Daily Media Links 4/28

April 28, 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.]

Supreme Court

SCOTUSblog: Justices doubtful on California donor-disclosure requirement

By Amy Howe

The Supreme Court on Monday seemed poised to side with two conservative groups challenging the constitutionality of 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 requirement, the state insists, helps it to police charitable fraud. But two nonprofits argue that the rule violates the First Amendment by discouraging their donors from making contributions. After nearly one hour and 45 minutes of oral argument in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta (consolidated with Thomas More Law Center v. Bonta), there seemed to be a majority on the court that was skeptical of the requirement and willing to strike it down, either in its entirety or, at a minimum, as it applies to the two nonprofits.

SCOTUSblog: Student’s Snapchat sets up major ruling on school speech

By Amy Howe

In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District that public school officials can regulate speech that would substantially disrupt the school’s work. On Wednesday, the justices will consider whether Tinker also applies to speech by students that occurs off campus. In the internet era, in which cellphones and social media are omnipresent and many schools and parents worry about cyberbullying, the court’s ruling in Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. could become a landmark decision on student speech.

Congress

Washington Post: The Daily 202: Senate Democrats push Biden on ‘dark money’ donor disclosures

By Olivier Knox

Taking aim at the influence of so-called “dark money” in politics, nearly 40 Senate Democrats are pushing President Biden to overturn a Trump-era policy that helps some nonprofits that pour money into elections conceal their donors’ names.

“This policy weakens federal tax laws, campaign finance laws, and longstanding efforts to prevent foreign interference in U.S. elections,” the lawmakers said in a letter sent Tuesday to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the chair of the Senate Rules Committee that has oversight over federal elections, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) led three dozen of their colleagues who signed the letter.

“As secret campaign contributions continue to pour into federal elections, this IRS rule is a major step backwards for transparency and will allow dark money to continue to corrode our political system. The IRS needs every tool at its disposal to ensure that these organizations are complying with the law,” the senators said.

At issue is a Treasury Department rule, first rolled out in July 2018, that certain nonprofits no longer need to share donor identities and addresses with the IRS in confidential tax filings.

The Verge: Congress is way behind on algorithmic misinformation

By Makena Kelly

One of the scariest concerns about social media is the idea of algorithmic misinformation — that the recommendation systems built into platforms like Facebook and YouTube could be quietly elevating the most harmful and disruptive content on the network. But at a Senate hearing Tuesday titled “Algorithms and Amplification: How Social Media Platforms’ Design Choices Shape our Discourse and Our Minds,’’ lawmakers didn’t appear any closer to finding a solution for the violence platforms like Facebook have internally recognized they cause in the real world.

At the top, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) said “there’s nothing inherently wrong” with how the testifying companies, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, leverage algorithms to keep users engaged on their platforms. He said the committee wasn’t weighing any actual legislation and that the hearing was set to serve as a listening session between the lawmakers and the companies…

Congress’ slow walk was particularly notable compared with the expert panelists, who presented algorithmic disinformation as an existential threat to our system of government. “The biggest problem facing our nation is misinformation-at-scale,” Joan Donovan, research director at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, said Tuesday. “The cost of doing nothing is democracy’s end.”

Providence Journal: US Senate bill would undermine RI election integrity

By Mike Stenhouse

HR 1 would also make it increasingly difficult for Rhode Island to fix its stringent laws on political advocacy that disproportionately benefit those who currently hold political office. 

Rhode Island nonprofits and advocacy organizations have already sued the Rhode Island Board of Elections on freedom of speech grounds for frequently forcing nonprofits to disclose their spending and donors. If passed, HR 1 would force these groups to disclose even more of their spending as well as the names and addresses of even more donors. Ever hear of doxing?

Our own Senator Whitehouse is largely responsible for this provision. He claims it will clamp down on “dark money” in politics to ensure there’s transparency in elections, but that’s not true. The Wall Street Journal editorial board has suggested that given the senator’s seeming hypocrisy on “dark money” in his personal affairs, his true end game is to silence those that disagree with him politically. This appears to be why even the left-wing American Civil Liberties Union calls this provision “onerous and outrageous.” It is obvious that such a partisan provision will chill free speech and lead to less political accountability over time, not more.

FEC

Bloomberg Government: Rising Scam Political Giving Sparks Federal Scrutiny and Debate

By Kenneth P. Doyle

The FBI is receiving more complaints than ever about potentially crooked political action committees that benefit deceptive operators and vendors, according to a report released this month…

The proliferation of these fundraising schemes has led the Federal Election Commission’s new chair Shana Broussard to place tackling the scam PAC problem at the top of her agency’s agenda this year with a plan to give donors more information about these groups. However, the proposal has run into the same partisan gridlock that’s stymied the agency from acting on a host of issues.

“We all acknowledge there is a problem, we just need to agree on what to do about it,” Broussard said in a phone interview.

Broussard said she will keep pushing for a newly revived initiative to use existing data to better inform potential contributors they might be getting ripped off. The proposal was discussed at a commission meeting last week, but she didn’t call for a vote on it yet. Broussard said she hoped to get a vote within the next 60 days, following revisions to a staff proposal and discussions among the commissioners…

While Broussard, a Democrat and former FEC staffer, pushes for a more aggressive stance, Republican commissioners say they’re concerned about any action that could chill free speech and political activism.

All of the current Republican commissioners joined the FEC in the past year and have continued to raise the same types of concerns as their GOP predecessors about undue interference in the political process. They asked for more information about how to define scam PACs and how to measure candidate support and overhead expenditures.

“I’d rather have several scam PACs go free than for us to hurt the legitimate interests of someone who is actually working to do real First Amendment political speech,” Republican Commission James “Trey” Trainor said during an April 22 commission meeting.

Free Speech

Washington Post: The Technology 202: Software company Basecamp restricts talk of politics and social issues at work

By Cat Zakrzewski

Basecamp is telling employees to keep chatter about politics or social issues out of work, amid growing limits on employee speech across the tech industry.  

Jason Fried, the CEO of the Chicago-based software company, wrote in a blog post that such conversations were a “major distraction” and “not healthy,” and he said the company was finished hosting them on internal workplace tools. 

“Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant,” he wrote. “You shouldn’t have to wonder if staying out of it means you’re complicit, or wading into it means you’re a target.”

The move follows a similar announcement from cryptocurrency company Coinbase, which last fall sought to restrict political speech by employees. The moves have extended to larger tech companies as well. 

Facebook last year restricted spaces for internal political discussions after employees protested the company’s content moderation policies about hate speech targeting Black users. And Pinterest restricted internal Slack channels being used to question leadership about issues related to race and pay equity…

Some — including the prominent venture capitalist and Y Combinator founder Paul Graham — predict such restrictions could become the norm across Silicon Valley. 

But the moves face broad backlash from tech workers, who say it’s impossible to check political and social issues at the door — especially in 2021. Some criticized Basecamp executives for attempting to take the easy way out, rather than creating spaces for the tough conversations to happen. 

Fundraising

The Hill: Feehery: Corporate America hurts itself when it stops participating in the political system

By John Feehery

The idea that corporate fundraising through the traditional political action committee route has direct and unsavory influence on the final outcome of any legislative proposal is laughable. Not one member of Congress has been bought and paid for by a $5,000 PAC check.

And if the early returns are any indication, many Republicans do not necessarily need corporate donations, especially the most controversial and conservative of those in the GOP caucus.

Corporate America seems to think that by withholding their campaign donations from Republicans, they are punishing Republicans. What they are actually doing is punishing themselves.

Campaign fundraising inside the beltway is not an exercise in influence. It is largely an exercise in building relationships and giving policy makers information to help them make more informed decisions.

Insider: The Wild West of political data sales can score candidates big money but raise privacy concerns. Here’s how one politician is benefiting.

By Kayla Epstein and Dave Levinthal

Campaigns are all about the money, and, in the 21st century, all about the data. For some candidates, those two things go hand in hand.

Former California Assemblywoman Christy Smith, a Democrat who is trying for a third time to win a House seat in the state’s 25th district, raked in nearly $55,000 from January through March by renting out supporters’ personal information to a digital consulting firm, federal election disclosures show. 

That’s more money than she made from her actual backers’ campaign contributions — a rarity in congressional politics. 

And it highlights a political open secret of sorts: that candidates on the right and left often treat their loyal supporters’ personal information as a commodity to be monetized. 

The States

Miami Herald: Legislators send DeSantis a bill to limit citizen initiatives. Is it constitutional?

By Mary Ellen Klas

Floridians who want to amend the state Constitution through a citizen initiative and bypass an unresponsive state Legislature will now have their ability to finance the effort severely limited if a bill sent to the governor by the Florida House on Monday becomes law.

If signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, SB 1890 would impose a $3,000 cap on contributions to any political committee sponsoring or opposing a constitutional amendment proposed by initiative, limiting the ability of proponents to finance the expensive signature-gathering operation needed to bring a proposed amendment before voters.

The $3,000 cap is the same limit set on contributions to individual legislative campaigns. Except legislators have given themselves a loophole: They allow themselves to accept unlimited amounts of campaign cash as long as it is given to their political committees. Under the bill, only after an idea obtains enough signatures to get onto the ballot does the cap disappear and affiliated political committees can collect unlimited contributions to help pass the idea.

The goal of the bill is “to stop millionaires” and billionaires from out of state from financing signature efforts in Florida, said Rep. Bobby Payne, the Palatka Republican who sponsored the House version of the bill…

But the organizers of some of the most recent and successful ballot initiatives warn that the measure is undoubtedly unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment protections spelled out in the controversial Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that said corporate contributions are protected speech.

Public News Service: Good-Government Groups: Bill Could Help Reduce Corporate Influence in Elections

By Lily Bohlke

Good-government groups in Maine support a bill which would ban corporate contributions from going directly to state legislators or their campaign committees, a rule that’s already in place in 22 other states and at the federal level in elections for Congress and for president.

John Brautigam, legal counsel and senior policy advisor for the League of Women Voters of Maine and Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, pointed out corporations are profit-driven, and sometimes use campaign contributions to curry favor with legislators and influence the policy agenda.

“We believe that it’s important to ensure that the political process and our democracy are reserved to the voters, to the public, where they can have their say, not to be drowned out by money from corporate interests,” Brautigam contended.

Brautigam noted the corporate form allows a very small number of people to control the flow of a huge amount of money, and he argued this type of reform is long overdue.

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly

https://www.ifs.org/author/tdonnelly/

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