Daily Media Links 2/11

February 11, 2020   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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The Courts

San Francisco Chronicle: Free speech or dark money disclosure: Political operatives seek to gut SF campaign ad measure

By Dominic Fracassa

A handful of prominent San Francisco political operatives are seeking to gut a ballot measure voters overwhelmingly passed last year that pulls back the curtain on who’s paying for campaign advertisements.

In a federal lawsuit filed last week, a group sued the city to neuter the key provisions of Proposition F…

Prop. F, which passed with 77% of the vote and took effect in December, forces political campaigns to disclose their top three contributors of $5,000 or more in their advertising materials, along with exactly how much they gave. That threshold was previously $10,000…

The group that filed the lawsuit contends that so much mandated financial disclosure will crowd out the political messages campaigns are trying to convey through television, radio, print and online ads. The group argues that the constraints placed on political ads by Prop. F violate their free speech rights…

Todd David, the group’s principal officer and executive director of the Housing Action Coalition…[said,]”I’m very concerned that this limits the ability of campaigns, particularly small campaigns to communicate.”

Bay Area Reporter: Gay activist sues SF for violating First Amendment rights

By John Ferrannini

A longtime gay activist has filed a lawsuit against San Francisco, alleging his First Amendment and other constitutional rights were violated.

The complaint, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California February 10, alleges that Michael Petrelis, 61, was unlawfully arrested for a peaceful, nonverbal demonstration inside San Francisco City Hall November 6…

“Shortly after the beginning of the press conference, Mr. Petrelis stood peacefully and silently behind speaker John Arntz, the city’s director of elections, holding two small paper signs containing the message ‘SUZY IS CORRUPT’ (referring to Ms. Loftus),” states a February 10 news release from Donald Wagda, Petrelis’ attorney. “Mr. Petrelis’ signs were in ‘exact accordance’ with City Hall building policies governing carrying of signs inside City Hall…

“This is part of an ongoing pattern with the deputies and free speech at City Hall,” Petrelis said. “They are applying imaginary rules that hinder free speech. The deputies just pushed us – in this case, they arrested me for holding a sign.” 

Washington Post: Judge won’t dismiss lawsuit against deputy over ticket

By Associated Press

A deputy sheriff in Virginia is facing trial on a claim she violated the First Amendment rights of a woman by offering to buy another deputy lunch if he issued her a traffic ticket in retaliation for critical Facebook posts…

Deputy Sheriff James Riley pulled over three drivers he saw passing a stopped school bus that had its red lights flashing.

Spotsylvania County Deputy Sheriff Marcia Curtis overheard the name of one of the drivers – Rebecca Snoeyenbos – when Riley ran license checks over his radio.

Curtis called Riley’s cellphone and said, “If you ticket this Snoeyenbos person, I will buy you lunch.”

A recording showed that Curtis also said: “Oh my god, she is such a bitch. Make sure you have your recorder on.”

Six years earlier, Curtis ticketed Snoeyenbos for parking in a fire lane. Snoeyenbos called the sheriff’s department to complain about Curtis and posted a negative comment about her on Facebook.

Riley wrote the ticket for Snoeyenbos…

[Judge] Novak refused to dismiss the lawsuit, writing that Curtis’ conduct “cannot possibly be considered a discretionary decision in furtherance of defendant’s duties as a law enforcement officer.”

Al Jazeera: Civil rights groups sue over US state’s ‘Israel boycott law’

By Al Jazeera Staff

[O]fficials from the Georgia Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Georgia), the CAIR Legal Defense Fund and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund said they filed a free speech lawsuit after Georgia Southern University canceled a talk by Abby Martin, a journalist and rights activist, over her refusal to sign an oath that she would not “engage in a boycott of Israel”.

In 2016, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law a bill requiring any person or company entering with the state of Georgia into a contract worth $1,000 or more to sign a pledge not to engage in political boycott of the Israel…

Similar measures have been enacted in at least 28 other states…

Critics say such measures violate the right to free speech guaranteed under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which protects individuals’ right to participate in boycotts as a form of peaceful, political protest.

