Daily Media Links 4/18: Minor Party Fights New York’s Campaign-Finance Limits, Social media ad disclosure bill fails in Tennessee, and more…

April 18, 2018   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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In the News

New York Times: What Sean Hannity Has Been Saying About Michael Cohen

By Michael Gold

On April 12, Mr. Hannity spent most of his show discussing James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director who released a memoir describing his relationship with Mr. Trump this week.

But he diverged briefly to discuss a report that a former Federal Election Commission chairman, Bradley Smith, did not think Mr. Cohen should be charged over his payment to Ms. Clifford.

“Smith is arguing that Cohen’s payment is a perfectly legitimate business move,” Mr. Hannity said, “and that any attempt to connect it to an in-kind contribution is an extreme stretch. It doesn’t fit.”

Then Mr. Hannity turned back to other news.

The Courts

Courthouse News Service: Minor Party Fights New York’s Campaign-Finance Limits

By Matt Reynolds

The Upstate Jobs Party sued officials with the New York State Board of Elections, claiming campaign-finance limits favor the major political parties and constrain those that do not have party status but are competing for state offices.

On Friday, founder Martin Babinec and chairman John Bullis joined their party in filing a complaint in Utica federal court against members of the New York State Board of Elections, alleging state laws have “tilted the playing field” in favor of the two major political parties while stifling “new organizations with new ideas.”

The Upstate Jobs Party – which says it advocates for well-paying jobs, “transparency in government and an end to corporate welfare” – claims New York’s campaign-finance limits are preventing it from contributing as much money as it would like to its political campaigns, including this year’s race for governor.

“Plaintiffs seek to ensure equal access to the New York State electoral process, by removing restrictions on political donations that disparately impact political organizations that have different political ideas from state-sanctioned political parties like the Democratic and Republican parties,” the 28-page filing states.

Represented by attorney Jason Torchinsky of Holtzman Vogel, the minor party alleges that the state “selectively applied” campaign-finance limits in violation of the First Amendment and the group’s equal-protection rights under the 14th Amendment.

Free Speech

Concurring Opinions: FAN 188 (First Amendment News)UW Law profs release letter re applicable law governing security fees on college campuses

By Ronald K.L. Collins

The controversy that prompted the letter involved the University’s attempt to impose a fee of at least $17,000 on the College Republicans, this in connection with an event hosted by them on February 10, 2018. The group invited Joey Gibson, a controversial speaker who heads an organization known as Patriot Prayer, to speak on that date…

The University of Washington now plans to change its protocol regarding student-hosted events so that student organizations will not be charged for any security measures needed to protect the students, an invited speaker, or other guests from counter-protesters.

I thought this letter, prepared largely by Professor Eric Schnapper and endorsed by 22 others (including myself), was sufficiently important to post it in its entirety, including endnotes. The letter makes a strong case for First Amendment protection. Equally important, it also reveals how in the past First Amendment law was invoked to protect minority rights in contexts where unruly individuals or crowds sought to silence civil rights demonstrators or where fines or fees were imposed on civil rights groups.

Finally, the UW Law letter provides an informative guide to much of the existing law concerning free speech rights and security fees. In that regard, it should be useful to college administrators, lawyers representing colleges, lawyers representing students and speakers, and to student organizations in general, among others.


Axios: After Zuck, Congress gets busy with privacy bills

By David McCabe

Lawmakers fired up by Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony are homing in on privacy as their Big Tech target, with most active attempts to regulate the industry focusing on companies’ use of consumer data…

It’s not all privacy. The Honest Ads Act increase the disclosure requirements for online political ads. There’s been a push to pass it ahead of the midterms, and it has picked up endorsements from Facebook and Twitter.

But, but, but: Even with the pressure on the companies, no proposal has gained the traction needed to become law. That only becomes harder as the midterms get closer and lawmakers turn their attention from legislating to keeping their jobs.

Fox News: Facebook has been censoring or suppressing conservative speech for years

By Sen. Ted Cruz

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) states: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

This is a good provision. It means that, for example, if you run a blogging platform and someone posts a terrorist threat in the comments section, you’re not treated as the person making the threat. Without Section 230, many social media networks could be functionally unable to operate.

In order to be protected by Section 230, companies like Facebook should be “neutral public forums.” On the flip side, they should be considered to be a “publisher or speaker” of user content if they pick and choose what gets published or spoken.

As I expressed to Mark Zuckerberg, as a private business Facebook has a clear First Amendment right to publish whatever it wants on its website within the bounds of the law. The company can support political causes and oppose ones it disagrees with, just like a private citizen can speak his or her mind or agitate against opposing views.

But if Facebook is busy censoring legal, protected speech for political reasons, the company should be held accountable for the posts it lets through. And it should not enjoy any special congressional immunity from liability for its actions.

Internet Speech Regulation

Quartz: What Facebook should fear most isn’t future regulation-it’s what’s already here

By Janet Guyon

FOSTA is the first major revision to section 230 of the Communications Decency Act passed two decades ago that allowed websites such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter, to flourish by protecting them from civil liability for what people posted on their sites…

“The newly enacted law holds all internet services accountable for some portion of user content,” Goldman says. “And because internet services can’t figure out which content complies and which doesn’t, the law is actually regulating everything.” Without adequate AI tools or enough people to review content, the law is forcing all websites into self-censorship. “That is why it is so pernicious,” Goldman added. He predicts smaller websites will either go out of business or never start up…

But the real existential threat to Facebook, Goldman says, is the current campaign to attack so-called “fake news.” …

The US, of course, retains a First Amendment right to free speech and freedom of the press, but the early moves to force websites to take responsibility for a portion of their content is likely to have a chilling effect. Without the exemption that made Facebook possible, the US would probably not have the plethora of online review sites like Rotten Tomatoes, Foursquare, or Yelp.

And certainly, Mr. President, we would not have Twitter.


Phoenix New Times: Postcards Prompt FEC Complaint Against Hiral Tipirneni’s Campaign in CD8

By  Joseph Flaherty

Arizona’s Public Integrity Alliance alleges that the volunteer-run Postcards to Voters group and Tipirneni’s campaign violated campaign-finance law governing in-kind contributions and coordination by sending postcards promoting Tipirneni to households in the state’s 8th Congressional District…

Postcards to Voters promotes Democratic candidates by mailing handwritten postcards to likely Democratic voters in contested elections, according to the group’s website. The initiative began in March 2017 during a hotly contested Georgia special election. But because the group is not registered as a political-action committee, the Public Integrity Alliance says that its volunteer activity amounts to illegal coordination and unaccountable in-kind campaign contributions…

The Alliance’s complaint alleges that because the postcard drive likely cost more than $1,000 in postage and other costs, Postcards to Voters should have registered with the FEC as a political committee and reported its spending on an effort designed to elect Tipirneni…

The complaint from the Alliance also argues that Postcards to Voters violated FEC regulations by having volunteers take phrases directly from candidates and their campaigns and put them into their handwritten messages.

The States

WKRN Nashville: Social media ad disclosure bill fails in Tennessee

By Associated Press

A Tennessee bill that would require the disclosure of who paid for political ads on social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook is likely dead for the year after failing to get enough votes in the House on Monday.

The state Senate passed the measure last month. However, the bill couldn’t get the support of a majority of members of the House. The main sponsors of the legislation were Jason Powell and Jeff Yarbro, both Democrats from Nashville. The House voted 43-33. An additional 14 members were present but didn’t vote. There was little debate before the vote, so it’s not clear why House members rejected the measure.

The bill would have required the disclosure on the ad itself, at another linked site or on the profile page of the social media platform…

Yarbro has said Tennessee law currently implicitly requires disclosure for social media, but the bill would have made it explicit.

New York Times: How New Yorkers Could Put Albany to Work Again

By Editorial Board

A working Democratic majority in the Senate could show political courage by taking on the state’s campaign finance laws, essentially one giant loophole that helps promote Albany’s dysfunction. They could start by ending New York’s L.L.C. scam: As the rules stand, a donor can brazenly contribute as much as he or she wants to a candidate by creating multiple limited liability companies that separately funnel money to a single campaign. The Democrats should also enact comprehensive public financing of campaigns, a measure Senate Republicans have blocked that would encourage competition in state elections.

Kansas City Star: AG Hawley: Greitens committed ‘potentially criminal acts’ involving veterans charity

By Jason Hancock, Lindsay Wise, and Bryan Lowry

Attorney General Josh Hawley announced Tuesday that his office has uncovered potential criminal wrongdoing by Gov. Eric Greitens, a fellow Republican, and has turned that evidence over to the St. Louis prosecutor.

Hawley said that during an investigation into the Mission Continues, a charity founded by Greitens, his office “uncovered evidence of wrongdoing that goes beyond Missouri’s charity laws” and indicates “potentially criminal acts were committed by Gov. Eric Greitens.”

Hawley, who is a candidate for U.S. Senate, said his team found evidence that Greitens allegedly obtained and transmitted the charity’s donor list for political fundraising. He said there is no evidence of wrongdoing by the charity, only by the governor.

“And he did all of this without permission of the Mission Continues,” Hawley said.

In These Times: Law Enforcement Has Quietly Backed Anti-Protest Bills in at Least 8 States Since Trump’s Election

By Simon Davis-Cohen and Sarah Lazare

According to research conducted for In These Times in partnership with Ear to the Ground, law enforcement in at least eight states-Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Washington and Wyoming-lobbied on behalf of anti-protest bills in 2017 and 2018. The bills ran the gamut from punishing face coverings at protests to increasing penalties for “economic disruption” and highway blockage to criminalizing civil protests that interfere with “critical infrastructure” like oil pipelines.

Emboldened by the Trump administration, at least 31 states have considered 62 pieces of anti-protest legislation since November 2016, with at least seven enacted and 31 still pending.

KTAR News Arizona: Phoenix amendment requiring ID of dark money donors moves forward

By Kathy Cline

The city’s Sustainability, Housing, Efficiency, and Neighborhoods subcommittee unanimously decided to move forward with a city-charter amendment requiring the identification of independent groups and donors in city elections, councilmember Kate Gallego said Tuesday…

That change requires all groups spending more than $1,000 on local races to disclose their donors and organization name. The “Sunshine Ordinance” is aimed to eliminate independent groups’ anonymous political spending – often dubbed “dark money” – in local elections…

On April 5, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill banning local governments from requiring non-profits, the most common type of organization donating to political campaigns, to disclose their funding sources. Supporters say donors to political groups have a right to remain anonymous for fear of harassment.

Alex Baiocco

Alex Baiocco