

On Wednesday, Twitter said it would block most of the accounts again. It said on its blog that the handles would be blocked only within India and wouldn’t include the accounts of journalists, media entities, activists and politicians.

“To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law,” the blog post said.

The States

AZ Mirror: Political prosecutions could increase if harsh anti-First Amendment bill becomes law

By Darrell Hill

Take House Bill 2485, an anti-First Amendment measure. If the bill passes, people making their voices heard with tactics from the Civil Rights era – like sit-ins, boycotts, and the March to Selma – could be charged with felonies that carry prison time…

The language in HB 2485 is so broad that a person could be charged with serious felony offenses for simply participating in a protest, even if they themselves do not commit an act of violence or damage property. The legislation also turns a series of misdemeanors, like using fireworks or obstructing a highway, into more serious felonies that carry prison time. The legislation is a significant threat to anyone who may want to exercise their First Amendment rights when doing so might provoke the ire of a government official.

The Island Now: Kaplan-led legislation against hate symbols, political ads on public property introduced

By Rose Weldon

Legislation sponsored by state Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) would prohibit symbols of hate and political advertisements from being displayed on public property and taxpayer-funded equipment in the state.

Kaplan introduced the legislation in the Senate last week in conjunction with state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx/Westchester). Kaplan’s office said the legislation comes after a widely reported incident last year involving the display of a Confederate flag on a fire truck in a parade in Suffolk County, and after a Confederate flag and political flag were displayed in a window at a fire department in Nassau County…

Last year, Biaggi introduced a bill, later passed and signed into law, to ban the sale and display of symbols of hate on state property and limit their display at the State Fair…

“Additionally, the display of political advertisement on public property is highly inappropriate, and a misuse of government resources to advance a partisan agenda. It is critical that we also move to bar municipal employees from displaying any political advertising on government property, regardless of what party you affiliate yourself with. I appreciate Senator Kaplan’s partnership on these bills, and look forward to working together to move them forward.”

Patch: Austin Group’s ‘Democracy Dollars’ Proposal Draws Rebukes

By Tony Cantu

Austin City Council on Tuesday is scheduled to listen to a presentation on the potential use of “Democracy Dollars” designed to replace local campaign finance rules – a proposal stemming from a citizen-initiated petition by a political coalition that garnered enough petition signatures to place it on the May 1 ballot. But concern has arisen over citizens who would be excluded from using the political currency – including legal permanent residents and those on parole or probation.

Austinites for Progressive Reform, a political action committee, announced in January it had submitted more than 24,000 signatures to the city clerk – some 4,000 more required by law – to place a series of sweeping proposals on the upcoming ballot…

But a backlash has emerged over the “Democracy Dollars” proposal that would supplant the city’s existing campaign finance system. The proposal gives access to the novel currency – $25 vouchers residents would contribute to their preferred candidates – to registered voters, which effectively excludes groups that include long-term permanent residents, the incarcerated and those on probation or parole not meeting the definition of a “qualified voter” under Sec. 11.002 of the Texas Election Code…

The idea is patterned after a similar one in Seattle, where voters in November 2015 approved a similar citizen-led initiative dubbed “Honest Elections Seattle” that enacted several campaign finance reforms. 

Detroit Free Press: Michigan Republican Party seeks to withdraw complaint letter that sparked investigation

By Paul Egan

The Michigan Republican Party said Tuesday it has withdrawn a letter written to the Bureau of Elections by the former party chair that led to an investigation of a possible violation of state law.

The bureau said Monday it had opened an investigation after receiving a Thursday letter from Laura Cox saying the party may have violated the Michigan Campaign Finance Act by making $200,000 in payments over seven months to Shelby Township Clerk and party activist Stan Grot.

Cox was party chair at the time she wrote the letter. But on Saturday, she lost her bid to be reelected on an interim basis when delegates voted 66% in favor of U-M Regent Ron Weiser. Cox alleges Weiser orchestrated the payments to Grot to get him to drop out of the GOP race for secretary of state in 2018, leaving the field clear for Mary Treder Lang.

Lang won the nomination but lost the election to Democrat Jocelyn Benson, who oversees the Bureau of Elections.

The party “has reached out to the Bureau of Elections to make clear that the party believes it has complied with the law and has formally withdrawn the letter from disgruntled party chair candidate Laura Cox,” Michigan Republican Party Chief of Staff Paul Cordes said in a news release.

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly


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