Daily Media Links 4/6

April 6, 2020   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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Supreme Court

Newsweek: U.S. Supreme Court Gives Green Light To Seattle’s ‘Democracy Vouchers’ Giving Voters A Free $100 To Donate To Candidates

By Daniel Villarreal

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear Elster v. Seattle, a case challenging Seattle’s “Democracy Vouchers”, a program that uses property taxes to give city residents a $100 coupon for donating to local political candidates each election cycle.

The plaintiffs in the case, Mark Elster and Sarah Pynchon, argued that Democracy Vouchers force property owners like them to fund political campaigns that they might disagree with, thus burdening their First Amendment rights and unconstitutionally compelling their speech.

However, by declining to hear the case, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a Washington State Supreme Court dismissal that “the power to tax is a fundamental, necessary sovereign power of government” that shouldn’t be subject to legal challenges by individuals who disagree with what programs their taxes fund…

If the U.S. Supreme Court had heard the case, it could’ve laid the groundwork for other citizens to contest any taxpayer-funded public initiatives. By declining to hear the case, the nation’s top court has essentially allowed other cities to consider pursuing similar election funding.

The Courts

Reclaim the Net: Court hears final arguments in Laura Loomer and Freedom Watch’s censorship suit against Google, Facebook, Twitter

By Tom Parker

Congressional candidate Laura Loomer and conservative non-profit Freedom Watch urged the District of Columbia (DC) Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday to resurrect their anti-conservative bias lawsuit which accuses Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter of “intentionally and willfully suppress politically conservative content.”

The lawsuit also alleges that the tech giants have violated the First Amendment, the Sherman Act (an anti-competitive monopoly law), and DC’s public accommodation law (which prohibits acts performed wholly or partially for a discriminatory reason)…

Initially, the suit was dismissed in March 2019 with a DC federal judge finding that it did not present justifiable and legal claims about the social media companies’ alleged political and ideological bias.

On Thursday, the court heard final arguments from Loomer and Freedom Watch and was urged to resurrect the suit.

During their final arguments, Loomer and Freedom Watch cited Packingham v. North Carolina (2017) where the US Supreme Court struck down a North Carolina statute prohibiting sex offenders from accessing social media websites and ruled that the law was unconstitutional and violated the First Amendment.

Townhall: Judge’s Ruling Reduces First Amendment

By M.D. Kittle

The Washington Post likes to say, “Democracy dies in darkness.”

Actually, it’s dying in well-lit courtrooms.

On Tuesday, federal Judge William Peterson sided with Gov. Tony Evers and denied the MacIver Institute’s motion for a temporary injunction against Evers and his PR team.

The free-market think tank, which operates the MacIver News Service, last year sued Evers for violating its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The governor’s press team barred MacIver reporters from attending a budget briefing in February 2019 and blocked MacIver from the general media list. This, despite the fact that the MacIver Institute has been a credentialed member of the Capitol press corps for years.

But Peterson, judge for the U.S. District Court Western District, decided that the MacIver Institute is simply a think tank, not a news organization, with an “ideological mission.” …

But what of the clearly left-leaning organizations allowed to attend the Democrats’ briefings and are included on Evers’ media list? Well, Peterson asserts, The Progressive, The Capital Times, even The Devil’s Advocates far left radio show “are principally in the business of disseminating news.”

Reason (Volokh Conspiracy): Short Circuit: A Roundup of Recent Federal Court Decisions

By John Ross

The feds offer grants to states to help them fight DUIs, including financing overtime pay for troopers writing citations to impaired drivers…Two Mississippi highway safety officials learn of an internal investigation probing whether state troopers were writing ghost tickets to tap into that sweet overtime pay. The two officials tell the feds, the feds stop funding Mississippi, and the two are fired. First Amendment retaliation? Fifth Circuit: Nope. Their statements were made within their job duties and thus are not protected by the First Amendment.


