In the News
Washington Examiner: California’s donor lists demand is a First Amendment crisis
By Bradley A. Smith
Can state officials demand to know what organizations you join and what charities you support? Or do people have the freedom to associate with whomever they please without being tracked by the government?
On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear two groups’ challenges to California’s demand for their donor lists. About 10 years ago, the state began mandating such data from all nonprofit organizations that ask Californians for donations. New York and New Jersey later followed suit. Their effort to pierce private association threatens the entire nonprofit community and the First Amendment.
The right to support groups privately was one of the hard-fought victories of the civil rights movement. It began when officials in Alabama went looking for ways to obstruct the NAACP after its successful litigation of Brown v. Board of Education and the Rosa Parks bus boycott in Montgomery. They found a weapon in the state’s foreign corporation registration law. In the ensuing litigation, a trial court granted the state’s demand for a list of the NAACP’s members in the state and imposed a fine worth nearly $1 million today. The NAACP fought the order to the Supreme Court.
In a unanimous decision, the high court ruled for the NAACP. It said people have a right “to pursue their lawful private interests privately and to associate freely with others in so doing.” It recognized that in some circumstances, the right to associate depends on the ability to do so anonymously. Otherwise, the harassment of a group’s supporters could snuff out controversial causes.
Wall Street Journal: ‘Donor Disclosure’ Chills Free Speech
By Allen Dickerson
The Supreme Court hears oral arguments on Monday in a case that raises a vitally important First Amendment question: Do Americans have the right to keep their charitable donations private?
The case, Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Rodriquez, should be easy. Around 2010, California’s attorney general began quietly demanding that any charity soliciting funds provide the state with a list of its major contributors. The most populous and wealthiest state in the union was amassing a comprehensive database of donors to American charities.
When several nonprofit groups challenged this practice in 2014, then-Attorney General Kamala Harris argued that she needed the information to streamline investigations. She promised that individuals’ confidentiality was carefully protected. Neither assertion was true. When the matter came to trial in 2016, state officials conceded that they hardly ever used their database for investigations. And the challengers unearthed tens of thousands of confidential documents, including contributor lists, left unsecured on the attorney general’s website.
Nevertheless, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the practice. It believed California’s protestations that, this time, privacy would be protected. And it held that unless supporters were made public, the First Amendment wasn’t violated. The Supreme Court agreed in January to hear an appeal.
At stake is an unbroken line of precedent dating to the civil-rights era…
But even if this case is straightforward, no Supreme Court case occurs in a vacuum. This one comes amid intense polarization and hand-wringing over “dark money”—a catchy slogan that eludes definition and is used more often to avoid debate than engage in it. There is pressure on the justices to further cramp private association.
Wall Street Journal: Donor Disclosure Arrives at the Supreme Court
By The Editorial Board
That politics makes strange bedfellows is an old observation, yet Monday’s lineup at the Supreme Court remains a sight to behold. On one side is California, which is demanding that nonprofit groups hand over lists of their major donors.
Arrayed on the other side: The Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF), a project of Charles Koch ; the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; a Christian law center named for Thomas More; the Council on American-Islamic Relations; and the Human Rights Campaign. We could go on.
Monday’s paired cases, consolidated under AFPF v. Rodriquez , ask an important question at a time when people are keelhauled by tweet for having unpopular political views or making a tasteless joke. Donors to nonprofits that are involved in heated issues—say, abortion, religious liberty or transgenderism—deserve robust protections for their privacy.
By Amy Howe
The Supreme Court will close out its April argument session [this] week with two major First Amendment cases. On Wednesday, it will hear the case of a Pennsylvania student who was removed from her high school cheerleading team after posting offensive messages on social media. But on Monday, it will first hear a very different First Amendment case: a challenge to California’s requirement that charities and nonprofits operating in the state provide the state attorney general’s office with the names and addresses of their largest donors. The case, Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Rodriquez (consolidated with Thomas More Law Center v. Rodriquez), has drawn considerable attention, not only because of what it could mean for nonprofits but also because three Democratic members of Congress have asked the court’s newest justice, Amy Coney Barrett, to recuse herself from the case.
By Eugene Volokh
You can listen to the episode (part of the We The People series) here; the summary:
Recently, the Supreme Court seemingly put an end to the legal battle over whether President Trump violated the First Amendment by blocking people on Twitter by instructing the lower court to declare the case moot. Justice Thomas authored a separate concurring opinion that expanded … on the language of the Court’s decision to discuss the power of social media platforms over free speech. This week, we discuss that opinion and the potential broader impacts of this case—now known as Biden v. Knight First Amendment Institute due to the change in administrations—on the future of the First Amendment. Katie Fallow, senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute who led litigation of this case since its inception, and Eugene Volokh, professor of law at UCLA Law, joined host Jeffrey Rosen.
By Joseph Choi
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Sunday that the deadline for passing major election reform legislation “probably by August.”
In an interview on “The Mehdi Hasan Show” set to broadcast on Sunday night, host Mehdi Hasan asked Schumer about the timeline for passing the For the People Act – known as both H.R.1 and S.1 for being the first bill introduced this session in both the House and Senate – noting that Schumer’s position as Senate majority leader is threatened by the loss of a single Democratic senator.
By Cristiano Lima
Facebook, YouTube and Twitter executives are slated to testify at a Senate Judiciary hearing on algorithmic amplification [this] week, according to congressional aides, setting up a marquee session on a practice that’s facing mounting scrutiny from Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Online Speech Platforms
New York Times: Is an Activist’s Pricey House News? Facebook Alone Decides.
By Ben Smith
On Wednesday, I learned a new way to get a news article erased from much of the internet.
If the article shows your home or apartment, says what city you’re in and you don’t like it, you can complain to Facebook. Facebook will then ensure that nobody can share the article on its giant platform and, as a bonus, block you from sending it to anyone in Facebook Messenger.
I learned this rule from a cheerfully intense senior Facebook lawyer. The lawyer, who was supplied by Facebook’s public relations department on the condition she could speak only anonymously to discuss a specific case, was trying to explain why the service had expunged a meanspirited New York Post article about a Black Lives Matter activist’s real estate purchases.
“The policy is superclear!” the lawyer told me over a Zoom call from her bright home office. But, she added, “I totally get why it sounds kind of crazy in this case.”
The policy sounds crazy because it could apply to dozens, if not hundreds, of news articles every day — indeed, to a staple of reporting for generations that has included Michael Bloomberg’s expansion of his townhouse in 2009 and the comings and goings of the Hamptons elites. Alex Rodriguez doesn’t like a story that includes a photo of him and his former fiancée, Jennifer Lopez, smiling in front of his house? Delete it. Donald Trump is annoyed about a story that includes a photo of him outside his suite at Mar-a-Lago? Gone. Facebook’s hands, the lawyer told me, are tied by its own policies.
Presumably, the only reason this doesn’t happen constantly is because nobody knows about the policy. But now you do!
Candidates and Campaigns
By Daniel Marans
Nina Turner, the former Ohio state senator turned progressive icon, is calling on her rivals in the Democratic special election primary for Ohio’s 11th Congressional District to join her in swearing off “corporate special interest dollars funneled through super PACs and Dark Money groups.”
But Turner’s top rival, Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Shontel Brown, is accusing her of hypocrisy, noting that Turner previously led Our Revolution, a left-leaning group whose fundraising structure does not require it to disclose its donors…
Since progressive groups refuse to unilaterally disarm, and big-dollar left-wing donors sometimes demand anonymity, progressive candidates associated with these groups and donors are sometimes vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy or inconsistency…
Our Revolution is also a 501(c)4, but on its website, the group lists the names of donors who have contributed more than $250.
These voluntary disclosures have their limits. There is no way of independently verifying the data, and the listings are not as comprehensive as traditional campaign finance disclosures, which also reveal donors’ occupations and places of residence…
“There is a certain argument to make that it takes dark money to extricate dark money,” said Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project, an anti-corruption group housed at the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research.
By Darrell Ehrlick, Daily Montanan
A day after some Republicans in the Montana House joined with Democrats to kill a controversial bill to allow NorthWestern Energy to purchase more power from Colstrip while cutting out the oversight of the Public Service Commission, Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, introduced legislation that would allow the Attorney General’s Office to investigative “environmental groups.”
Ankney made no bones about who he was targeting and why during a hearing in the Senate’s Finance and Claims Committee.
“I targeted environmental organizations period,” Ankney said. “You got to narrow these groups like we did with the hospitals through their nonprofit status. This one is aimed toward environmentalist organizations. There isn’t a trade organization that is trying to shut down coal mining.”
Ankney’s amendment to House Bill 693 is a part of a larger bill aimed at criminal justice and investigations. The amendment, which passed along party lines, commands the consumer protection division of the state’s Department of Justice to “investigate the electioneering and related political lobbying activities of environmental organizations.”
It says the investigation must include whether the organizations are meeting their purpose in their “tax exempt” status and report the number of Montana residents “actively signing annual membership agreements.”
The law would also examine funding structures, including “out-of-state sources, out-of-country sources,” and if those groups have failed to register as a corporation or business entity, or misled Montanans under consumer protection laws.
One area that also got Senate’s attention was a provision that would require the Attorney General’s Office to look at the “engagement in political speech, lobbying and other politically motivated activities,” including funding for staff and employment.
Daytona Beach News-Journal: Who’s behind Grow United PAC, which funded ghost Florida Senate candidates? It’s a mystery
By Mark Harper
Layers of secrecy connect state Senate District 9 candidate Jestine Iannotti and a mysterious entity that spent $180,000 to promote her.
A ghost candidate and a political unknown, Iannotti never campaigned in the race that Republican Jason Brodeur won. But campaign ads were mailed on her behalf that were designed to take votes from Brodeur’s other opponent, Democrat Patricia Sigman.
Now, the unanswered questions surrounding Iannotti’s candidacy and the money behind it may be part of a federal investigation. The New York Times reported recently that the District 9 race came up in the federal probe of U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz. William Daniels, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Middle Florida District Office, would not confirm or deny such an inquiry.
A Gannett Florida Newspapers examination of available records has found that the money behind Iannotti’s campaign begins with an obscure source and fades into two short-lived Florida political committees fronted by mysterious people.
Those PACs in turn funneled more than a half-million dollars into helping Iannotti and two other state Senate ghost candidates. How that money was specifically used to help the ghost candidates isn’t clear.
It all runs contrary to what lawmakers and Supreme Court justices who shaped the current campaign finance system claim is the counterbalance to allowing unlimited spending in political races: transparency.
Yet lawmakers in Tallahassee who are working on an election reform bill this session of the state Legislature aren’t wading into Florida’s PAC swamp, a system that allows those with power to raise and spend large sums of money — often from opaque sources —with little oversight.
By Chris Smith
Money is a strange thing in political campaigns. Being the richest candidate in the race hardly guarantees victory, or else someone like Tom Steyer would have been the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. Joe Biden lagged badly in fundraising for most of the primary season. Now he’s the 46th president.
The dynamic in New York City mayoral races is even more confusing. Mike Bloomberg spent $261 million and bought himself three consecutive terms; his successor, Bill de Blasio, took the decisive 2013 Democratic primary despite raising a paltry $4.9 million, well behind the hauls of Christine Quinn and Anthony Weiner. Now the contest to succeed de Blasio is reshaping the money war yet again…
Last month the co-manager of Yang’s campaign, Chris Coffey, told me his biggest worry down the stretch was that super PACs, also known as independent expenditures, would dump money into ads attacking Yang. “The unknown is, okay, what happens if someone does a $20 million I.E. for Ray McGuire, or what if Shaun Donovan’s dad decides to do $5 million?” Coffey said. “And what if they say the only way we can win is to aim it against Yang, and all of a sudden there’s millions of dollars in TV ads coming in against Andrew?” Luckily for Yang, Lis Smith is riding to the rescue: The dynamo operative who was instrumental in Pete Buttigieg’s presidential run is organizing a pro-Yang super PAC with a goal of raising at least $6 million to make sure Yang’s message isn’t “drowned out by millions of dollars in negativity.” A second Yang-friendly vehicle, Future Forward NYC, is aiming for more than $7 million.