Daily Media Links 2/5

February 5, 2020   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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In the News

U.S. Government Accountability Office: Campaign Finance: Federal Framework, Agency Roles and Responsibilities, and Perspectives

Campaign finance is the raising and spending of money to influence electoral campaigns at the federal, state, and local levels. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) reported that in 2017 and 2018, candidates, party committees, and political action committees (PAC) raised about $8.6 billion and spent about $6 billion on activities associated with federal elections. 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…

We obtained additional perspectives through interviews with subject-matter specialists on campaign finance issues from a nongeneralizable sample of nine research, advocacy, or practitioner organizations, selected to represent a range of views about the campaign finance framework. The nine organizations included the Alliance for Justice, Bipartisan Policy Center, Campaign Finance Institute, Campaign Legal Center, Cato Institute, Center for Responsive Politics, Institute for Free Speech, Institute for Justice, and Republican National Committee.


C-SPAN (Video): Laura Belin on Campaign 2020 and the Iowa Caucuses

Featuring Paul Orgel and Laura Belin

00:27:47 Paul Orgel: We have been reading that the Iowa House recently denied you press credentials…

00:28:01 Laura Belin: Unfortunately, it’s not just the Iowa House…So the Iowa House denied my credentials, the Republican-controlled Iowa Senate appeared to process my credentials but in fact never allowed me to work in the press gallery and changed the rules in the middle of the session to make sure I would not be able to apply for temporary passes. Then the Governor Kim Reynolds, her office declared they have a policy that I’m not considered a credentialed member of the media because I’m not credentialed in the Iowa House, which is kind of strange because this policy does not exist anywhere in writing…It seems like a policy that was made up to keep me out of her press conferences…So I applied again this year…and it was the same result. My credentials were denied; they didn’t give me any specific reason…I don’t think it’s frankly constitutional…

00:29:25 Paul Orgel: What other recourse do you have? Have you considered legal action?

Laura Belin: I haven’t ruled anything out. The Institute for Free Speech last year commissioned a memo by Robert Corn-Revere and Chelsea Kelly. Robert Corn-Revere is a nationally known First Amendment lawyer and it was specifically about the issues of [denial of credentials in the Iowa House and access to work space in the Iowa Senate]. That memo was sent to the leaders of legislature last April and had no effect, so I’m considering all options. I would first prefer to resolve it without legal action. That may not be possible. It is farcical. I published hundreds of articles a year. I have written myself more than 7,000 articles on my website and hundreds about them have been about the Iowa Legislature. I cover happenings in great detail. For them to say I’m not a member of the media is ludicrous. 

New from the Institute for Free Speech

Chairman Bradley Smith Testimony: Citizens United Helps Democracy

Institute for Free Speech Chairman and former Federal Election Commission Chair Bradley A. Smith will testify Thursday morning before a House of Representatives subcommittee on the impact of the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Smith’s testimony explains that Citizens United benefited democracy by removing legal barriers to speaking about campaigns.

“Citizens United set the stage for new ways of speaking about candidates, making it easier for Americans to learn both the good and the bad about the choices on their ballots. Federal campaigns, previously dominated by legacy media outlets and the candidates themselves, now include independent voices. The decision also coincided with an increase in political diversity and volatility, with more political newcomers finding paths to success…

“Far from a gift to large corporations and moneyed interests, the Court’s decision was a sweeping victory for the First Amendment, Americans’ political speech rights, electoral competition, and a robust, healthy democracy.”

The hearing will take place before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties at 10 AM in 2141 Rayburn House Office Building.

Read the full testimony here (PDF)

Section 230

New York Times: IBM, Marriott and Mickey Mouse Take On Tech’s Favorite Law

By David McCabe

Disney and its powerful trade association have fought to stop the law’s spread abroad.

Marriott has asked Congress to amend the law.

IBM has a plan to slim it down.

An unusual constellation of powerful companies and industries are fighting to weaken Big Tech by limiting the reach of one of its most sacred laws. The law, known as Section 230, makes it nearly impossible to sue platforms like Facebook or Google for the words, images and videos posted by their users.

The companies’ motivations vary somewhat. Hollywood is concerned about copyright abuse, especially abroad, while Marriott would like to make it harder for Airbnb to fight local hotel laws. IBM wants consumer online services to be more responsible for the content on their sites.

