Daily Media Links 2/26

February 26, 2021   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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Ed. note: The Media Update will not be delivered Monday, March 1. It will return Tuesday, March 2.

In the News

Roll Call: House set to move on elections overhaul as outside advocates focus on Senate

By Kate Ackley

Even though Democrats narrowly control both chambers, HR 1 would need at least 60 votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate…

[President of Democracy 21, Fred] Wertheimer added that how Senate Democrats might figure out a way to pass the bill was above his “pay grade.” …

The House Administration Committee held its first hearing on HR 1 this Congress on Thursday afternoon…

The House Rules Committee has set a meeting for Monday to start the process leading to a floor vote later in the week…

The Democrats’ bill would put new limitations on some behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts, require more disclosure of online political ads and create nonpartisan redistricting efforts, among numerous other provisions…

Though Republicans support some pieces of the package, the GOP and conservative organizations are taking aim particularly at the optional taxpayer financing of congressional campaigns, efforts to expand mail voting and other political money and lobbying measures.

David Keating, president of the Institute for Free Speech, which opposes political money regulations, said new requirements of disclosing donors to issue advocacy groups could have a chilling effect on their efforts.

“We have a right as citizens to join groups and not report who we are to the government,” he said, noting that early backers of the Civil Rights or LGBTQ movements often relied on their anonymity. “I think a number of liberal groups, when they sit down and look at this closely, they’re going to be really concerned about the scope of this legislation.”


Letter to U.S. House Administration Committee on H.R. 1’s Harms to Speech and Assembly Rights

By David Keating

On behalf of the Institute for Free Speech, I write to express serious concerns about the devastating effect H.R. 1 would have on Americans’ freedom of speech and assembly rights. Labeling this bill the “For the People Act” is Orwellian. In reality, H.R. 1 would subsidize the speech of politicians while suppressing the speech of the people.

Significant portions of the bill would violate the privacy of advocacy groups and their supporters – including those groups who do nothing more than speak about policy issues before Congress or federal judicial nominees – limit political speech on the Internet, and compel speakers to recite lengthy government-mandated messages in their communications instead of their own speech.

H.R. 1 would impose onerous and unworkable standards on the ability of Americans and groups of Americans to discuss the policy issues of the day with elected officials and the public. It would radically transform oversight over the labyrinth of laws that regulate political speech from a historic, purposefully bipartisan system to one under partisan control. The proposal would coerce Americans into funding the campaigns of candidates with which they disagree under a system that research has proven hasn’t lived up to its goals elsewhere. As we struggle to emerge from the deaths and economic devastation of the pandemic, it’s likely most Americans would prefer to spend precious public funds addressing those harms. These issues represent only a few of the serious impacts on First Amendment freedoms that would be caused by enactment of H.R. 1.



Wall Street Journal: The Censorship Party

By The Editorial Board

Imagine if a pair of Donald Trump’s allies in Congress had sent a letter to cable company CEOs in 2017 blasting CNN and other progressive media outlets and asking why their content is still broadcast. Then imagine that a GOP-run committee in Congress staged a hearing on the societal menace of fake news and the need for government and business to rein in the hostile press.

The media would have treated that as a five-alarm political fire, an existential threat to a free press, the First Amendment and political norms, and a step toward authoritarian rule. “Democracy dies in darkness,” and all that. Yet that’s exactly what Democrats in Congress did this week, targeting conservative media outlets, but the media reaction has been silence or approval.

On Monday Democrats Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney sent letters pressing 12 cable and tech CEOs to drop contracts with right-of-center media outlets including Fox News. Two days later the Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing about “disinformation and extremism” in conservative media. The only notable extremism on display was the majority party’s appetite for regulating and policing the free press.

Rep. Mike Doyle, chair of the subcommittee on communications and technology, declared in opening remarks that “it is the responsibility of this subcommittee to hold these institutions”-meaning press outlets he doesn’t like-“to a higher standard.” He said later that “more free speech just isn’t winning the day over the kind of speech that we’re concerned about.”