Breitbart: Commissioner Brendan Carr Torches ‘Dangerous’ Petition to Weaponize FCC Against Free Speech

By Sean Moran

Progressive media group Free Press has petitioned the FCC to censor broadcasters from showing President Donald Trump’s press conferences on the coronavirus pandemic. In its petition to the federal agency, the group called it a “life and death issue.”

Free Press urged the FCC to prominently disclose when broadcasters allegedly disclose information that is “false or scientifically suspect” and air disclosures prominently on television when broadcaster air allegedly false information.

“When the president tells dangerous lies about a public health emergency, broadcasters have a choice: don’t air them, or put those lies in context with disclaimers noting that they may be untrue and are unverified,” Free Press wrote. “And certainly the FCC has a duty to rein in radio broadcasters that seed confusion with lies and disinformation.”

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr called this petition a “dangerous” attempt to weaponize the FCC against free speech…

“My record is clear that I’ve spoken about left, right, and nonpolitical. It’s interesting that people find their First Amendment footing when it fits their political views. And when it doesn’t, it’s crickets,” Carr added.

Reason (Volokh Conspiracy): Lawsuit Against Fox for Its Coronavirus Coverage

By Eugene Volokh

The San Diego Union-Tribune (Ken Stone) reports:

An obscure Washington state group has become the first in the nation to sue Fox News over its coronavirus coverage, asking a state court to keep the cable network from airing false information about the pandemic….

[The complaint] seeks an injunction to prohibit the conservative-leaning outlet from “interfering with reasonable and necessary measures to contain the virus by publishing further false and deceptive content.”

I read the Complaint (Wash. League for Increased Transparency & Ethics v. Fox News), and watched the apparently relevant videos, and I’m quite confident the lawsuit is going nowhere. Certainly the injunction request is inconsistent with First Amendment law, and the other claims (for violations of Washington’s consumer protection law, for the intentional infliction of emotional distress, and seeking a declaratory judgment) are losers as well…

Could there be liability for a media organization’s (1) factual assertions that are (2) false when (3) the organization knows they are false or likely false and (4) some listeners rely on them and act physically dangerously as a result? 

Online Speech Platforms

Protocol: Google revises COVID-19 ad ban after backlash

By Emily Birnbaum

Google on Thursday announced that it will soon allow political advertisers to begin running ads about coronavirus, walking back a stringent ban after facing pressure from Democrats who told Protocol it unfairly censored their speech about a pivotal election year issue.

The tech giant in a memo to advertisers on Thursday said it will allow some advertisements this week from “government entities, hospitals, medical providers and NGOs” who want to advertise about COVID-19, with guidance expected in the next few days for political advertisers specifically…

Patrick Stevenson, the chief mobilization officer of the Democratic National Committee, in a message to Protocol said, “It’s obviously the right move – I don’t know how they thought that was a tenable position,” but he expressed frustration that the company did not lay out a more specific timeline for political advertisers.

Slate: Republicans Want Twitter to Ban Chinese Communist Party Accounts. That’s a Dangerous Idea.

By Gabrielle Lim and Joan Donovan

For weeks now, Chinese officials have been tweeting allegations that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is hiding information about COVID-19 patient zero. At the same time, U.S. politicians have been speculating that the Chinese Communist Party purposely did not disclose the true numbers of those affected with COVID-19. In response to this, in late March, GOP lawmakers Sen. Ben Sasse and Rep. Mike Gallagher published a letter calling on Twitter to ban the Chinese Communist Party from its platform.

Since then, such calls have continued…

False statements that could lead to harm should be taken down, as should content that violates a platform’s terms of service or content policies. Twitter and Facebook have previously removed networks of coordinated accounts that they attribute to China, Iran, and Russia for violating their policies on “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” Should an individual account continually violate the platform’s policies, removal is certainly warranted. But a blanket ban on politicians and diplomats from countries whose politics or ideology we disagree with, however, is not. 


Mother Jones: Small-Dollar Donors Powered the 2020 Race. Then the Pandemic Happened.

