Daily Media Links 4/6

April 6, 2021   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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New from the Institute for Free Speech

Fact Check: Would H.R. 1 and S. 1 Give Taxpayer Money to Politicians? Yes.

By Tiffany Donnelly

It’s undisputed that H.R. 1 and its companion legislation, S. 1, would take public money and give it to politicians’ campaigns. Under the Democrats’ plan, participating candidates would receive a 600% match from the government for donations up to $200. That means a $200 donation quickly becomes $1,400, compliments of government largesse. In the weeks leading up to a general election, candidates would be eligible for additional government funding, up to $500,000 per House candidate in H.R. 1 and $150,000 per Congressional District in the state in which the Senate candidate is running in S. 1. These subsidies would cost billions each election cycle, with each candidate potentially receiving millions from the government. Many of the above provisions are indexed to inflation, so program costs will likely rise over time as well.

The objections of First Amendment supporters, if taxpayer funds are used, should be obvious. Taking money away from citizens to fund the campaigns of candidates with whom they may disagree is inherently objectionable. That’s especially true when such funds are required to be distributed to candidates that may run offensive campaigns or hold bigoted views.

Perhaps in light of the above concerns, supporters of the scheme and some members of the media claim that these funds do not belong to taxpayers…

Many other media outlets adopt the rhetoric of activists who support the bill and avoid descriptions of the program as forcing taxpayers to fund campaigns…

So, do H.R. 1 and S. 1 give politicians taxpayer money, or not?

Supreme Court

Politico: Justice Thomas grumbles over Trump’s social media ban

By Josh Gerstein

As the Supreme Court issued an order Monday declaring moot a lawsuit over Trump’s blocking of some Twitter users from commenting on his feed, [Justice Clarence] Thomas weighed in with a 12-page lament about the power of social media firms like Twitter.

“Today’s digital platforms provide avenues for historically unprecedented amounts of speech, including speech by government actors. Also unprecedented, however, is control of so much speech in the hands of a few private parties,” Thomas wrote. “We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms.”

Thomas singled out the owners of Google and Facebook by name, arguing that the firms are currently unaccountable personal fiefdoms with massive power…

Thomas’ opinion amounts to an invitation to Congress to declare Twitter, Facebook and similar companies “common carriers,” essentially requiring them to host all customers regardless of their views. At the moment, the companies have sweeping authority to take down any post and to suspend or terminate any account.

Congress

Fox News: McConnell warns of ‘serious consequences’ for businesses that help ‘far-left mobs’

By Evie Fordham

Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blasted companies for parroting President Biden’s now-debunked claims, including that Georgia’s new voting legislation is “Jim Crow on steroids.”

“Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order,” McConnell said in a statement. “Businesses must not use economic blackmail to spread disinformation and push bad ideas that citizens reject at the ballot box.”

The MLB pulled this year’s All-Star Game and MLB draft out of Georgia, and companies, including JPMorgan and Delta Airlines, condemned the recently signed voting law…

“This disinformation has a purpose,” he continued. “Washington Democrats want to pass a sweeping bill that would let them rewrite all 50 states’ election laws and turn the Federal Election Commission into a Democrat-run partisan body. This power grab is impossible to defend, so the left wants to deflect. Instead of winning the debate, they want to silence debate by bullying citizens and entire states into submission.”

Newsweek: Mitch McConnell Reminded of Citizens United Backing After Warning to CEOs

By James Walker

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been reminded of his support of the Citizens United ruling after he warned big businesses to “stay out of politics” as they denounced a controversial new voting law in Georgia…

“Mitch McConnell knows corporations are not people—that’s why he’s so quick to silence them,” the End Citizens United campaign tweeted Sunday. “He only considers them ‘people’ when cashing their checks and watching their dark money ads in support of his campaign of voter suppression and gridlock.”

Lawyer Ted Boutrous similarly said that the Citizens United ruling backed by McConnell gave corporations “full-throated First Amendment rights in politics.”

“Mitch McConnell is basically saying that actual corporate political speech on important issues can and should be muzzled by the government but corporate cash contributions to him and others is speech that should be protected by the First Amendment,” he tweeted. “That is nonsensical.”

Former Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill (D) also said it was “funny” that McConnell opposed corporations being involved in politics after backing a Supreme Court ruling that allowed them to spend unlimited funds on elections.

