New from the Institute for Free Speech
By David Keating
On behalf of the Institute for Free Speech, I respectfully submit the following comments on Notice 2017-73 (the “Notice”) concerning new information reporting required to treat contributions from donor advised funds as public support…
The Institute’s comment focuses on concerns that are grounded in procedure and the structure of the public support test under the Treasury Regulations and the Internal Revenue Code.
Law.com (National Law Journal): Foreign Information Is Not a Campaign Finance Violation
By James Bopp, Jr.
If we assume that campaign finance laws apply to the president in his official capacity in discussions with foreign leaders, is receiving information from foreign sources about an opposing candidate a prohibited foreign contribution? …
It’s my belief that no dirt on Trump opponents was actually provided by the Russian lawyer in the meeting.
Thus [Deputy White House Counsel Patrick] Philbin was quite right when he said that receiving “mere information is not something that would violate the campaign finance laws.” It has to be used, have a market value or cost basis but not paid for by the campaign and not be from a campaign volunteer. The president also was quite right when he said in an ABC interview… “It’s not interference, they have information-I think I’d take it. … If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI,” because not using the information but taking to the FBI is also not a violation of the foreign contribution ban.
The Democrat members of Congress and their media allies are totally off base. No President could effectively exercise his constitutional authority if his every interaction with foreign officials is subject to second-guessing under campaign finance laws. This is wrong as a matter of policy and barred by the Constitution.
By Ronn Blitzer
Three Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee were hit with ethics complaints Wednesday, connected to a slew of alleged violations related to campaign fundraising.
Nonprofit watchdog group Americans for Public Trust filed complaints with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) against Reps. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Lucy McBath, D-Ga., calling for investigations of possible violations of House rules and federal law. The organization, founded by former National Republican Congressional Committee research director Caitlin Sutherland, also filed complaints against Dean and McBath with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
Politico: Morning Cybersecurity
By Tim Starks
Google will partner with Defending Digital Campaigns to give free security keys to political campaign staffers, the nonprofit election security group announced today. The keys, which experts consider the most secure form of multi-factor authentication, are part of Google’s Advanced Protection Program, a suite of enhanced security features primarily intended for the company’s most vulnerable users…
With today’s announcement, Google becomes the 22nd company to partner with DDC, which received permission last May from the Federal Election Commission to give away resources such as the hardware security keys. The group’s other partners include Cloudflare, Lookout, Microsoft and Wickr.
By Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian
In May 2019, the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force quietly added a unit aimed at countering China’s political influence in the United States.
In an exclusive interview, an FBI official reveals for the first time the bureau’s approach to countering China’s interference in local and state politics…
“For a long time we focused on the federal level, but we really have come to understand that the Chinese are playing a long game with the political influence in this country,” the official said…
Meanwhile, over the weekend, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that China is targeting U.S. local and state officials…
The [FBI] official, who spoke to me anonymously, [said:]…
“There’s a suite of election crimes in the U.S. And we’re concerned about those crimes… So campaign finance violations, this is a big part of what we’re concerned about – foreign money entering U.S. political races.”
Washington Post: Congress moves to stop China’s censoring of Americans
By Josh Rogin
Ever since the Chinese government severely punished the National Basketball Association over a team official’s tweet, Americans have awakened to the fact that Beijing is no longer just censoring its own people…
Now, there’s an effort in Congress to protect Americans’ free speech from Chinese censorship inside the United States. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation meant to prevent companies from punishing employees who speak out against China or any other foreign government that seeks to use economic weapons to enforce political loyalty.
“Foreign adversaries think they can bully American entities into silencing their workers. But the First Amendment doesn’t contain an asterisk. If you censor our basketball courts, we’ll see you in the courtroom,” Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.), the bill’s main sponsor, told me.
Called the Preventing Foreign Censorship in America Act, the legislation… would prohibit any companies operating in the United States from firing or retaliating against employees based on their “China-related” speech. That can include topics such as Hong Kong, the Uighurs or any of the Chinese government’s human rights violations.