But they all see an opening as both Democrats and Republicans increasingly raise their own concerns about the power of the tech industry and the law. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 has helped Facebook, Google and YouTube grow into giants by holding only the people who post the billions of pieces of content on their services responsible for libel or other legal issues…

Senators Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, are drafting bills that could increase the tech companies’ liability. The Justice Department is conducting a review of the law…

So far, the companies critical of the law have had mixed success with their lobbying. 

Independent Groups

Washington Post: The Trailer: What Republican counterprogramming in Iowa sounds like

By David Weigel

On the Trail: On Thursday afternoon, a coalition of left-wing grass-roots groups announced a joint effort to support Bernie Sanders. Within hours, Pete Buttigieg’s campaign was denouncing yet more “dark money groups” trying to swing the election and aid “Donald Trump’s agenda.”

“We can’t fall behind on our fundraising efforts when Bernie Sanders’ dark money groups are stockpiling hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Buttigieg’s campaign wrote in an email to donors.

“Senator Bernie Sanders has NINE – yes, you read that correctly – nine Super PACs banding together to raise money, organize, and advertise on behalf of his campaign.”

It was a heated reaction to “People Power for Bernie,” nine groups that had already endorsed Sanders for president and by no means considered themselves “super PACs,” a term of campaign law that did not apply to them. The groups were actually nonprofits, some with a tax status that does not require them to release their donors…

“Mayor Buttigieg knows we aren’t a super PAC,” said Derrick Crowe, the spokesman for People’s Action, another group in the coalition. “We know that because he spoke at our forum in Iowa in September and actively sought our endorsement. He should immediately correct the record and tell his supporters the truth.” … 

As the Iowa campaign winds down, some Democrats and liberals have made peace with the reality of 2020: There will be “dark money,” and there will be super PACs. They just hope much of it will benefit them.

Online Speech Platforms 

Twitter Blog: Building rules in public: Our approach to synthetic & manipulated media

By Yoel Roth and Ashita Achuthan

It’s our responsibility to create rules on Twitter that are fair and set clear expectations for everyone on our service. That’s why we announced our plan last fall to once again seek input from around the globe on how we will address synthetic and manipulated media. Today, we’re sharing what we learned and how it shaped the update to The Twitter Rules, how we’ll treat this content when we identify it, as well as something new you’ll see in Twitter as part of this change…

What’s the new rule?

You may not deceptively share synthetic or manipulated media that are likely to cause harm. In addition, we may label Tweets containing synthetic and manipulated media to help people understand the media’s authenticity and to provide additional context.

We’ll use the following criteria to consider Tweets and media for labeling or removal under this rule:

  1. Are the media synthetic or manipulated?
    In determining whether media have been significantly and deceptively altered or fabricated, some factors we consider include: …
  2. Are the media shared in a deceptive manner?
    We’ll also consider whether the context in which media are shared could result in confusion or misunderstanding or suggests a deliberate intent to deceive people about the nature or origin of the content, for example by falsely claiming that it depicts reality.
    We also assess the context provided alongside media, for example: …
  3. Is the content likely to impact public safety or cause serious harm?
    Tweets that share synthetic and manipulated media are subject to removal under this policy if they are likely to cause harm. Some specific harms we consider include: …

Our teams will start labeling Tweets with this type of media on March 5, 2020.

New York Times: Tool to Help Journalists Spot Doctored Images Is Unveiled by Jigsaw

By Davey Alba

It is not always easy to tell the difference between real and fake photographs. But the pressure to get it right has never been more urgent as the amount of false political content online continues to rise.

On Tuesday, Jigsaw, a company that develops cutting-edge tech and is owned by Google’s parent, unveiled a free tool that researchers said could help journalists spot doctored photographs – even ones created with the help of artificial intelligence.

Jigsaw, known as Google Ideas when it was founded, said it was testing the tool, called Assembler, with more than a dozen news and fact-checking organizations around the world…It does not plan to offer the tool to the public.

“We observed an evolution in how disinformation was being used to manipulate elections, wage war and disrupt civil society,” Jared Cohen, Jigsaw’s chief executive, wrote in a blog post about Assembler.

“But as the tactics of disinformation were evolving, so too were the technologies used to detect and ultimately stop disinformation.”

The tool is meant to verify the authenticity of images – or show where they may have been altered. Reporters can feed images into Assembler, which has seven “detectors,” each one built to spot a specific type of photo-manipulation…

Jigsaw also announced an interactive platform showing coordinated disinformation campaigns from around the world over the past decade. 