By Russ Choma and Kara Voght

Can political fundraisers still count on small donors? And how do they appeal to such contributors in the midst of a public health and economic cataclysm? …

Few Americans donate to political candidates, and even fewer give small amounts: An analysis from campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets found that slightly more than half of 1 percent of Americans donated more than $200 to presidential campaigns in 2016. But those who do make small-dollar donations often do so because they feel an emotional connection to the campaign. “If you give $2,800, it’s typically in exchange for close-up exposure to a candidate,” says Teddy Goff who ran digital fundraising for President Obama’s 2012 reelection. “That’s not happening for $5 or $25-those donors are doing it because they believe in the candidate.”

The Federal Election Commission doesn’t require campaigns to turn over detailed information on donors who give less than $200-only the lump sum raised from them. However, in recent years both Democratic and Republican campaigns have begun outsourcing their small-dollar fundraising to groups like ActBlue and WinRed, which do provide more details on who these donors are. 

Candidates and Campaigns

The Hill: Biden campaign blasts Twitter for refusing to sanction retaliatory ‘hoax’ Trump ad

By Jonathan Easley

Joe Biden’s campaign blasted Twitter on Friday for refusing to sanction a video released by President Trump’s campaign that was deliberately manipulated to make it sound like the former vice president called the coronavirus a “hoax.”

Biden never called the coronavirus a “hoax” and the audio clips that have been spliced together are from different days.

The Trump campaign released the video in an effort to draw attention to what it views as Twitter’s double standard in enforcing its manipulated media policy…

Biden spokesman Bill Russo told The Hill Twitter’s decision is “inexcusable.”

“Twitter was dared to act on a piece of disinformation that clearly violates their rules, and they blinked,” Russo said. “Twitter has taken admirable steps in recent days to take action on tweets from the President of Brazil, Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro, and Rudy Giuliani that have spread disinformation that endangers public health in the midst of this crisis – which makes it all the more inexplicable and inexcusable that they are failing to act on this.”

New York Times: Pete Buttigieg’s Next Move: A PAC Called Win the Era

By Shane Goldmacher

Pete Buttigieg, who rose from obscurity to narrowly win the Iowa caucuses before dropping out of the Democratic presidential primary last month, has taken some of the first steps toward outlining his post-campaign future.

Mr. Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., is forming both a political action committee, called Win the Era, and an affiliated nonprofit group…

Donors have been told that the PAC will support and endorse candidates who represent generational change, specifically in down-ballot races, in hopes of helping to create a “pipeline” for the party. The groups will also promote issues such as climate change and cybersecurity…

Mr. Buttigieg’s primary campaign committee ended up with at least $2.8 million in general election funds, according to the Campaign Finance Institute.

Because Mr. Buttigieg did not become the nominee, that money must now be refunded. But Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign is now asking donors to instead redirect the money to seed the PAC, which can accept contributions of up to $5,000 each.

Washington Free Beacon: Iowa Dem Holds Virtual Fundraiser with Anti-Dark Money Group While Benefiting From Dark Money

By Joe Schoffstall

Iowa Democrat Theresa Greenfield, who is being aided by millions in dark money, held a virtual fundraiser with an anti-dark money group…

Greenfield held a “special virtual event” with End Citizens United, a liberal group that decries the influence of corporate PAC and dark money in politics. However, her campaign has received millions in help from liberal dark money groups, pulled in cash from committees funded by corporate PACs, and has been accused of illegally coordinating with a Democratic super PAC…

Greenfield has shaped her campaign around ridding Washington of the “corrupting” influence of money in politics. She released a plan that calls for eliminating dark money, banning corporate PACs, and stopping coordination between campaigns and outside groups. Greenfield appears to have already broken all of these promises.

The States

Courthouse News: Wisconsin Judge Files Defamation Case Over Political TV Ads

By Joe Kelly

A Wisconsin judge running for a seat on the state supreme court sued two conservative interest groups Friday, claiming they distributed TV ads with false claims about her past roles prosecuting and sentencing sex offenders in order to damage her campaign.

