Daily Media Links 3/31

March 31, 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

Fox News: Democrats’ elections bill raises major free speech concerns, experts warn

By Evie Fordham

Election legislation being pushed by Democrats raises First Amendment concerns and could harm free speech, experts warn…

New disclosure requirements under [H.R. 1 and S. 1] would have a chilling effect in today’s “blacklist culture,” former FEC Chairman Brad Smith told Fox News in an interview Thursday. The legislation would impose tougher donor disclosure requirements on nonprofits and other groups. 

“The Supreme Court has long recognized that forced disclosure can frighten people away from speaking. … We think that’s what’s intentional, that’s what the sponsors of this bill hope to happen,” said Smith, who is now the chairman of the Institute of Free Speech. “It should be none of the government’s business.” …

“It would require a lot more filing of reports, which is in itself burdensome. Of course, a lot of donors don’t want to be exposed to that particularly, in our current blacklist culture,” Smith said, explaining that the bill could affect even small donors.

“One of the reasons people give to groups rather than speak themselves is for the protection it gives,” he said. “What views will we hear if people decide ‘It’s too dangerous for my business?'”

Smith warned that the legislation would affect ads not just supporting or opposing candidates but also weighing in on specific legislation or judicial nominees.

“It also has a provision, when you made these kinds of ads, to declare whether you’re supporting or not a particular candidate. … What if you support neither?” Smith said, adding that that constitutes “forced speech.”


New York Times: Democrats Splinter Over Strategy for Pushing Through Voting Rights Bill

By Nicholas Fandos and Michael Wines

While few Democrats are willing to publicly say so, the details of the more than 800-page bill…have become a point of simmering contention. Some proponents argue that Democrats should break off a narrower bill dealing strictly with protecting voting rights to prevent the legislation, known as the For the People Act, from collapsing amid divisions over other issues.

“Democrats have a narrow opportunity. There is a window here that could close anytime,” said Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine. “I worry the kind of fights necessary to keep even the Democratic coalition together could blow up the whole thing and lose the chance to get anything done.”

Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, has signaled that he is unwilling to vote for any elections bill that is not bipartisan.

A broad coalition of Democrats and liberal advocacy groups insist that the measure should not be broken apart, arguing that now is the time for an ambitious overhaul…

The most visible hurdle to date is the apparent opposition of Mr. Manchin…

Behind the scenes, two election lawyers close to the White House and congressional Democrats said Mr. Manchin was not the only one on their side with reservations about the measure. They insisted on anonymity to discuss the concerns because few Democrats want to concede that there are cracks in the coalition backing the measure or incur the wrath of the legion of liberal advocacy groups that have made its enactment their top priority…

Some fixtures of the party establishment believe the small-dollar public financing plan, which sets a six-to-one matching program for donations under $200, could incentivize and turbocharge primary challenges, particularly from the far left, by allowing them to cut into incumbents’ usual fund-raising edge more quickly.


Insider: Georgia’s Republican Party accused of illegally accepting in-kind contributions from an election integrity nonprofit in a new FEC complaint

By Grace Panetta

Two government watchdog groups are filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing the Georgia Republican Party of illegally accepting in-kind contributions from True the Vote, a nonprofit that engaged in election-related activities around the Georgia Senate runoffs…

In the complaint, filed Wednesday morning and first obtained by Insider, lawyers for Campaign Legal Center Action and Common Cause Georgia accuse the Georgia GOP of unlawfully taking and then failing to properly report in-kind corporate contributions from the group in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act…

“True the Vote is prohibited from making in-kind contributions to political parties, and True the Vote is prohibited from coordinating political expenditures with parties, like the Georgia Republican Party,” Brendan Fischer, director of Campaign Legal Center Action’s federal reform program and one of the lawyers filing the complaint, told Insider. “The relevant legal standard is whether True the Vote spent money in connection with an election, and in some ways, that’s a broader standard than what might apply to other entities.” …

The organization was more than open about its coordination in those activities with the Georgia GOP. As the complaint lays out, the group announced their partnership in a press release on its website that quoted Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer’s praise of the group, promoted the partnership on social media, and touted it in fundraising emails to raise more money for the effort. 

“This was a pretty egregious violation, and I’ve never seen one quite like it,” Fischer said. “Typically the kinds of violations that we see would at least be harder to detect.” 