The database described the players involved in influence operations, common tactics used and how the falsehoods were spread on social media platforms. 

Washington Examiner: FCC commissioner rips Twitter for suspending popular conservative account

By John Gage

The commissioner for the Federal Communications Commission blasted Twitter after the social media company suspended the popular conservative account Comfortably Smug for a tweet about Joe Biden.

“Hard to see how this @ComfortablySmug tweet – which combined known examples of political satire – violated Twitter’s rules against abuse and harassment,” FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said Tuesday on Twitter.

Comfortably Smug, an anonymous conservative troll account, was suspending after tweeting, “Where’s Hunter, Fat?” The tweet references both Biden’s son Hunter Biden and a comment the former vice president made on the campaign trail where he called a voter “fat” and “sedentary” at a campaign event in Iowa.

President Trump appointed Carr to fill the Republican seat on the five-member FCC. The Senate approved him in a unanimous vote.

Comfortably Smug’s account was unlocked again Tuesday. A spokesperson for the account told the Washington Examiner the suspension came after Democrats “systemically” targeted it. “We call on the Democrats to stop this targeted harassment and for Twitter to investigate this abuse of their reporting process to silence critics,” the spokesperson said.

RealClearPolitics: Facebook Chooses Sunlight Over Censorship

By Mark Pfeifle

Facebook says it will not follow the lead of Twitter in banning political advertising, nor will it restrict political ads as Google has done…

It was the right call.

A decade ago, when these social platforms were in their infancy and people all over the world were first becoming empowered to speak their minds, I wrote a Christian Science Monitor column urging that Twitter be nominated for the Nobel Prize; I was serious.

Back then, we were first realizing the awesome potential for unrestricted free speech. Today, the same platforms that empowered people in the streets of Tripoli, Cairo and Tehran are, in the minds of some American presidential candidates, so dangerous that they must be dissolved…

Facebook’s targeting tools enable political activists to communicate more economically with audiences that are likely to engage with them. Using the platform’s pixel and engagement measurement tools, advertisers can further refine their ad content for even greater impact.

Those seeking to limit political advertisers’ access to Facebook assert that these tools and filters can be “weaponized” by bad actors to misinform small groups of voters under cover. By building discrete silos of audiences, they argue, bad actors can be highly effective in spreading outright lies or building communities that engage and spread emotionally charged and hate-filled content.

Twitter and Google, being private companies, have every right to restrict political speech on their platforms, but consider the consequences if Facebook had done so – or, worse, if government were to do so. 

For all of Facebook’s faults, no comparable tool exists to allow underfunded, dark horse candidates and small community organizations to ensure that precious dollars are spent with maximum effectiveness to build awareness, recruit volunteers and raise money.

Candidates and Campaigns

Politico: The New Rules of Campaigning in 2020

By Politico Magazine

As voters prepare to make their first presidential choices in Iowa, POLITICO Magazine asked top political thinkers…to tell us the single most radical way campaigning in 2020 is different from before…

[From K. Sabeel Rahman:] The grassroots sets the agenda…

[From Tom Nichols:] [T]he outsized presence of social media, the rise of Russian information operations and the decline of the importance of traditional media… American elections are no longer solely decided by American voters…

[From Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel and John Zaller:] Today, media coverage, public debates and fundraising around the presidential primaries take place much earlier in the election cycle, competing with elite influence…

For a time, endorsements were leading indicators, changing before poll standing and fundraising. The latter was perhaps especially important: Candidates with few insider endorsements were usually unable to raise much money, putting them at an electoral disadvantage…

Today, the invisible primary is no longer so invisible. It is now a 24-7 “in-your-face” media event that permits and encourages voters to start forming their own opinions many months before the first ballots are cast…

Another resource that can now compete with insider support is money. Today, the wealthy and near-wealthy commonly dabble in politics, and the development of internet fundraising has brought millions of small donors into the process…Candidates lacking insider validation have no trouble raising enough money to make themselves competitive in the primaries.

Washington Post: She sends texts to put Bernie Sanders in the White House – she and 12,000 others

By Isaac Stanley-Becker

As phone calls go to voice mail and email solicitations go unanswered, strategists and technology experts expect a turn to text messaging as a mainstay in 2020…

Gary Coby, the digital director for President Trump’s reelection campaign, is also the chief executive of Opn Sesame, a peer-to-peer platform whose advertising materials declare, “Text is going to kill email.” According to Opn Sesame, 90 percent of text messages are read within five minutes…

“Each message transmitted using the Opn Sesame platform must be individually, manually sent from a single sender to a single recipient,” [president of online fundraising platform WinRed and former RNC digital director Gerrit] Lansing wrote in a filing last year in federal court in West Virginia, where a complaint arose from a voter who had received a text from a political action committee using Opn Sesame’s software.

The role of the human operator is crucial. It is the basis for a petition before the Federal Communications Commission – filed in 2018 by a collection of peer-to-peer companies calling themselves the “P2P Alliance” – asking for clarification that text messages are not subject to “restrictions on calls to mobile phone numbers” spelled out by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. The group pointed to a 2016 advisory from the FCC affirming that, “only manually placed text messages are permissible without prior express consent.” The RNC weighed in, urging the agency to “tread lightly when it comes to regulating political speech.” The petition is still pending.

Wall Street Journal: Michael Bloomberg Put $200 Million Into Presidential Bid in First Five Weeks

By Tarini Parti and Chad Day

Michael Bloomberg put about $200 million of his own money into his presidential campaign in its first five weeks, roughly the same amount as the rest of the Democratic field had spent in the third quarter.

The former mayor of New York City, who is entirely self-funding his campaign, spent $188 million between his late-November entry to the race and the end of last year, according to a disclosure filed with the Federal Election Commission…

The campaign also shelled out $12 million to Hawkfish LLC, a data and digital company Mr. Bloomberg created months before announcing his run…

His campaign is also paying $3.2 million to rent a list of voter-contact information built by Everytown For Gun Safety Action Fund, a group he funds.

Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign spent more than $1.5 million on rent, plus an additional $679,000 that went to short-term, corporate housing for campaign staff. Mr. Bloomberg offered housing regardless of seniority, according to a campaign aide, because his team asked new hires to move to New York City, where short-term housing can be tough to find, on a tight timeline.

During the five-week period covered by the FEC filing, Mr. Bloomberg, who provides food for his staff in the office, also spent $315,000 on meals…

The campaign also spent $50,000 on Bloomberg terminals, the machine used almost exclusively by traders that is at the center of the candidate’s financial data, information and communication empire.

HuffPost: Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar And Sanders Campaigns Raised Thousands From Lobbyists

By Molly Redden

In an election hyper-focused on special interests and their grip on politics, nearly all of the Democratic front-runners for president have pledged to reject campaign donations from lobbyists.

But Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg all raised thousands of dollars from registered federal lobbyists, according to new campaign finance disclosures the candidates were required to file Friday. Donors included lobbyists who have represented the fossil fuel industry, for-profit college companies and major pharmaceutical makers…

All of the Democratic candidates for president have made some promise to reject campaign cash from powerful special interests…

That promise is not as straightforward as it sounds. The common understanding of what counts as lobbying is much broader than what the federal law counts as lobbying. Washington is full of hundreds of people working for issue groups, corporate public relations, trade associations and law firms who don’t have to register as lobbyists even though the bulk of their work involves influencing lawmakers. And for the relative few who are considered lobbyists under federal law, the law is notoriously easy to evade.

Campaigns get to make their own determination about what counts as a lobbyist, and they tend to like the narrower definition.

The States 

Courthouse News: Anti-SLAPP Speech Protections Pushed in Virginia Legislature

By Brad Kutner

Virginia lawmakers advanced a bill Monday aimed at preventing frivolous litigation that could chill speech, in the wake of headline-making defamation lawsuits filed in state courts by out-of-state celebrities and politicians…

[F]ree speech advocates point to the state’s weak strategic lawsuit against public participation, or anti-SLAPP, laws, which makes it more costly to fight against defamation claims and can lead to chilled speech.

But legislation proposed by Virginia Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Richmond, hopes to curb this practice of shopping defamation cases in Virginia courts…

His bill creates a motion to dismiss available to defendant within 45 days of a frivolous defamation case being filed when good cause is shown. It also allows a delay for discovery, the expensive and burdensome part of SLAPP suits, early in the case. In addition, the bill carves out a way to seek attorneys’ fees and other financial remedies for the defendant…

While a Virginia House committee failed to approve the bill Friday, VanValkenburg made some edits over the weekend at the request of committee members. This included removing some language about affidavits and clarifying how the law impacts online reviews.