Jill Karofsky’s complaint filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court charges that the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) and the political mobilization branch of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce trade association (WMC) created two demonstrably misleading advertisements that knowingly make false accusations about her being soft on crime with regard to two sex offender cases.

The lawsuit has been assigned to Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Witkowiak, who was appointed by a Republican governor, and Karofsky is asking the court to order the groups to remove the ads from the airwaves and block them from creating any similar ads.

New York Post: Cuomo tucks controversial campaign finance overhaul into sprawling state budget

By Bernadette Hogan and Nolan Hicks

Gov. Cuomo managed to get his controversial overhaul of the state’s election laws and campaign-finance regulations included in the sprawling $177 billion budget, effectively ending a court fight that had tied the proposal up for months…

It also imposes new limits on New York’s famously loose rules for fundraising.

In exchange, candidates will be eligible to receive public funding for their campaigns…

State Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs defended the overhaul and applauded Cuomo’s inclusion of it in the budget.

“I think it was a very important piece of work and it has for the first time given New York State a substantive public finance system,” he said.

“It changes the rules regarding donations and contribution limits, eliminating big money and I think it does make certain reforms on ballot access that were long overdue.”

North Country Now: Rep. Walczyk says Cuomo ‘bullied lawmakers’ into passing state budget that gives him unprecedented powers

North Country Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, R-Watertown, said in a statement: 

“…The budget gave [Gov. Cuomo] the ability to permanently limit our democratic process. The budget will make it harder for new candidates to run for office and destroys third parties. And, after cutting essential funding for farms, libraries, senior’s prescription coverage, mental health programs and doing nothing to help small businesses, his budget implements a $100 million per year taxpayer-funded public campaign finance program. With unemployment at record levels – and constituents calling me every day because they can’t even get through the Department of Labor’s unemployment enrollment process – and now he has the audacity to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for campaign ads, consultants and those annoying robocalls?

In the middle of this global health nightmare, $100 million could have purchased 4,000 ventilators. It could have provided a lot of funding for our schools and libraries. It could have paved a lot of local roads here in the Front Yard of America. It could have helped keep our mom and pop businesses – not shuttered when they should be gearing up for the summer season – afloat to protect our local economy. It’s unconscionable.”

Sludge: Seeking Signatures, Ballot Campaigns Face Social Distancing Challenges

By Donald Shaw

In Michigan, where the campaign finance and lobbying laws are filled with loopholes, earning the state an “F” in the Center for Public Integrity’s survey of the systems in place to deter corruption, a group of activists and nonprofits calling itself the Coalition to Close Lansing Loopholes kicked off an effort last year to fix the state’s ethics laws by putting a constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot. But in late March, as the need for social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus caught on, the organizers determined they would not be able to collect enough petition signatures and started looking ahead…

In Arizona, organizers working on a similar initiative halted volunteer and paid signature collection efforts on March 18…

While the petition signature gathering work of ballot initiative campaigns has been frozen in place by the pandemic, a national group set up to support them is looking at ways for how to move forward. The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC), a nonprofit that works with progressive ballot campaigns, is helping groups assess options on a state by state basis, including policy and legal action…

In Oregon, the November ballot will include a legislatively referred constitutional amendment to permit the enactment of laws by the state and local government to regulate money in politics, including limits on expenditures and disclosure requirements.

Mackinac Center: End Initiated Laws, Call for Congressional Term Limits and More

By Jack McHugh

While the legislature remains on an epidemic-induced hiatus, this Roll Call Report describes some recent constitutional amendment proposals…

Senate Joint Resolution M: Ban candidates with delinquent campaign finance fines and disclosures

Introduced by Sen. Peter Lucido (R), to place before voters in the next general election a constitutional amendment to prohibit a candidate from running for office if he or she has delinquent campaign finance statements, reports, fees, or fines. Referred to committee, no further action at this time.

Tiffany Donnelly


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