“He desperately wants corporations to be people (see Citizens United) with First Amendment rights when it comes to campaign cash… just not for any other type of speech,” she tweeted.

Vox: Why some Democrats are quietly unhappy with the House’s big voting rights bill

By Andrew Prokop

[In] conversations with Democratic campaign professionals, advocates, and outside experts, I heard conceptual criticisms that [parts of the For the People Act] are misconceived, could lead to unintended consequences, or were being oversold…

The most prominent campaign finance reform change in the For the People Act is small donor matching. If a federal candidate agrees to forswear big money (not accepting more than $1,000 from any one person), then all their donations of under $200 will be matched by six times that amount in federal funds. Since Democrats currently dominate with small donors, this probably would help the party on the money front in general elections — though one possible drawback is that public financing itself polls quite poorly.

But since voting in general elections is so driven by partisanship, the greatest impact of supercharged small donations would likely be in primaries, which often feature multiple little-known candidates trying to distinguish themselves. Candidates who can inspire passionate followings — viewed as charismatic communicators by those who like them, and dangerous demagogues by those who don’t — would benefit most…

Accordingly, the New York Times’s Nicholas Fandos and Michael Wines wrote that some in the Democratic establishment fear this will empower far-left primary challengers to go after incumbents. Meanwhile, on the Republican side, candidates who make identity-based appeals to base voters tend to raise far more from small donors — meaning this reform could conceivably end up empowering the Trumpist wing of the party.

The Center Square: The Sunday Read: H.R. 1 is a brazen assault on states’ authority, free speech

By Chris Krug

[T]here is also an aspect of H.R. 1 that has not been much discussed, and that’s the silencing of speech. Even the American Civil Liberties Union, itself a long-established organization that is normally aligned with the authors of H.R. 1, has said that language contained the bill assaults the First Amendment.

“If organizations do choose to speak, they may find themselves subject to onerous and intrusive disclosure requirements, including publishing the names and addresses of donors regardless of whether that donor supported or even knew about the communications that triggered the publication of their name,” the ACLU wrote on its blog in 2019 when the bill was first introduced. “This could be especially burdensome for small organizations that cannot afford the compliance costs. Other organizations may simply refuse to breach the trust that donors expecting anonymity have placed in them. Under either of these results, our public discourse is less vibrant, less diverse, and less informed. In short, the First Amendment loses.”

The Courts

Los Angeles Times: Opinion: Giving voters food and water is a political act, not just charity

By Michael McGough

Of all the provisions in Georgia’s new election law, the one that has provoked the most condemnation — understandably — is the criminalization of providing food and drink to voters waiting in line…

In a lawsuit challenging the Georgia law, plaintiffs (who include a civil rights group and a unit of the African Methodist Episcopal Church) describe a practice called “line warming”:

“Through providing water and other resources, Plaintiff AME Church and others throughout Georgia engage in the type of interactive communication concerning political change that is appropriately described as core political speech.“ The lawsuit adds: “This is protected speech under the 1st Amendment, and [the Georgia law’s] attempt to restrict that speech — via the imposition of criminal penalties — is unconstitutional.”

Nonprofits

Washington Post: Inside a stealth ‘persuasion machine’ promising Republican victories in 2022

By Isaac Stanley-Becker

The American Culture Project is set up as a social welfare organization exempt from disclosing its donors or paying federal income taxes but, in exchange, barred from making politics its primary focus. The project is led by an Illinois-based conservative activist, John Tillman, who also oversees a libertarian think tank and a news foundation that recently received grant money to highlight opposition to public health restrictions. Tillman, who declined to be interviewed for this story, wrote in an email that the American Culture Project’s objectives are “issue education and advocacy (not electioneering).” …

While data collection and digital ad targeting have become commonplace in political campaigns, what’s unusual about the American Culture Project, experts said, is how it presents its aims as news dissemination and community building. It touts transparency and civic engagement using an online network whose donors remain private — part of a bid to shape public opinion as local news outlets crater and social networks replace traditional forums for political deliberation.

The arrangement “puts the lie to the public presentation of these nonprofits as public welfare organizations that might happen to do a little politics,” said Noah Bookbinder, president of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “It shows the system is being abused in ways we knew were happening but you usually don’t see quite so blatantly.”

The States

West Virginia Public Broadcasting: W.Va. House Bill Would Regulate Social Media In Elections, ‘Deplatforming’

By Emily Allen

[Under House Bill 3307, which passed the House of Delegates on Wednesday,] Facebook and other platforms would have to get approval from the secretary of state’s office any time they intend to publish information on the elections.

The bill also requires equal space and visibility for all candidates, and it bars a company from algorithmically targeting one viewer over another based on any factor other than the fact that a viewer resides in West Virginia.

Social media companies would have to publicly disclose any favorable treatment of a candidate as an in-kind contribution.

The legislation goes on to create an appeals process for candidates who lose access to their accounts before an election, as well as protections for any personal information that candidates share with a platform.

The secretary of state’s office has seen “a lot of anecdotal evidence” of disparate treatment of candidates by social media companies, according to general counsel Chris Alder.

Alder, who helped draft some of the bill, said he and his colleagues asked Facebook for data on this but never received anything.

“Without the transparency into the data, then we have no visibility into that,” Alder said. “We can’t tell.”

Reason: That 60 Minutes Story on Ron DeSantis and Florida’s Vaccine Rollout Is Wildly Flawed

By Robby Soave

A 60 Minutes story on Florida’s vaccine rollout accused Ron DeSantis, the state’s Republican governor, of making a corrupt deal with Publix to distribute the vaccine. CBS reporter Sharyn Alfonsi noted that the grocery chain donated $100,000 to DeSantis’ election campaign and suggested the lucrative vaccination contract was a “pay-to-play” scheme.

It’s an accusation that doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny: For one thing, Publix—like many large corporations—gives money to both Republicans and Democrats. But more importantly, the decision to have Publix coordinate vaccination was not even made by the governor’s office. According to Jared Moskowitz, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, it was his offices that recommended Publix. Moskowitz, a Democrat, has said that Publix was the best store for the job, since it has more than 800 locations across the state.

Indeed, when Alfonsi cornered DeSantis at a press conference and asked him about Publix, he gave a lengthy explanation that largely undercut her claims. He pointed out, for instance, that it wasn’t true that Publix got the vaccines first: CVS and Walgreens had already been contracted to coordinate vaccination for long-term care facilities. Here’s a transcript of what the governor said:

National Review: Rhode Island’s Ill-Advised Action-Civics Bill

By Stanley Kurtz

Across the country, at both the state and federal levels, Republican legislators are signing onto seemingly bipartisan bills that mandate “action civics” — out-of-school student protests and lobbying (nearly always for leftist causes) — for course credit. Few Republicans have even heard of action civics, so it’s easy enough to deceive them. When they see a proposal for “project-based civics,” they think “internship at the mayor’s office” or “debate club.” Little do these Republican legislators know that they’re actually authorizing public-school students to organize course-credited out-of-school demonstrations or lobbying expeditions for gun control, the Green New Deal, or defunding the police.

This is exactly what is happening in Rhode Island, where an action-civics bill in the state House (H5028) is co-sponsored by five Democrats and two Republicans, with Republican representative Brian Newberry as primary sponsor, while an identical bill in the state Senate (SO354) is sponsored by three Republicans and one Democrat, with Republican senator Jessica de la Cruz as primary sponsor.

The Hill: More GOP-led states risk corporate backlash like Georgia’s

By Alex Gangitano

The corporate backlash against Georgia’s new voting law is putting other states on alert…

American Airlines came out against the legislation, passed by the state Senate on Thursday, while Dallas-based Southwest Airlines said in a statement that “the right to vote is foundational to our democracy” but did not oppose the measure outright.

“This is not good enough, @SouthwestAir. Do you oppose these extreme voter suppression bills SB7/HB6?” tweeted Julián Castro, the former Democratic mayor of San Antonio and secretary of Housing and Urban Development under former President Obama.

That kind of public criticism is putting more pressure on consumer-facing businesses to pick a side, experts say.

“Whether they want to or not, I think [companies are] going to increasingly get pulled into policy issues, and sometimes policy issues that are very political. In the old days, maybe it was a little easier to say, ‘We don’t comment on it. We don’t talk about it.’ I think increasingly that’s just not really realistic,” said John Forrer, director of the Institute for Corporate Responsibility at George Washington University.

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly

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

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