By Tara Golshan
A super PAC supporting Pete Buttigieg is following through on the campaign’s signal that the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor would benefit from advertising in Nevada about his military experience.
VoteVets, a super PAC that supports military veterans in politics that has thrown its support behind Buttigieg, has bought more than $500,000 in television advertising in Nevada…
The buy comes one week after Michael Halle, a strategist on the Buttigieg campaign, tweeted publicly that it was “critical” Buttigieg’s military experience was touted “on the air through the caucus” in Nevada, which is Feb. 22…
The tweet was seen as an attempt to skirt federal anti-coordination rules that prevent campaigns from sharing strategy and messaging with outside groups – a rule that has become much fuzzier as the role of social media grows in politics.
Washington Times: Experts sound alarm on foreign influence on U.S. think tanks
By Ryan Lovelace
Russian meddling in U.S. politics has dominated the political conversation since the 2016 elections, but far less attention has been paid to the large sums of money sent to Washington’s expert class in search of sway with lawmakers and other elected leaders…
Almost $175 million in foreign funding flooded the top 50 American think tanks from 2014 through 2018, according to a recent report from the Center for International Policy…
What exactly did the foreign donors purchase? Silence in many cases, said study author Ben Freeman…
“At a very basic level the common thread I got from people was that if they had a big foreign funder that was giving them a lot of money, they were explicitly forbidden from writing anything negative about that foreign country,” he said…
Think tanks largely enjoy a disclosure exemption available to scholars from the Foreign Agents Registration Act [FARA], which is the law determining the disclosure requirements for those representing foreign interests inside the U.S.
The Project on Government Oversight’s Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette said the foreign funding poses a risk to the national interest…
“There are large gaps in [FARA] that allow for a lot of the types of foreign influence we’re talking about here to continue to occur and it goes unregistered and unrecorded,” Mr. Hedtler-Gaudette said.
The Dispatch: The Misguided Case Against the Federalist Society
By Ryan J. Owens
The Committee on Codes of Conduct recently determined that federal judges cannot be members of the Federalist Society or the American Constitution Society- but that they can be members of the American Bar Association. According to the committee, a reasonable person might believe a judge who is a member of the Federalist Society or American Constitution Society is biased and cannot deliver impartial justice.
The committee’s ruling violates the constitution, wrongly caricatures the Federalist Society, and ignores the American Bar Association’s clear biases.
To begin with, the committee’s proposed rule likely violates the Constitution…
Moreover, the committee’s ipsie dixit characterization of the Federalist Society is contrary to the facts and contains no empirical support.
By Mike Masnick
Combating disinformation and misinformation online is an admirable goal. However, we often criticize overly broad attempts to do so, noting that they could lead to censorship of important, accurate, and useful information. Here’s a somewhat tragic case study of that in action. You may have heard late last week about anger in China over the death of doctor Li Wenliang, a physician who had tried to warn people about the new coronavirus well before most others had realized how dangerous it was. Dr. Li eventually caught the virus himself and passed away, sparking tremendous anger online…
The “silencing,” if you haven’t heard the details, was that the police told him he was spreading misinformation online. Inkstone News (a subsidiary of the South China Morning Post) has a translated letter that the police gave to Dr. Li telling him to stop spreading “untruthful information online.” Dr. Li responded to the notifications saying he would stop his “illegal behavior” and that he “understood” that if he continued he would be “punished under the law.” …
[S]ome might [say] that stomping out disinformation online is quite different than Chinese government suppression of information. But no one can come up with a principled explanation of how this is actually different in practice…
Be careful what you wish for.
Online Speech Platforms
By Tobias Hoonhout
YouTube removed a clip of Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) speaking on the Senate floor, in which he asked why Chief Justice John Roberts had blocked a question of his, which some have speculated contained the name of the Ukraine whistleblower.
Paul told Politico Playbook that the tech platform’s decision was “dangerous and politically biased,” and denied knowing who the whistleblower was. “Nowhere in my speech did I accuse anyone of being a whistleblower,” he stated. He added:
“It is a chilling and disturbing day in America when giant web companies such as YouTube decide to [censor] speech. Now, even protected speech, such as that of a senator on the Senate floor, can be blocked from getting to the American people.”
YouTube told Politico that the decision was part of a larger effort to purge the name from the platform, and said that the company had already deleted “hundreds of videos and over ten thousand comments” containing the name.
By Allum Bokhari
Gab, the First Amendment-based social network offering a free-speech-friendly alternative to increasingly censorious platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, has launched a political advertising service.
The move by Gab comes as other companies face pressure from Democrats to regulate political ads. Twitter recently banned political ads altogether, while disclosures from YouTube have revealed that over 300 of President Trump’s political ads have been censored by the Google-owned tech giant.
In a post on its official blog, Gab, which has attracted a userbase of over 3 million people, says that attempts to censor political ads are a part of the establishment’s campaign to suppress political populists…
In the post, Gab said the feature would be ready in time for the 2020 election.
By Saritha Rai
Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok will have to reveal users’ identities if Indian government agencies ask them to, according to the country’s controversial new rules for social media companies and messaging apps expected to be published later this month.
Candidates and Campaigns
By Greg Sargent
In an odd turn of events, one of the things that might help provide an antidote to that gusher of [Trump’s] disinformation is… Mike Bloomberg’s personal fortune…
[N]ot only is Bloomberg’s spending outpacing Trump’s; it could actually end up crowding out some of it as well…
[E]ven if Bloomberg doesn’t win the nomination – which he very likely will not – this spending could end up mattering, anyway. That’s because Bloomberg has pledged to spend a large fortune to dislodge Trump even if he’s not the Democratic nominee.
That means Bloomberg’s money could end up playing some kind of role in blunting Trump’s Facebook disinformation onslaught regardless of who the nominee is…
Judd Legum, who tracks Trump’s disinformation and online campaigns for his newsletter Popular Information, noted that this odd state of affairs might get foisted on Democrats by Trump’s willingness to employ disinformation warfare – and Facebook’s willingness to platform it.
By Ryan Grim
Beyond pushing out his competitors, though, Bloomberg’s spending is having a shockingly disruptive effect on Democratic politics throughout the country: He is hiring armies of staffers and canvassers in nearly every state in the country at eye-popping salaries, poaching talent from other campaigns and progressive organizations that are now struggling to fill jobs. In just three months, the Bloomberg campaign has hired thousands of people to staff more than 125 offices around the country, the New York Times reported Thursday…
For a swath of voters, there’s something comforting about the money he’s willing to spend. But for candidates across the country – the type needed to hold majorities in Congress and in state legislatures, and to boost turnout for the presidential election – the billions in spending means quite the opposite.
Progressive groups, local campaigns, and presidential operations are either losing staff to the Bloomberg campaign, or are struggling to hire people because the former mayor has picked so many political operatives and canvassers up, according to interviews, emails, and messages from dozens of people involved in hiring.
By Josh Dawsey and Michelle Ye Hee Lee
[During the 2016 campaign, Trump] denounced the chase for wealthy backers and criticized his opponents for doing so, saying it made candidates beholden to donors and declaring it was “not going to happen with me.”
“Somebody gives them money – not anything wrong – just psychologically when they go to that person, they’re going to do it,” he said in a January 2016 CNN interview. “They owe them.”…
Now, he has adopted a take-all-comers approach to raising money – from wealthy backers and low-dollar givers alike – and has built a historically large reelection money machine that has allowed his campaign to leap ahead as Democratic presidential candidates squabble over the appropriate role of wealthy donors…
Those who seek to reduce the role of wealthy donors in politics said Trump’s embrace of the world of wealthy political donors contradicts his promise to his voters, and fuels the same frustrations they were rejecting when they elected him.