Online Speech Platforms

Newsweek: If Nancy Pelosi Succeeds In Censoring Our Speech-Ripping Video, Say Goodbye to Media Coverage as We Know It

By Benny Johnson

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is using her full political power to rip down and ban permanently a video from the internet purely on the grounds that it makes her look bad…

The video was produced by interposing quotable lines from the president’s speech with footage of Pelosi tearing up the speech…

Real clips of real things that happened. The video included no deep fake technology, no motion graphics, no footage or audio from other events.

Yet, Pelosi has demanded that this factual video be removed from the internet after President Trump retweeted it… The compliant establishment media have taken Pelosi’s talking points and repeated them in headlines…

Thankfully, no platform has given in to the totalitarian request…

The irony here is that if social networks were to comply with Pelosi’s authoritarianism, they would be ushering in the death of media as we know it.

Techdirt: Senators Threaten Twitter For Allowing Iranian Official Who Helped De-Escalate Tensions Via Twitter To Tweet

By Mike Masnick

[I]f you’re a Trump supporter about to get up in arms over a Democratic politician asking Twitter to delete a tweet from the President, slow down a bit, because around the same time, four Republican Senators were in the process of sending an angry letter to Twitter, telling Jack Dorsey that his company was breaking the law by allowing Iranian officials to tweet. The letter, sent by Senators Ted Cruz, Marsha Blackburn, Tom Cotton, and Marco Rubio (all of whom…have cynically claimed to support free speech in the past), notes that Trump signed an executive order last year putting sanctions on Iranian officials and preventing US companies from providing goods and services to them…

The letter also claims that the Ayatollah gets no free speech protections at all, while simultaneously saying that Twitter should never “censor” American’s “political speech.” …

[T]his letter comes just a month after it was shown that Zarif — who the Senators want Twitter to ban — and Trump himself may have averted escalations with Iran thanks to both of them being on Twitter. 

The Stranger: Proposed Settlement Between Facebook and Washington State Is “Dangerous” and “Troubling,” Experts Say

By Eli Sanders

After nearly a year of investigation and negotiation, Facebook and staff at the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission are embracing a proposed settlement that would allow the $600 billion company to pay a $75,000 fine and walk away from charges it repeatedly broke state campaign finance law.

The deal, which has not yet been approved by the PDC’s five governor-appointed commissioners, would also allow Facebook to avoid any admission of guilt for failing to make required disclosures concerning hundreds of ads it sold to influence Seattle’s 2019 city council elections…

After reviewing the settlement document, formally called a stipulation, a half-dozen experts in campaign finance and digital ad transparency told The Stranger they were surprised by its language. They called the potential deal “troubling,” …

“This is a slap on the wrist and insufficient,” [former FEC Ann] Ravel said, especially given what she described as Facebook’s “willful failure” to follow state disclosure requirements.


Fulcrum: Trump budget would cut election agency but boost cybersecurity

By Bill Theobald

President Trump’s proposed budget for next year includes a mix of good and bad news for those interested in democracy and elections…

[T]he budget of the Federal Election Commission, which oversees compliance with campaign finance laws by presidential and congressional candidates, would tick up 2.5 percent to $73.3 million under the Trump budget, about in line with expected inflation. 

The Hill: Campaign finance: Inmates running the asylum?

By John M. DeMaggio

The [Government Accountability Office] report covers the two-year period between Jan. 1, 2017 and Dec. 31, 2018 – accounting for $8.6 billion raised to influence federal elections. The report states: “With such large sums of money involved, concerns about limiting the potential for political corruption and providing transparency to voters, while protecting free speech, have been at the heart of campaign finance law.” …

GAO reports that the system for oversight of campaign financing is convoluted, with multiple steps dependent on party loyalties, no clear guidance and what appears to be an unwillingness to hold anyone accountable…

The FEC Office of General Counsel’s Enforcement Division experienced a 30 percent reduction staff over eight years while enforcement matters more than tripled. That resulted in the individual workload more than quadrupling, adding significantly to the backlog.