Washington Times: Republicans trash Dems’ ‘abuse of power’ in push to silence conservative-leaning media outlets

By Seth McLaughlin

“Every journalist from MSNBC and CNN to The New York Times should be concerned by the majority’s actions, and anyone who values free speech and a free press should be worried,” Ms. McMorris Rodgers said. “Election officials using their platform to pressure private companies to censure media companies they disagree with? That sounds like actions from the Chinese Communist Party, not duly elected representatives of the United States Congress.”

Ms. McMorris Rogers questioned whether MSNBC should be punished for sticking with the “false Russian collusion narrative” and whether CNN should be targeted for the glowing accounts it gave Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s coronavirus response.

“Now more than ever, we must uphold the First Amendment,” she said. “This is an abuse of power.”

In testimony before the committee, Jonathan Turley, professor at the George Washington University Law School, said: “History has shown that public or private censorship does not produce better speech.

“It is a self-replicating and self-perpetuating path that only produces more censorship and more controlled speech,” said Mr. Turley, stressing that the First Amendment limits the federal government’s ability to crack down on speech.

“I have no illusions about the harm of disinformation and extremist speech in our society, yet I believe the speech controls pose far greater threats for our country than misguided or malevolent speech,” he said.

Office of Senator Mitch McConnell: “Protecting Democracy Cannot Be a Partisan Issue”

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding H.R. 1:

“Next week, House Democrats say they’ll try to recycle failed legislation that would have Washington Democrats grab unprecedented power over how America conducts its elections and how American citizens can engage in political speech…

“This year’s version of the House Democrats’ legislation contains the same bad ideas as their effort two years ago.

“For example: When the Federal Election Commission was created after Watergate with the sensitive job of regulating American politics, it was designed to require bipartisan consensus.

“House Democrats want to scrap those rules and turn the FEC from an even-numbered bipartisan body to an odd-numbered partisan body so Democrats can dominate it.

“Then they want to hand that newly-partisan FEC new authorities to scrutinize and regulate an even wider share of political speech and private citizens’ activities…

“And — I promise I am not making this up — their bill proposes to directly fund political campaigns with federal dollars.

“They want to raise money through new financial penalties which the government would then use to fund campaigns and consultants. 

“It’s such a strange idea, it takes a minute to wrap your head around.

“They want the federal government itself to send money for things like political ads that half the country disagrees with. What a bizarre concept that nobody asked for.

Wiley’s Political Law Podcast: H.R. 1 – How will the Lobbying Disclosure Act be Affected?

By Mark Renaud

This is the third episode in a series of podcasts on H.R. 1, a bill that has been introduced in Congress that would affect campaign finance, lobbying, ethics, and voting laws. In this episode, Election Law Partner Mark Renaud discusses how H.R. 1 could potentially affect the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) and, under the LDA, who is considered a lobbyist and the regulation of federal lobbyists.

Breitbart: Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse ‘Biggest Hypocrite in Politics’ on Dark Money

By Sean Moran

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has served as one of the most vocal Democrat critics of “dark money’s” influence in politics, but the Rhode Island Democrat appears to be a significant beneficiary of dark money…

Since 2005, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), a dark money environmentalist group, has served as Whitehouse’s largest donor. LCV has contributed $187,861 and an additional $12,062 from PACs associated with LCV to Whitehouse.

Online Speech Platforms

Politico: Facebook’s ‘Supreme Court’ to receive new powers

By Mark Scott

The outside group with the final say on whether Donald Trump can be reinstated on Facebook is expected to be given greater powers in the coming months to decide which content is allowed on the world’s largest social network, according to Thomas Hughes, administrative director of the so-called Oversight Board.

Speaking to Digital Bridge, POLITICO’s transatlantic tech newsletter, Hughes said the board is in talks with Facebook to receive more powers to review potentially harmful material that remains on the on the platform, as well as to adjudicate on accounts suspended for breaching the company’s community standards.

The States

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Georgia Senate leaders push bill to get more money from big political donors

By James Salzer

Big-money political donors may get another way to give unlimited funds to their favorite state politicians.

The Georgia Senate is set to vote Friday on Senate Bill 221 – sponsored by Senate Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga and backed by Republican leaders – that would allow the creation of something called state “leadership committees,” which are common in Washington…

Mullis told his committee this week that the bill was designed to fight so-called dark money – funds that hide the identity of donors, something that has become more common in the past decade…

“The outside influence of dark money has always bothered us,” Mullis said. “This bill will shine the light on a cancer on our democracy.”

He said it will do that by forcing the leadership committees to disclose their donors and expenditures, like political action committees currently must do.

But ethics experts told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the bill will not eliminate the so-called “independent committees” that collect dark money contributions to influence campaigns.
And leaders such as Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston already have ways to raise unlimited funds from deep-pocket donors.

Des Moines Register: Claiming liberal bias in big tech, Iowa Republicans seek penalties if companies restrict online speech

By Ian Richardson

Saying big tech companies like Facebook and Twitter are repressing conservative speech, Republicans in the Iowa Senate advanced a proposal Wednesday to outlaw tax breaks for and contracts with companies that “censor” free speech. 

“These liberal executives out of the Silicon Valley are not going to control what Iowans hear, what they see – and they’re not going to censor them,” Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, said during a subcommittee meeting Wednesday…

Thirty of Iowa’s 32 Republican senators have co-sponsored Senate File 402, which Chapman said would hold big tech companies to a similar free speech standard as the government. Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, has introduced a companion bill in the House Judiciary Committee.

Under the bill, large tech companies could not prevent Iowa citizens from interacting with content that includes “constitutionally protected speech.” They couldn’t restrict the ability of citizens to download social networking sites on a pre-installed app store, and online marketplaces couldn’t prevent the purchase of protected publications or merchandise.

Social media companies like Facebook also couldn’t force algorithms that promote certain posts and ban others…

With its passage through subcommittee Wednesday, the bill will now head to the full Senate Commerce Committee. A House subcommittee will consider the companion version of the bill, House Study Bill 235, on Thursday afternoon.

Washington Post: In Tennessee, GOP senators seek to ban protests during anthem, raising legal concerns

By Glynn A. Hill

It’s a sequence that has now become routine. Athletes, in this case players on the East Tennessee State men’s basketball team, knelt during a pregame national anthem to protest injustice inflicted upon Black Americans, and a backlash ensued.

But following this episode, which occurred before the Buccanneers’ game Feb. 15 against Chattanooga, the objections of some local fans evolved Monday into an appeal to the state’s public universities by Republicans in the state senate to adopt policies that prohibit “any such actions moving forward” – a move that, if enacted, could raise concerns about violating the First Amendment…

Monday, Republican state senators sent a letter to the presidents and chancellors of Tennessee’s public universities.

“During athletic competitions, our student athletes represent not only themselves, but also our universities and all the citizens of this state, many of whom view this form of protest as offensive and disrespectful to the very thing our National Anthem represents,” it said. “When they don the jersey of a Tennessee university, they step out of their personal roles and into the role of an ambassador for our state.”

“To address this issue, we encourage each of you to adopt policies within your respective athletic departments to prohibit any such actions moving forward.”

New York Post: Curtis Sliwa accused of boosting mayoral campaign on his radio program

By Carl Campanile

A Bronx lawyer has filed a complaint against Guardian Angels founder and Republican mayoral wannabe Curtis Sliwa, charging he’s violating campaign laws by promoting his candidacy on his own WABC talk radio show.

The promotion amounts to an illegal “in-kind” donation from 77 WABC Radio, which is owned by business mogul John Catsimatidis’ Red Apple Media company, the complaint filed with the city Campaign Finance Board by attorney Nicholas Marricco said.

Tiffany Donnelly

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