Online Speech Platforms

Nick Clegg: You and the Algorithm: It Takes Two to Tango

In a recent article for The Atlantic, Adrienne LaFrance compared Facebook to a Doomsday Machine: “a device built with the sole purpose of destroying all human life.” In the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, the filmmakers imagine a digital control room where engineers press buttons and turn dials to manipulate a teenage boy through his smartphone. In her book Surveillance Capitalism, the Harvard social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff paints a picture of a world in which tech companies have constructed a massive system of surveillance that allows them to manipulate people’s attitudes, opinions and desires.

In each of these dystopian depictions, people are portrayed as powerless victims, robbed of their free will. Humans have become the playthings of manipulative algorithmic systems. But is this really true? Have the machines really taken over?

The States

Sludge: Virginia Senate Blocks Ban on Personal Use of Campaign Funds

By David Moore

While the ban on personal use was one of many campaign finance reform bills that were abandoned earlier in the legislative session, the General Assembly did take one action on cleaner elections and greater trust in government: the creation of a joint subcommittee to study and issue a report on comprehensive campaign finance reforms. 

Morgan said their group and allies will be engaging with the joint subcommittee process in ways that they hope will lead to bills being reintroduced next year with senators’ concerns assuaged. Far from dropping out of the legislative deliberations, their chapter and other grassroots groups including Voters’ Right to Know, the League of Women Voters of Virginia, and Take Back Our Republic are already seeking to participate in the report before it’s finalized in late October and released in November. 

“So we can better inform the study group, we started a year ago looking at best practices in terms of campaign finance limitations and disclosures, and enforcement and monitoring structures, to help guide on what the best practices are,” Morgan said. She said their chapter has been consulting with nonpartisan government ethics and reform groups Campaign Legal Center and Common Cause. “I think the commission should get feedback from legislators about their perceptions of campaign finance, look at public funding of elections as well as an independent ethics commission, to translate into a win-win for legislators and the public.” …

In what is now the second year of unified Democratic control of Virginia government, reformers were pushing for an end to what one American Promise volunteer called in an op-ed the state’s “pay-to-play regime.”

Politico: New Jersey lawmaker wants hate crime law to protect journalists

By Matt Friedman

New Jersey’s hate crime law could soon protect a new group of people: journalists.

State Sen. Dick Codey (D-Essex) on Thursday introduced a bill, NJ S3602, that would add “members of the press or media” to the list of protected classes covered under New Jersey’s bias intimidation law.

Codey said in a phone interview that he introduced the legislation after seeing the heated rhetoric against journalists by former President Donald Trump, who often called reporters who wrote critical articles “enemies of the people.”

“I just thought it was the right time. People are super sensitive and we need to protect the free press,” Codey said. “It makes a statement, more about intimidation than anything.”

The bill is modeled after a similar proposal in Florida, which faced backlash from journalists there.

Austin Monitor: Prop H critics want more inclusivity in ‘democracy dollars’ program

By Chad Swiatecki

Advocates for local immigrant workers have come out against the “democracy dollars” ballot proposal set to go before voters in May, and are pushing City Council to pass an ordinance expanding its eligibility if the initiative succeeds.

Proposition H would create a city-funded campaign finance program giving vouchers totaling $100 to registered voters, which they could donate to City Council and mayoral candidates in election years. The proposition, which was largely modeled after a program in Seattle, is intended to increase participation in elections and reduce the influence of wealthy donors on local races.

Groups such as Workers Defense Fund and Union Local 23, which represent large populations of working immigrants with green cards who are unable to register to vote, have criticized the proposal because it excludes those residents as well as those who have lost the ability to vote due to their criminal history.

Those groups also want new limits put in place on individual donations and total fundraising amounts.

ABC News: Students successfully lobby for new state law excusing them from school to protest

By Julia Cherner

Middle and high school students across Virginia will soon be excused from school to participate in a protest or civic event thanks to a bipartisan group of students from Virginia Young Democrats and Virginia Teenage Republicans who joined forces to successfully lobby for the new law, which started as a school board policy in Fairfax County.

The policy, which goes into effect July 1, grants students an excused absence from school one day a year to “engage in a civic or political event.” School districts in other states have passed similar policies, but Virginia is the first to pass one statewide.

New York Daily News: N.Y. state Sen. Brian Benjamin’s campaign expenses raise questions about propriety

By Michael Gartland

New York state Sen. Brian Benjamin used money from his Senate campaign account to pay for “constituent services” at a Harlem jazz club at almost exactly the same time he and his wife held their wedding celebration there, raising questions about whether the uptown lawmaker may have abused campaign finance rules.

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly


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