TechCrunch: A U.S. House candidate says she was hacked- now she’s warning others

By Zack Whittaker

Fearing a repeat of 2016, the Federal Elections Commission last year relaxed the rules to allow federal political campaigns to receive discounted cybersecurity help. That has also allowed companies like Cloudflare to enter the political campaign space, offering cybersecurity services to campaigns – which was previously considered a campaign finance violation.

It’s not a catch-all fix. A patchwork of laws and rules across the U.S. make it difficult for campaigns to prioritize internal cybersecurity efforts. It’s illegal in Maryland, for example, to use campaign finances for securing the personal accounts of candidates and their staff – the same kind of accounts that hackers used to break into Podesta’s email account in 2016.

Candidates and Campaigns 

Sludge: Buttigieg Skirts Anti-Corruption Laws by Campaigning With ‘Dark Money’ Group

By Donald Shaw

[South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete] Buttigieg spoke at an event on Thursday in Merrimack, New Hampshire, that was organized, at least in part, by VoteVets Action Fund, the “dark money” affiliate of VoteVets PAC, which has spent more than $1.4 million on television and digital ads to boost Buttigieg’s candidacy…

VoteVets Action Fund and VoteVets PAC are legally separate entities. 

Still, the VoteVets entities and the Buttigieg campaign are working in concert. As the PAC spends millions on Buttgieg ads, [VoteVets Action Fund director of government relations Will] Goodwin told the South Bend Tribune that [it] “will be working with the Buttigieg campaign throughout the primary.”

In an email, a VoteVets spokesperson told Sludge that Goodwin, who appeared with Buttigieg on Thursday, “helped organize the event.” The Buttigieg campaign, however, is downplaying the involvement of VoteVets, telling journalist Akela Lacy that they were the ones who organized the event, according to a tweet. On its Facebook page and on Twitter, VoteVets refers to it as “our event.”

Washington Post: Democrats cannot afford to refuse money

By Jennifer Rubin

I sometimes wonder if Democrats are aware they are in a fight to save our democracy from the clutches of President Trump. Trump will have the advantages of incumbency, social media disinformation and money. As to the latter, Democrats plainly want to reform the campaign finance system, but in the meantime, why do two of them propose unilateral disarmament?…

Sanders and Warren seem more interested in besting each other and their rivals in the purity Olympics than in figuring out how to amass the small fortune it will take to beat Trump. Whether by fundraising (where Buttigieg has shown success) or by spending his own money as Bloomberg has done (promising to “spend whatever it takes”), Democrats will need someone who fully appreciates what they are up against. Democratic voters who want to win more than anything else would be well advised to find a candidate who does as well.

Daily Beast: Mike Bloomberg Is Paying ‘Influencers’ to Make Him Seem Cool

By Scott Bixby

The Bloomberg campaign has quietly begun a campaign on Tribe, a “branded content marketplace” that connects social-media influencers with the brands that want to advertise to their followers, to pitch influencers on creating content highlighting why they love the former New York City mayor-for a price.

For a fixed $150 fee, the Bloomberg campaign is pitching micro-influencers-someone who has from 1,000 to 100,000 followers…-to create original content “that tells us why Mike Bloomberg is the electable candidate who can rise above the fray, work across the aisle so ALL Americans feel heard & respected.” …

The approach is novel. No other high-polling candidates reached by The Daily Beast said that their campaigns have ever paid influencers to create content for the campaign, or for influencers to post such content on their own channels in exchange for money.

Wall Street Journal: Market Phobia Comes to Cyberspace

By The Editorial Board

In November ISOC announced it is selling the registry to Ethos. Some in the .org community, led by vocal left-leaning nonprofits, are outraged…

[An] irony comes from the appeals to free speech online from the likes of Elizabeth Warren. The Senator has made suppression of political speech on social media a tenet of her presidential campaign, demanding Facebook remove ads critical of Democrats she deems misleading. Yet her letter to Icann paints the Ethos acquisition as a free-speech threat, citing registries’ intervention in trademark disputes…

Registries disable sites only in extraordinary circumstances-a contrast to the heavy-handed approach many on the left are demanding of Big Tech firms. 

Rolling Stone: How to Fix Democrats’ Busted Primary

By Andy Kroll

Democrats should demand that their primary candidates vow that they won’t take money from Super PACs, use wealthy bundlers, or accept corporate money. Such a pledge would build trust with voters, give upstart candidates a fair shot, and make the Democratic Party responsive to the working people it claims to represent.

The States

Henrico Citizen: Senate to consider bill to reform print disclosures

By Katherine Schulte, Capital News Service

A bill that would reform disclosure requirements for printed campaign advertisements passed the House of Delegates on Feb. 6 and is now in the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections.

The bill, HB 1238, would require print media advertisements to have a disclosure in a font size proportionate to the ad. The disclosure on a print media ad is the statement of who paid for or authorized the ad. The current requirement for disclosure sizes is a minimum font size of seven.

Bill patron Del. Tony Wilt, R-Rockingham County, said he was motivated to propose the bill because of a Board of Supervisors election in his district in which both candidates had disclosures on their yard signs but were penalized by the state Board of Elections because the disclosures were difficult to see.

Philadelphia Inquirer: Philly progressives used to criticize weak campaign finance laws. Then they learned how to use them.

By Sean Collins Walsh

[I]n Philadelphia, it is the progressive left that that has best capitalized on the new Wild West in campaign finance law following the 2010 Citizens United ruling and other decisions. Liberals have been beating establishment Democrats with the help of outside groups that outspend the candidates themselves. And campaign finance reform is no longer the rallying cry it once was.

“It’s an interesting reality to have folks or groups who may decry Citizens United then utilizing the tools that are made available by it,” said Patrick Christmas, policy director for the good government group Committee of Seventy. “But in campaigns, people play to win, and I don’t think that will ever change.” …

“Community-based organizations and labor unions that are rooted here in Philadelphia and have members here in Philadelphia are pretty different than a dark money corporate PAC that is trying to win elections to help their profits,” said [city council member Kendra] Brooks’ campaign manager.

In her upset win, Brooks faced opposition from both Republicans and the city’s Democratic establishment. Larry Ceisler, a public relations executive and longtime City Hall observer, said the effective use of an outside spending campaign was key to Brooks’ ability to combat the power of the party machines.

The DePaulia: State’s Attorney candidate Bill Conway talks wealth, corruption and his game plan

By Joshua Kaufman

Bill Conway, Democratic candidate for Cook County state’s attorney, argues his billionaire donor bankrolling his campaign is just a father helping out his son…

“I am not going to owe anybody anything, other than the voters and people of Cook County. We are going to get after public corruption in this town like people have never seen,” said Conway…

[Conway competitor Kim] Foxx is relying on support from Chicago Democratic insiders such as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s PAC and union groups like the SEIU…

The massive influx of money in this race is due in part to a campaign finance regulation which lifts the cap on donations if a candidate self-funds more than $100 thousand…

This rule is intended to level the playing field for non-wealthy candidates, who would otherwise be restricted to collecting a mere $5,600 from individual donors while their self-funded opponents could pour unlimited amounts into their own campaign.

WNYC: NJ Activists Take on Dark Money, Legislative Secrets and Ballot Siberia

By Nancy Solomon

Several groups have formed a coalition called “Take Back NJ” that includes New Jersey Working Families, NJ 11th for Change and other progressive organizations that formed in the wake of the 2016 election. The coalition is launching a campaign that takes aim what they call “soft corruption” …

[At their Saturday meeting,] [t]here was a session on how the New Jersey legislature is making it easier to hide corporate money in politics with a bill that is presented as a curb on secret PAC donations, but actually does little to unmask donors…

Take Back NJ plans to introduce a package of ethics reforms to curb corporate money in politics and create more transparency in government.





Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly