Daily Media Links 3/6: FEC Online Ad Rulemaking Looks Headed for Partisan Clash, Why a crackdown on Facebook, Google and Twitter could come from the states before Congress, and more…

March 6, 2018   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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In the News

Washington Post: Provisions attached to budget bills could reshape campaign finance laws

By Michelle Ye Hee Lee

The most significant and best-known proposal would repeal part of the Johnson Amendment, which limits political activity by tax-exempt churches and nonprofit groups…

“I think that many of the religious organizations make a good point that they should be able to endorse candidates from the pulpit,” said David Keating, president of the nonprofit Institute for Free Speech, which opposes limits on political speech and advertising…

Another budget rider, this one attached to the Senate version of the budget bill, would relax caps on the amount of money that candidates can spend in coordination with their parties for communications…

One provision in the House budget bill would prevent new rules requiring businesses seeking federal contracts to disclose their political spending.

It also continues two riders already written into existing law: One blocks the Securities and Exchange Commission from acting on proposed rules that would require publicly traded companies to disclose their political contributions to shareholders; another blocks the Internal Revenue Service from creating new standards for “dark money” groups, which are not required to disclose their donors or political spending.

Capital Research Center: Featured Panel: Rethinking the Citizens United Decision

The panel was held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and was moderated by William Schambra of the Hudson Institute. Our featured panelists included Gara LaMarche of the Democracy Alliance, Abby Levine of Alliance for Justice, and David Keating of the Institute for Free Speech…

The panelists questioned how 501(c)(3) giving has changed since the controversial decision, and debated whether nonprofit organizations should be more active in politics or remain aloof from the broader political debate.

“Too many groups are self-censoring, sitting on the sidelines, and not talking about policy issues,” Levine said. “One of the bigger issues is that organizations do a lot less than they can and should be urged to do more.”

Keating commented on nonprofit organizations’ ability to produce solutions to policy problems before they arise that would be helpful in quickly solving those same problems in the future. He also questioned their efficiency in enacting instant change by suggesting that groups that “want to influence elections and campaigns” should “get in and do it directly,” rather than attempting to influence the political process through 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) organizations.

“Civic engagement of nonprofits in public concerns is a good thing,” LaMarche responded, and “you can do it without making nonprofits combatants in a political war.”

New from the Institute for Free Speech 

The Price of Corporate Speech Rights: Sometimes They’ll Say Things You Dislike

By Luke Wachob

A wave of businesses distancing themselves from the National Rifle Association is increasing skepticism of corporate political power among conservatives. A recent article in The Federalist argues that corporate political activism goes against “the true spirit of a republic” and amounts to “rule by an unelected elite.” These views overstate the power of corporate executives to steer politics at their whim, and misrepresent the dynamics driving the current trend of corporate political activism…

Legal restrictions on the ability of businesses to promote political messages in the name of fairness should be rejected as quickly as a proposal for government to regulate the ideological diversity of a newspaper’s op-ed page…

Even a heavily-regulated campaign finance system would not prevent a businessman from making his fortune in one industry, buying a media outlet, and using it to promote his opinion of candidates and issues without limit. If the mere spending of money to promote a political viewpoint is inappropriate (and it’s worth noting that businesses terminating relationships with the NRA or announcing changes to internal policies aren’t necessarily advocating for changes to public policy, although some are), then press freedom must be regarded as the ultimate loophole.

Americans don’t embrace this view, however, because they recognize that the dangers of restricting speech exceed the dangers of tolerating bad or biased speech. 

The Courts

San Bernardino Sun: Colonies Partners files federal lawsuit against San Bernardino County, top state officials over corruption case

By Joe Nelson and Richard K. De Atley

Rancho Cucamonga investor group Colonies Partners LP on Thursday, March 1, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos and former state Attorneys General Jerry Brown and Kamala Harris, seeking $80 million in damages following a bungled bribery case the developer claims sullied its reputation…

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Riverside, alleges the county and state engaged in an “illegal campaign of retaliation, intimidation, and harassment” following a $102 million settlement between the county and Colonies Partners…

Colonies Partners, according to the lawsuit, exercised its First Amendment right by contributing $400,000 to “general purpose political action committees (PACs) affiliated with pro-development politicians, including members of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and others who had supported the settlement.”

Prosecutors at the District Attorney’s and state Attorney General’s offices, on the other hand, claimed the PAC contributions were bribes by Burum in exchange for his former co-defendants facilitating the settlement. Yet no juror sitting on Burum’s, Kirk’s and Biane’s jury felt the prosecution proved that during the nine-month-long trial…

Larson described the defendants’ actions in the prosecution as a “relentless drive … to punish Colonies for having exercised its constitutional rights, and to chill Colonies from daring to exercise its constitutional rights in the future.”

Jackson Clarion Ledger: Starkville Board of Aldermen to reconsider Pride Parade rejection

By Anthony McDougle

Starkville Pride’s attorney, Roberta A. Kaplan, a renowned civil rights attorney and founding partner of Kaplan & Company, LLP, said she hopes the board will make the right call this time around. 

“While we are obviously disappointed that the Board of Aldermen did not grant our clients’ application the first time around, we are hopeful that the board will use this opportunity to do the right thing – and follow the Constitution,” Kaplan said… 

Starkville Pride filed a federal lawsuit last week against the city of Starkville for denying a permit application to hold a parade.  Despite widespread town support, the city’s Board of Aldermen voted 4-3 against allowing the group to host its parade, originally scheduled for March 24.

According to a statement released by Kaplan’s law firm,  the board’s decision to ban “is a textbook violation of the First Amendment and its discriminatory treatment, based solely on LGBT-related animus, violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.”

The case, Starkville Pride et. al. v. City of Starkville, was filed Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, Eastern Division.

Chicago Tribune: Lincolnshire man sues village over use of tax dollars to lobby against labor unions

By Karen Ann Cullotta

Lincolnshire man and labor union member is suing the village, claiming officials’ use of tax dollars to pay state lobbyists promoting anti-organized labor policies violates his First Amendment rights.

Dixon O’Brien, a professional engineer, and his union, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, are plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in the Eastern Division of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

In the lawsuit, O’Brien, 60, and Local 150 claim Lincolnshire officials use tax dollars to pay for the village’s membership to the Springfield-based Illinois Municipal League, which uses the fees to fund lobbying efforts to “limit collective bargaining rights, reduce pension benefits and slash wages on publicly funded construction projects.”

“As a union member, the IML’s lobbying efforts not only conflict with my personal beliefs, but in many instances would directly harm me,” O’Brien said Thursday in an email. “I should not be forced to fund attacks on my values, well-being and paycheck. This is a violation of my free speech, and I will fight to put a stop to it.”

Orlando Sentinel: Mount Dora should take hint from the universe and settle ‘Starry Night’ lawsuit

By Lauren Ritchie

The city ordered owners Nancy Nemhauser and Lubomir Jastrzebski to paint over the mural with a solid color and started charging the couple $100 a day just to them motivated to comply. Never mind that Nemhauser and Jastrzebski had filed an appeal in federal court, and that the sensible thing would be to put the fines on hold until the matter is settled. No. Mount Dora just had to get nasty.

The amount of the couple’s fine was more than $10,000 when the pair filed, with the help of the Pacific Legal Foundation…

After complaints, the city tried to call the artwork “graffiti.” That didn’t fly. Then, the city’s special master for code violations declared the mural is a “sign” and as such, must be painted over in 30 days.

Here is the city’s absurd definition of a sign:

“Any letter, figure, character, mark, plane, point, marquee sign, design, poster, pictorial, picture, stroke, stripe, line, trademark, reading matter, inflatable device, or illuminated surface, which shall be so constructed, placed, attached, painted, erected, fastened, or manufactured in any manner whatsoever, so that the same shall be used for the attraction of the public to any place, subject, person, firm, corporation, public performance, article, machine, or merchandise, whatsoever, which is displayed in any manner whatsoever.”

In other words, anything at all. No court is going to buy that.


Bloomberg Government: FEC Online Ad Rulemaking Looks Headed for Partisan Clash

By Ken Doyle

The FEC’s chairwoman, Caroline Hunter and vice chairwoman, Ellen Weintraub, are set to present alternative proposals for new rules requiring disclosure of those who fund online ads. Their differences raise questions about whether the FEC will be able to advance the long-awaited online ad rulemaking at a scheduled March 8 commission meeting.

Weintraub, a Democrat, unilaterally released details of her proposal last month in a move that angered Hunter, a Republican. Hunter said in a phone interview with Bloomberg Government that the move demonstrated that, for Weintraub, “grandstanding trumps good public policy.” …

Hunter said it was her goal to approve a rulemaking notice at the March 8 commission meeting. She said the FEC Republicans would unveil a proposal before the meeting that would be “clear, flexible, forward looking, and recognize the unique nature of speech on the Internet.” The proposal would strive to “provide concise guidance to empower the public to engage in political speech without asking permission from the FEC,” she added.

Hunter and Weintraub agreed on one thing: any FEC rule would affect only a narrow slice of political messages. The FEC has legal authority to regulate only paid ads that are sponsored by federal candidates or other regulated political committees, as well as paid ads from outside groups that call directly for votes for or against a federal candidate.

AL.com: Pro-Doug Jones super PAC failed to disclose donors: Watchdog group’s complaint

By Howard Koplowitz

The Campaign Legal Center is accusing the Highway 31 super PAC of engaging in a “secrecy scheme to spend $4.2 million in the race” to aid Jones, a spokesman for the center told AL.com.

Highway 31’s sole report to the Federal Election Commission before the election said it spent $1.15 million but raised no money. The group, headquarted in Birmingham, claimed its vendors lent them the money on credit.

Two weeks after the Dec. 12 special election between Jones and Republican Roy Moore, Senate Majority PAC — a Democratic super PAC based in D.C. — told the Associated Press that it was Highway 31’s main backer.

The Campaign Legal Center’s complaint to the FEC accuses Highway 31 of not diclosing that fact and misrepresenting its donors.

“Democrats talk the talk about supporting transparency in political money, but then national Democratic groups push aggressive new legal theories to undermine the transparency laws that are on the books,” said Brendan Fischer, director, federal and FEC reform at the center. “Despite laws requiring that super PACs disclose their donors, Alabama voters went to the polls on election day without knowing who was backing Highway 31. This secrecy scheme cooked up by Highway 31 and its backers threatens to create a new disclosure loophole that will be exploited by billionaires and operatives supporting both parties, unless the FEC does its job and enforces our disclosure laws.”

Internet Speech Regulation

Washington Post: Why a crackdown on Facebook, Google and Twitter could come from the states before Congress

By Tony Romm

Alonzo Washington delivered a dire warning to his fellow delegates in Maryland’s legislature last month: Russia might try to influence their elections, too.

So the Democratic veteran set about doing something that’s eluded his federal counterparts in the nation’s capital: advancing legislation to regulate tech giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter…

Along with Maryland, leaders from New York to Washington state have pitched new bills that would make more information about online political ads available to local voters. In California, meanwhile, state leaders are taking aim at the scourge of social-media bots…

One emerging battleground is Maryland, where legislators this year have proposed a new bill that would require tech companies to make copies of political ads about state candidates available for public inspection. The bill backed by Alonzo Washington, the delegate from Maryland, had a February hearing in the state House, and the Senate convened its own session Thursday…

In New York on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo teamed up with lawmakers in the state Assembly to pass its own version of the federal Honest Ads Act. It still must survive a vote in the Republican-controlled state Senate…

Even cities are taking on tech giants: Officials in Seattle are trying to tap decades-old campaign finance rules to force Facebook and Google to disclose more data about who pays for political ads in local elections.

Independent Groups

National Review: Banning Speech: Next Front in the Gun Culture Wars

By Jonathan S. Tobin

Gun-control advocates are now pressuring Amazon, Google, AT&T, Roku, and other streaming platforms to ban NRA TV – the organization’s private channel of gun-rights advocacy and other weapons-related programming. This takes the fight against the group to a different and dangerous level. It is one thing to condemn the NRA and even to ask businesses not to work with a group that offends some people. It is quite another to silence the point of view of an organization that represents millions of Americans. If successful, the ban on NRA TV will mark a turning point not so much in the battle over gun control as in the debate over political speech and what is permissible within the public square…

[T]hese companies should also understand that if they ban NRA TV, they’ll be headed down a very slippery slope. Soon, pro-gun opinions would not be the only ones to be censored.

There may be no constitutional right to a spot on a streaming spectrum. But it’s absurd to think that the NRA’s views are so dangerous that they can’t be heard…

As long as there are two sides in this debate, each is entitled to a hearing. In culture wars, opponents wish to silence each other rather than agree to disagree. But controlling the flow of ideas in this manner is contrary to the spirit of democracy. By seeking to silence the NRA rather than defeat its arguments, its liberal critics are overstepping. 

Corporate Speech

Axios: United States of Corporate America

By Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen

Be it guns or global warming, a fascinating trend is unfolding in the Trump era: Corporations, under intense social pressure, are filling a void left by governmental gridlock or avoidance…

Just in the past year, there’s been a huge change in consumer sentiment – and therefore in corporate incentives, Axios’ Sara Fischer points out:

When Trump took office, several studies (AdAge, 4A’s) suggested that wading into political and societal issues proved risky for brands.

Now, consumers are looking for brands to take stands on societal issues: 66% of consumers find it important for brands to speak out on socio-political issues like gun control, according to new data from Sprout Social.

So corporate social activism is actually good politics – internally and externally:

58% of millennials, 55% of GenXers and 51% of baby boomers think it’s important that brands they support invest in causes they care about, according to a report from InMoment…

Fossil-fuel companies are being driven less by pressure from social media or millennials and much more by activist investors urging responsibility and disclosure, Axios’ Amy Harderpoints out.

One Wall Street executive’s thought bubble, via email: “Companies respond to reputational risk aggressively. Activist shareholders, public pressure from customers amplified through social media, and business press all combine to move corporate leadership to engage on issues to protect brands.”

The States

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Missouri attorney general announces probe into Greitens’ former charity

By Jack Suntrup

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announced Thursday that his office had opened an inquiry into The Mission Continues, the charity Gov. Eric Greitens founded in 2007 and left in 2014.

“The Attorney General’s Office has an open inquiry into the charitable activities of The Mission Continues, pursuant to the AGO’s enforcement responsibilities under the consumer protection and charitable registration and reporting laws,” Loree Anne Paradise, Hawley’s deputy chief of staff, said in an email to the Post-Dispatch.

Questions about Greitens’ ties to his former charity have swirled since October 2016, when The Associated Press reported that Greitens, a Republican, had raised more than $2 million for his campaign from donors or entities that had also given significant amounts to The Mission Continues.

The AP obtained a charity donor list and reported then that the charity sharing the list could have violated laws that bar 501(c)(3) organizations from taking sides in elections.

Alex Baiocco

Alex Baiocco


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