Wall Street Journal: Mike Bloomberg Could Pull It Off
By Peggy Noonan
We are misreading Mike Bloomberg’s race for the Democratic presidential nomination. The headline right now is not “Billionaire Tries to Buy Party,” and not “Former Republican Struggles With Stop-and-Frisk History.” The headline is: “He Could Do This. Uphill, but He Could Win.”
By Laurie Roberts, The Republic
The campaign to rid our state of deep pocketed “dark money” donors – the ones who hide in the bushes as they try to buy our elections – is getting a boost.
Former Republican Gov. Fife Symington has confirmed that he’s endorsing the Outlaw Dirty Money (ODM) initiative on Thursday.
“I just feel it’s out of control,” he told me, referring to dark money spending on Arizona’s political campaigns.
Symington is the highest-profile Republican yet to support turning the lights on Arizona’s campaign-finance system.
Not only do Gov. Doug Ducey and the GOP-run Legislature support dark money spending – they believe large donors have a First Amendment right to fool you into doing their bidding – they’ve actually opened the floodgates for more dark money spending in Arizona…
The ODM campaign now has more than 200,000 of the 356,467 signatures needed by July 3 to get on the November ballot…
In 2018, the Arizona Supreme Court tossed out the ODM initiative, after a legal challenge by a trio of opponents…
This year, however, Outlaw Dirty Money has the money to supplement the citizen-driven effort with paid petition circulators…
Former Attorney General Terry Goddard, who is chairing the campaign, said enthusiasm is at an “all-time high.”
By Tim Redmond
The San Francisco Firefighters Union is asking the political consultant who is suing to overturn the city’s dark money law to immediately stop referring to the Prop B bond campaign in his legal materials.
Firefighters Local 798, which is running the main campaign in favor of the earthquake preparedness bond, sent a cease and desist letter Feb. 11 to Todd David, who has his own individual Yes on B committee…
The letter leaves David further isolated in his effort to attack the new disclosure law, which was designed to prevent dark-money groups from hiding the funding of ballot measures and independent-expenditure campaigns.
The Firefighters Union has been involved in the past in some of these dark-money efforts…
I still don’t understand why David, who has been a downtown operative for years, decided to form his own Yes on B organization, when the firefighters already had a well-funded campaign.
Unless, of course, he was looking for a vehicle to sue over the disclosure law.
Times Daily: Bill to limit lobbying raises concerns
By Editorial Board
State Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, introduced a bill last week that he says will help rein in so-called “special interest” groups.
His proposal would prohibit gambling interests from giving money to candidates for the Alabama Legislature, as well as to the governor and lieutenant governor. And just to make sure, it also would ban candidates for those offices from accepting money from gambling interests.
McClendon said while touting his bill, “There is a multibillion-dollar international corporation that has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Alabama Senate candidates. This corporation owns casinos in three countries, three states, and has four locations in Alabama and they want more.”
Everyone knows the “multibillion-dollar international corporation” here is the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
The Poarch Band has a gambling proposal and has been lobbying heavily to promote it…
First, the Poarch Band could make a plausible, one might say convincing case, that the bill specifically targets them, even if it doesn’t mention them by name. Courts tend not to look kindly on laws aimed at a single person or group.
Central Illinois Proud: New website helps shine a light on Lobbying in Springfield
A new state website shines a bit more light on the world of lobbying in Springfield. Governor Pritzker signed a new ethics reform bill into law late last year.
The secretary of state’s office now has a new searchable database up online to show how much lobbyists spend wining and dining lawmakers… It also shows how many lobbyists are also elected officials at the local level.
In his state of the state address, Governor Pritzker said these new rules don’t go nearly far enough.
“It’s time to end the practice of legislators serving as paid lobbyists. In fact, it’s time to end the for-profit influence peddling among all elected officials at every level of government in Illinois.
Disclosure of conflicts of interest and punishment for breaching them must be included in any ethics package for us to truly clean up government,” Pritzker said.