Daily Media Links 4/5

April 5, 2021   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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In the News

Washington Examiner: HR 1 would enable more scandals like the Obama IRS targeting of conservatives

By Alex Hendrie

[H.R. 1] transforms the Federal Election Commission from a bipartisan six-member commission into a five-member entity with two Republicans, two Democrats, and an “independent” as the tiebreaker. This reorganization could easily be abused with the appointment of a Bernie Sanders-style independent.

This FEC would be given new powers to regulate political speech that mentions any federal candidates or elected official based on a new “PASO” standard, or whether any speech “promotes,” “attacks,” “supports,” or “opposes” the politician.

This subjective definition means the political party in power could classify a broad range of political activities under this definition. As one example, the standard is so broad that it could easily sweep up advocacy on policies and causes such as single-payer healthcare or the Green New Deal, as noted by research from the Institute for Free Speech.

H.R. 1 also mandates that any organization that engages in “campaign related disbursements” disclose the names and addresses of donors that have contributed more than $10,000. It would establish federal criminal penalties for “deceiving or intimidating voters” related to the time, place, or manner of elections.

As it stands, political discourse is already heated and often becomes bitter. These proposals could easily create a partisan FEC that has new tools to target, harass, and publicly shame organizations that the administration does not agree with. Federal bureaucrats would have new ways to regulate political speech and subject political opponents to overly broad reporting and donor information requirements.

The politicization of the FEC is just one part of H.R. 1. The legislation creates taxpayer-financed elections, which will force the public to support politicians they don’t support. Where taxpayer financing has been tried, it has led to political scandals including funds improperly spent on nightclubs, restaurants, and groceries, while doing little or nothing to improve democratic participation or lessen corruption.

ICYMI

New York Daily News: How the For the People Act could supercharge cancel culture

By Bradley A. Smith and David Keating

Many of the provisions [in the For the People Act] would expose supporters of controversial causes, providing new ways to dox people and turbocharging an already malignant cancel culture. And, while the bill proposes to squelch ordinary citizens’ speech, politicians would get a payday. The bill would subsidize House candidates with billions of dollars in public money.

The legislation, passed as H.R. 1 in the House and now being considered as S. 1 in the Senate, imposes crushing regulations on groups that so much as mention elected officials when discussing legislation, judicial nominees or other public issues. It would radically expand the law to regulate not just ads, but an organization’s own website, Facebook posts and tweets. Groups that speak would likely have to hire an attorney, and a good one. (The late Justice Antonin Scalia once said our campaign finance laws were already “so intricate that I can’t figure it out.”) H.R. 1 would greatly increase the complexity of federal speech laws, while covering many more citizens and groups.

To sidestep the regulatory morass, many citizens and the groups they belong to will choose silence or less effective ways of communicating, subtracting key voices from our democracy. Groups that do speak will pay a price.

Supreme Court

SCOTUSblog: Supreme Court sides with Facebook in narrowing the federal robocall ban

By Amanda Shanor

On Thursday, the Supreme Court unanimously sided with Facebook in a lawsuit over unsolicited text messages the social-media giant sent to a cellphone number in the company’s database. In an opinion authored by Justice Sonia Sotomayor in Facebook v. Duguid, the court adopted a narrow reading of a key definition in the federal ban on robocalls and robotexts to cellphones. It held that to qualify as an “automatic telephone dialing system” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, a device must have the capacity either to store, or to produce, a telephone number using a random or sequential number generator — a type of obsolescent marketing technology.

The decision is likely to have major implications for the future of telemarketing. Of most import, it means that the act does not ban the use of now-dominant predictive dialing technology that can call or text targeted customers, including technology that relies on the massive amounts of data now collected on American consumers, so long as an artificial or pre-recorded voice is not used. In so holding, the justices made clear that it’s the job of Congress, not the court, to update statutes in the face of technological change.

Congress

Fred Wertheimer: S. 1, the For the People Act, Must Pass In Whole

Some academics and pundits have been postulating that the campaign finance, gerrymandering, and other reform provisions of S. 1, the For the People Act, should be dropped, and the Senate should proceed to try to pass only the voting rights provisions of the bill.

This approach makes zero strategic sense.

There is nothing to indicate that taking out key democracy reforms from the bill will improve the chances of passing S. 1.

There is a powerful case, however, for why this should not be done.

Fundraising

New York Times: How Trump Steered Supporters Into Unwitting Donations

By Shane Goldmacher

But what the Blatts believed was duplicity was actually an intentional scheme to boost revenues by the Trump campaign and the for-profit company that processed its online donations, WinRed. Facing a cash crunch and getting badly outspent by the Democrats, the campaign had begun last September to set up recurring donations by default for online donors, for every week until the election.

Contributors had to wade through a fine-print disclaimer and manually uncheck a box to opt out.

As the election neared, the Trump team made that disclaimer increasingly opaque, an investigation by The New York Times showed. It introduced a second prechecked box, known internally as a “money bomb,” that doubled a person’s contribution. Eventually its solicitations featured lines of text in bold and capital letters that overwhelmed the opt-out language…

Soon, banks and credit card companies were inundated with fraud complaints from the president’s own supporters about donations they had not intended to make, sometimes for thousands of dollars…

The sheer magnitude of the money involved is staggering for politics. In the final two and a half months of 2020, the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and their shared accounts issued more than 530,000 refunds worth $64.3 million to online donors. All campaigns make refunds for various reasons, including to people who give more than the legal limit. But the sum the Trump operation refunded dwarfed that of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign and his equivalent Democratic committees, which made 37,000 online refunds totaling $5.6 million in that time.

Politico: Vulnerable Dems fret after getting a shock: AOC’s campaign cash

By Sarah Ferris, Ally Mutnick, and Olivia Beavers

As the midterm campaign’s first fundraising deadline approached this week, several vulnerable House Democrats got an unwelcome surprise in their accounts: $5,000 from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The New York Democrat sent the contributions to her colleagues to help keep the House majority ahead of a tough cycle without directly contributing to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, with which she’s publicly clashed. But Ocasio-Cortez’s largesse — and an oversight at the campaign headquarters — has instead raised awkward questions among her colleagues as some swing-district Democrats fret over whether to return her money before the GOP can turn it into an attack ad…

Even if imperiled House Democrats refund her contribution now, Ocasio-Cortez’s name is almost certain to show up on their Federal Election Commission reports when they’re due this month — creating a liability for members of her party who have to win reelection in districts where her political brand is poisoned thanks to years of unrelenting Republican attacks.

The Media

Washington Post: The problem with cheering for the Dominion lawsuit against Fox News

By Margaret Sullivan

When Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani became fixtures on right-wing media with their outlandish election conspiracy theories, their disinformation was more than just false.

It was harmful…

Given that harm, it’s easy to understand why defenders of democracy might be cheering the billion-dollar lawsuits filed against Fox by two voting-technology companies, Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems…

In some ways, it’s a relief to see someone hold Fox to account, especially since nothing else seems able to restrain right-wing media outlets from spreading disinformation. Fox, calling the suits meritless, has said it is proud of its election coverage…

But for those who care about the reality-based news media, there’s a downside. And nobody is thinking about that more intently than the people at a small investigative California newsroom called Reveal, which is run by the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting.

“These defamation suits can decimate the legitimate press,” said D. Victoria Baranetsky, general counsel at Reveal…

“Other news organizations might look at this lawsuit and decide that reporting on powerful or deep-pocketed organizations isn’t worth the risk,” Baranetsky wrote in an op-ed in the Columbia Journalism Review, co-written with Alexandra Gutierrez, a First Amendment fellow at the Center for Investigative Reporting.

First Amendment

Washington Post: How America’s surveillance networks helped the FBI catch the Capitol mob

By Drew Harwell and Craig Timberg

Their case is among more than 1,000 pages of arrest records, FBI affidavits and search warrants reviewed by The Washington Post detailing one of the biggest criminal investigations in American history…

The federal documents provide a rare view of the ways investigators exploit the digital fingerprints nearly everyone leaves behind in an era of pervasive surveillance and constant online connection. They illustrate the power law enforcement now has to hunt down suspects by studying the contours of faces, the movements of vehicles and even conversations with friends and spouses.

But civil liberties groups warn that some of these technologies threaten Americans’ privacy rights. More than a dozen U.S. cities have banned local police or government officials from using facial recognition technology, and license plate readers have sparked lawsuits arguing that it is unconstitutional to constantly log people’s locations for government review, with scant public oversight.

“Whenever you see this technology used on someone you don’t like, remember it’s also being used on a social movement you support,” said Evan Greer, director of the digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future. “Once in a while, this technology gets used on really bad people doing really bad stuff. But the rest of the time it’s being used on all of us, in ways that are profoundly chilling for freedom of expression.”

TK News by Matt Taibbi: Is Traditional Liberalism Vanishing?

By Matt Taibbi

[The documentary] Mighty Ira traces the reasoning of people like Glasser and ACLU attorneys like David Goldberger, as they connect their decision to defend Nazi leader Frank Collin in Skokie to their years of advocacy in the sixties for black civil rights workers in the South. You couldn’t have one without the other, they argue. “If you give the government the power to stop the right-wing marching in the street,” Glasser says, “they will acquire the power to decide who they think is dangerous enough to stop.”

Online Speech Platforms

Washington Post: Should Facebook ban political ads? We have no idea.

By Editorial Board

The 2020 election brought with it a furious controversy over digital political advertising: whether social media sites should fact-check ads, to start, and later whether they should allow ads at all. A new Duke University paper reveals how uninformed this fight was, as well as what changes are necessary to ensure politicians, platforms and more know what they’re doing next time…

[Whether ad bans] actually resolved the problem of rampant misinformation remains uncertain. So is whether they introduced different problems of their own, from the suppression of speech to an unequal effect on upstart campaigns with few followers to the inability to spread good information.

Without answers to those questions, platforms will be flying blind into future blackouts ahead of critical contests. Yet, those answers are hard to come by even today. The Federal Election Commission’s rules for political advertising just don’t order enough transparency to fit modern methods. The FEC requirements for labeling transactions, for instance, are too lax; an ad purchased on Facebook could be logged as “digital ads” or merely “ads.” More alarmingly, as much as 94 percent of ad spending may go through consultancies, but campaigns and PACs don’t have to report how those firms spend money on their behalf.

The loophole may enable the laundering of illegal spending, but it also means it’s impossible to tell how campaigns adjusted ad buys in response to ad bans.

Wall Street Journal: Facebook Staff Fret Over China’s Ads Portraying Happy Muslims in Xinjiang

By Newley Purnell

Facebook is blocked in China, but Beijing is a big user of the platform to spread its political views to hundreds of millions of people overseas, sometimes via advertisements.

Now, some Facebook staff are raising concerns on internal message boards and in other employee discussions that the company is being used as a conduit for state propaganda, highlighting sponsored posts from Chinese organizations that purport to show Muslim ethnic minority Uyghurs thriving in China’s Xinjiang region, according to people familiar with the matter.

The U.S. and some European governments say Beijing is committing genocide against the Uyghurs, citing a campaign that includes political indoctrination, mass internment and forced sterilizations.

Facebook hasn’t determined whether to act on the concerns, say people familiar with the matter. The company is watching how international organizations such as the United Nations respond to the situation in Xinjiang, one of the people said…

“It’s time our platform takes action to fight misinformation on the Uighur genocide,” [one] employee wrote in a post, which was viewed by The Wall Street Journal. The employee described it as a “plea to our leadership.”

The States

AP News: New complaint hits Louisiana legislators’ ‘dark money’ group

A new complaint by a conservative Republican is alleging that Louisiana’s top GOP House and Senate leaders are engaging in improper political activities through a nonprofit they created to promote their agenda and should have to disclose its contributors and spending.

Michael Lunsford is asking the Louisiana Board of Ethics to investigate whether Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder are violating campaign finance laws with their organization Leading Louisiana Forward…

Lunsford’s filing follows a similar complaint that Louisiana’s chapter of the NAACP filed with the IRS and sent to the Federal Elections Commission arguing that political activities are Leading Louisiana’s intended purpose.

The Hill: DeSantis spars with ’60 Minutes’ over vaccine rollout: ‘What you’re saying is wrong’

By Dominick Mastrangelo

CBS reporter Sharyn Alfonsi presented a far-ranging report for “60 Minutes” Sunday evening critical of Florida’s vaccine rollout. Among other allegations, Alfonsi said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gave a contract to distribute coronavirus vaccines to the grocery store chain Publix after Publix made a $100,000 donation to his political action committee.

DeSantis declined a request for an interview, Alfonsi said, but she caught up with him at an event south of Orlando. 

“Publix, as you know, donated $100,000 to your campaign and then you rewarded them with the exclusive rights to distribute the vaccine in Palm Beach,” Alfonsi told the governor. 

“So first of all what you’re saying is wrong,” DeSantis replied. “That’s a fake narrative. … I met with the county mayor. I met with the administrator. I met with all the folks in Palm Beach County and I said, ‘Here’s some of the options. We can do more drive-thru sites. We can give more to hospitals. We can do the Publix.’ And they said, ‘We think that would be the easiest thing for our residents.'”

Alfonsi pressed DeSantis, saying his critics say the inequitable vaccine distribution and awarding of the contract to the grocery store to distribute the vaccine amount to a “pay for play” scheme. 

Cleveland.com: Ohio should require clear, complete disclosure of spending by lobbyists: editorial

By Editorial Board

Ohio badly needs a lobbying law that tells voters how things really work at the Statehouse, instead of the current law that’s more about paperwork than substance. Plainly stated, the state’s lobbying law hides more than it reveals. Arguably, Ohio’s campaign finance laws do the same. Reform is urgently needed…

The moment to effect change is now. And if lawmakers don’t act, Ohio voters should take matters into their own hands, as California voters did 47 years ago…

There’s nothing that forbids lobbyists from making campaign donations or seeking them for favored candidates — and given the First Amendment, there likely couldn’t be, and shouldn’t be.

The problem is disclosure, or the lack thereof. Ohio’s hodgepodge of scattered lobbying- and campaign-finance reports, combined with a weak lobbying law, makes it very difficult for taxpayers and voters to see the big picture – who’s working for them, or against them, at the Statehouse.

“Gov. DeWine knows which lobbyists are raising money for him. The public has a right to have that information, too,’’ Common Cause Executive Director Catherine Turcer said in releasing the group’s findings.

But much more is needed. As cleveland.com’s Andrew J. Tobias has reported, “Lobbyists [must] disclose the money they spend wining and dining elected officials. And state campaign finance laws require political donors to disclose their name, address and employer. But those requirements don’t reflect the lobbyists who may coordinate the donations.”

GovTech: California Lawmakers Want to Hold Big Tech More Accountable

By Chase Difeliciantonio

More than 40% of Americans have experienced some kind of online hate or harassment, with many of those instances taking place on large social media sites, according to a report from the Anti-Defamation League.

A new state bill wants to hold large social media companies to account for how they police that kind of harmful content. Introduced by California Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills), AB 587 is aimed at social media giants like Facebook and others with gross revenue in excess of $100 million annually. If signed into law, the legislation would require social media companies to make their policies public on how they monitor hate, disinformation, extremism, harassment and foreign interference on their sites.

The bill would also force those companies to disclose if they use human or artificial intelligence to monitor instances of harmful content, and to provide data on the effectiveness of their efforts to stop it. “Californians are becoming increasingly alarmed about the role of social media in promoting hate, disinformation, conspiracy theories and extreme political polarization,” Gabriel said in a statement “It’s long past time for these companies to provide real transparency into their content moderation practices.”

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly

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

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