The bill passed through the committee on a 5-2 vote Monday afternoon. 

Pamplin Media Group: Campaign finance changes worry election advocate

By Jake Thomas, Oregon Capital Bureau

Corvallis Democrat state Rep. Dan Rayfield wants to keep the campaign field for candidates level this year as courts and legislators untangle campaign finance reforms, but he wants to short circuit a voter-approved measure to do that.

Dan Meek, a longtime campaign finance reform advocate, said Rayfield’s proposed legislation would overturn the wishes of Oregon voters while undermining efforts to rein in the freewheeling way state’s politicians raise money.

Oregon is one of a handful of states with no limits on how much money can be donated to political candidates. Rayfield’s legislation, House Bill 4124, comes at a time when Oregon could be on the cusp of enacting campaign finance reform.

Oregon’s Supreme Court is considering a case that could reverse a previous decision that found that limits on campaign contributions violated the state constitution by infringing on free-speech protections. The ruling has stymied previous campaign finance reform attempts. In 2006, voters approved Measure 47, which limited how much individuals could give to candidates and prohibited unions and corporations from donating. But because voters didn’t approve an accompanying constitutional amendment, Measure 47 was blocked by the state Supreme Court from going into effect.

Rayfield said that there’s a question of whether those voter-approved limits would take hold if the Oregon Supreme Court decides campaign restrictions are constitutional. His proposed bill would delay effects of Measure 47 until July 2021. If the court doesn’t reach a decision allowing campaign finance limits by then, the legislation would repeal Measure 47 despite its approval by voters.

Politico: Florida Playbook

By Gary Fineout and Matt Dixon

FOLLOW THE MONEY? – “A $9M ballot amendment to end all – well, some – ballot amendments,” by POLITICO’s Gary Fineout: It’s a simple question: Who’s spending millions of dollars to push a ballot initiative against ballot initiatives? Florida Republicans aren’t looking for answers. Instead, they’re waging their own legislative assault against citizen initiatives… Rep. James Grant, a Tampa Republican and sponsor of the House bill limiting initiatives, admitted his legislation has “flaws” because it wouldn’t give voters information about the groups behind amendment drives. “The problems with financial transparency are issue agnostic, they are across the board,” Grant said…

DARK MONEY DEFENDER – “St. Pete tried to abolish super PACs. Jeff Brandes wants to end that,” by Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas: “A St. Petersburg ordinance that is serving as a national model for dark money reform would be preempted under a last-minute proposal attached to a Senate bill by Sen. Jeff Brandes on Monday. But instead of limiting his bill to the supervisors’ fixes, he used it to take aim at a 2017 ordinance passed by the St. Petersburg City Council that abolishes super PACs and prohibits spending by foreign-influenced corporations in city elections.”

NJ Spotlight: New Jersey’s Dark-Money Law Remains Up in the Air

By Colleen O’Dea

So-called dark-money groups are expected to spend record amounts in this year’s federal elections, particularly in the battlegrounds where Democrats flipped seats two years ago. But New Jersey’s sweeping law to force such organizations to reveal their donors remains in limbo.

A federal judge last October stopped the law from taking effect, saying it is likely unconstitutional, handing at least a temporary victory to the conservative Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which filed suit in federal court just eight days after Gov. Phil Murphy signed the transparency requirements into law.

There was talk of lawmakers voting for a “cleanup” bill to address constitutional concerns both after Murphy signed the bill, under threat of a legislative override of his conditional veto of an earlier version of the same bill, and after U.S. District Court Judge Brian Martinotti issued the preliminary injunction, but the legislative session ended without a fix.

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex), a prime sponsor of the law, has introduced two potential revisions based on concerns raised by Martinotti, Murphy and some organizations, in the new session. But the leaders of both houses of the Legislature asked to intervene in the suit – and the judge granted their request – so any legislative remedy is on hold while the case winds its way through the legal process, he said…

The law requires politically active nonprofits like 501(c)(4) and 527 groups to disclose their large contributors – those giving at least $10,000 – when the groups spend at least $3,000 to influence an election, legislation or regulations…

Americans for Prosperity is arguing the law is unconstitutional for two main reasons. It contends that requiring disclosure violates the right to free speech, as well as the right to advocate anonymously. 



Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly