In the News
By Evie Fordham
A provision in House Democratic voting reform bill H.R. 1 that would require the government match congressional candidates’ small-dollar donations would amplify polarization and reward candidates at the extreme ends of their parties, like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Marjorie Taylor Greene, experts told Fox News.
“For those who really are thinking this will help to bring more average Americans in, get more diverse views, moderate the system and do away with special interests, I think they’re going to be very disappointed,” Brad Smith, founder of the Institute for Free Speech and a former FEC chairman, told Fox News in an interview.
“It doesn’t do away with special interests. It just changes the special interests and how they go about it,” he said…
Institute for Free Speech President David Keating described the provision “as a subsidy for Congress’ most powerful, famous, and notorious members.”
“In just three months, several candidates have already received enough donations to trigger the maximum allowable taxpayer subsidy — roughly $6.7 million in public funds,” Keating told Fox News in a statement. “They include controversial figures such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Matt Gaetz, Nancy Pelosi, and Adam Schiff. If H.R. 1 becomes law, candidates who dominate the media will dominate fundraising.”
The Pulse Pensacola: School Board Candidate Brings Federal Lawsuit Against State of Florida
With the help of the Institute for Free Speech, [Escambia County school board candidate Kells] Hetherington filed a federal lawsuit challenging Florida Statute 106.143(3), which states: “A political advertisement of a candidate running for nonpartisan office may not state the candidate’s political party affiliation. This section does not prohibit a political advertisement from stating the candidate’s partisan-related experience. A candidate for nonpartisan office is prohibited from campaigning based on party affiliation.”
Hetherington alleges that candidates have a First Amendment right to speak to voters about their political views and background, and that while states may establish nonpartisan offices, they arguably cannot prohibit candidates from mentioning their membership in a political party…
Hetherington’s position further argues that party membership is one of the most valuable pieces of information about a candidate to the voting public, giving an immediate impression of the candidate’s outlook and perspective…
Hetherington and the Institute for Free Speech are asking a federal court to strike down this provision as unconstitutional.
New from the Institute for Free Speech
By Alex Baiocco
Last year, the Institute for Free Speech pointed to several trends likely to impact Americans’ political speech rights. On the whole, the most significant threats were prevented by broad coalitions of advocacy groups working to defend First Amendment freedoms. Unfortunately, efforts to restrict speech, press, assembly, and petition rights will not subside in 2021 – especially with a new occupant in the White House and new majorities in Congress with a disturbing lack of respect for the First Amendment. However, 2021 has already brought new opportunities to defend and strengthen First Amendment protections.
By Steven Lemongello
An Orlando civil rights attorney filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Orange County Sheriff John Mina in what may be the first legal challenge to Florida’s “anti-riot” law that went into effect this week.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Orlando by attorney Aaron Carter Bates on behalf of the Lawyers Matter Task Force, a nonprofit advocacy group…
“These statutes are unconstitutional on their face,” the lawsuit claims, because “they target protected speech under the First Amendment [and] they are written with the intent of defining any such protest as a ‘riot’ or participation in such protest as ‘inciting a riot.’”…
Similar laws have been struck down on First Amendment grounds in other states. A federal judge blocked an anti-riot law in South Dakota in 2019, and in Virginia a court struck down a 1968 anti-riot provision in 2020.
The Dispatch: The First Amendment, Now More Than Ever
By David French
Did you catch this appalling story from Utah? After a data breach disclosed donors to a Christian crowdfunding site, a reporter went to a local paramedic’s house to ask him why he donated $10 to the defense fund for Kyle Rittenhouse, the young man accused of murdering two protesters in Kenosha Wisconsin last year. There are reports that another Rittenhouse donor outed in the breach has been fired from his job.
Public exposure of anonymous donations can lead to exactly the kind of unwanted attention described above, and it can dramatically chill protected speech. In an era of public naming and shaming (along with a dreadful amount of threatened and actual political violence), it’s increasingly urgent that courts protect the constitutional right to anonymous speech. And, as luck would have it, the Supreme Court has a chance to issue a vital and necessary ruling this term.
On Monday the court will hear oral arguments in two consolidated cases, Thomas More Law Center v. Rodriquez and Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Rodriquez, that challenge the state of California’s donor disclosure rules. The Thomas More Law Center’s cert petition outlined the stakes well:
“For those associated with charities that speak on contentious matters—like Petitioner the Thomas More Law Center (the “Law Center”)—disclosing donor information to the Attorney General’s Registry poses an imminent danger of hate mail, violence, ostracization, and boycotts. Only the most stalwart supporters will give money under such a toxic cloud. Most will reasonably conclude that the risk of association is too great, with the result that groups who make the most threats will effectively shut down those with whom they disagree.”
By David Boaz
Universities, corporations, nonprofit groups, and other institutions are increasingly pressured to take positions on political issues such as climate change, systemic racism, diversity, and a new election law in Georgia. Writing at Arc Digital, Spencer Case warns of the consequences of this politicization:
“If most major corporations, scientific organizations, universities, and other prominent entities are committed to political goals—especially the same political goals—then personal neutrality will be difficult or impossible to maintain. Many people will be conscripted into political speech when they’d rather remain silent.…Politics has its place, but that place shouldn’t be everywhere, all the time. When politics is pervasive, it is worse. There must be space for political neutrality, and this means that we must be able to remain silent on political matters in most contexts without (too many) adverse social consequences.”
Reading his article, I was reminded of some earlier instances of such demands for public declarations of political stands.
By Gabriela Schulte
A majority of voters believe it’s inappropriate for corporations to engage in political speech, a new Hill-HarrisX poll finds.
Sixty-one percent of registered voters in the April 16-19 survey said it is not appropriate for corporations to engage in political speech.
By contrast, 39 percent said it is appropriate.
Seventy-four percent of Republicans and 65 percent of independents oppose political speech from corporations while 55 percent of Democrats say it is appropriate.
Online Speech Platforms
By Jana Winter
The law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service has been quietly running a program that tracks and collects Americans’ social media posts, including those about planned protests, according to a document obtained by Yahoo News.
The details of the surveillance effort, known as iCOP, or Internet Covert Operations Program, have not previously been made public. The work involves having analysts trawl through social media sites to look for what the document describes as “inflammatory” postings and then sharing that information across government agencies…
The government’s monitoring of Americans’ social media is the subject of ongoing debate inside and outside government, particularly in recent months, following a rise in domestic unrest. While posts on platforms such as Facebook and Parler have allowed law enforcement to track down and arrest rioters who assaulted the Capitol on Jan. 6, such data collection has also sparked concerns about the government surveilling peaceful protesters or those engaged in protected First Amendment activities.
By Tory Newmyer and Anu Narayanswamy
Corporations that pledged to cut off Republican lawmakers who opposed certifying the presidential election largely made good on the commitment, removing a key source of financial support for the party in the first three months of the year.
But at least a third of those 147 Republicans nevertheless raised more campaign money compared with the same period in 2019, boosting their collections from individual donors to make up the difference, a Washington Post analysis of federal election records shows.
A handful of congressional Republicans — the most outspoken supporters of groundless election-related claims that helped inspire the Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol — shattered their fundraising performances from two years earlier…
Those Republicans with an outsize media presence and a rising profile among small donors may not have registered the snub from big businesses. But a number of industry-friendly lawmakers, who once leveraged posts on top committees to rake in corporate contributions, saw their fundraising drop dramatically…
Several corporate interests that pledged at least to rethink their political activity after the attack on the Capitol already have restarted giving to some Republican election objectors, including Toyota, Cigna, JetBlue and the National Association of Realtors.
By Isaac Arnsdorf and Derek Willis
Two of the leading Republican firebrands in Congress touted big fundraising hauls as a show of grassroots support for their high-profile stands against accepting the 2020 election results.
But new financial disclosures show that Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., relied on an email marketing vendor that takes as much as 80 cents on the dollar. That means their headline-grabbing numbers were more the product of expensively soliciting hardcore Republicans than an organic groundswell of far-reaching support.
Hawley and Greene each reported raising more than $3 million in the first three months of the year, an unusually large sum for freshman lawmakers, according to new filings with the Federal Election Commission. That’s more than the average House member raises in an entire two-year cycle, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The tallies generated favorable press coverage for Hawley and Greene, and they both seized on the numbers to claim a popular mandate…
It wasn’t until later, when the campaigns disclosed their spending details in last week’s FEC reports, that it became clearer how they raised so much money: by paying to borrow another organization’s mailing list.
By Rebecca Klar
Seven House Republicans on Wednesday pledged to reject donations from some of the top tech companies in the U.S. amid mounting scrutiny over the market power the tech giants hold.
Rep. Ken Buck (Colo.), the top Republican on the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, led the pledge to reject campaign donations from Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple and Twitter.
Buck was joined by Reps. Chip Roy (Texas), Greg Steube (Fla.), Ralph Norman (S.C.), Dan Bishop (N.C.), Burgess Owens (Utah) and Andy Biggs (Ariz.) in signing onto the pledge.
In a letter outlining the pledge, the Republicans cite accusations of the tech companies’ “unprecedented actions to silence” conservative speech.
They noted Twitter and Facebook’s decisions to ban and suspend former President Trump’s accounts, as well as Google, Apple and Amazon’s action taken against the fringe social network Parler after the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“These monopolies have shown that personal liberty can be threatened by corporate tyranny just as much as by government tyranny. They have demonstrated that they are willing to relegate those who do not agree with their worldview to the status of a second-class citizen by cutting dissenters’ access to the infrastructures of business and public discourse,” the Republicans wrote.
Queens Daily Eagle: Queens council candidate at center of NYC matching funds debate
By David Brand
After taking in more than $134,000 in public matching funds, Moumita Ahmed received about 15 percent of the vote and finished a distant second in a February special election for Council District 24. Earlier this month, she received another $52,569 in taxpayer cash as she runs in the June primary.
In the process, Ahmed’s campaign has emerged as something of an avatar for opposition to the city’s current public matching funds system, which has so far poured $26,657,242 into candidates’ campaign accounts, with primary day still two months away.
“We really need to reevaluate the prudence of spending public funds at these rates for what I believe are vanity projects,” said political strategist Patrick Jenkins.
Jenkins specifically questioned candidates who receive matching funds and spend a significant amount of money on out-of-state consultants. Ahmed, for example, paid a South Carolina-based consulting firm more than $95,000 leading up to the special.
“There should be some kinds of procurement rules,” Jenkins said…
The program is intended to incentivize small-dollar contributions from everyday New Yorkers, rather than the wealthy or influential special interests.
But critics say some candidates are exploiting the program to raise their own profiles in quixotic quests for public office.
“For $52,569 this city can pay for a voucher to house a family of four for two years, Instead it’s doling out matching funds to candidates who get more Twitter likes then votes and claim there’s a conspiracy to stop them,” tweeted Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program after Ahmed shared news about her latest matching funds haul.
Helena Independent Record: Bill exempting religious groups from campaign reporting gets another shot
By Sam Wilson
The second coming of bill exempting religious nonprofits from Montana’s campaign finance reporting requirements won the Senate’s endorsement Wednesday, after an earlier version was tabled in the House.
House Bill 689, which was amended by a Senate committee last week to include the language from Senate Bill 162, passed second reading on a party-line vote of 31-19. Its predecessor had similarly passed the Senate in February before it was tabled by a House panel last month.
Democrats have strongly opposed both versions of the legislation, which they say could open the floodgates for dark money to flow into Montana.
“The House was right to kill this bill in the House State Administration Committee, because there are loopholes in it that somebody could drive a yacht through,” Sen. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, said.
He argued that political organizations could hide behind a tax-exempt status as a religious group, and use that cover to avoid disclosing donors the way other political committees are required to in the state.
“I can’t imagine there’s folks on your side of the aisle that want to have (Democrat donor) George Soros dumping millions of dollars into this state to defeat you and your party,” he added.
But Sen. David Howard, R-Park City, rejected that argument, saying that the federal government has strict requirements for religious organizations to maintain a tax-exempt designation. Howard sponsored SB 162.
“It would be almost impossible, plus the fact is they would instantly lose their nonprofit status if they did that,” he said.