Daily Media Links 4/24: Floyd Abrams Sees Trump’s Anti-Media Tweets as Double-Edged Swords, Internet Speech 2016: More Regulation Needed?, and more…

April 24, 2017   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
Default Article


Trust No One – Except Politicians?

By Luke Wachob

Just as most of us wouldn’t leave it up to McDonald’s and Burger King to tell us how healthy a cheeseburger is, we shouldn’t leave it up to political candidates to tell us the whole truth about their voting record, character, and qualifications for office. And yet, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) recently advised just that at a town hall in Springfield, Missouri.

Reiterating her opposition to independent speech about candidates, she told the crowd, “If it doesn’t say ‘paid for by the candidate,’ and if there isn’t a disclaimer that says ‘I approve this message’ or my opponent approves this message, ignore it. Pay no attention to it. It’s probably not true.”

Yes, it’s Americans who aren’t career politicians who can’t be trusted. Good call, Senator.

Politicians have been increasingly fearful of independent speech since the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United. You can almost sympathize with them. When campaigns are dominated by candidate spending, politicians control what is said about them. But why is that in the public’s best interest?

An Amendment to Restrict Political Speech Rights

By Alex Baiocco

At a recent town hall meeting in his district, Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL) renewed his perennial call to amend the Constitution to give incumbent politicians unprecedented power to regulate any money raised or spent “to influence elections.”

Of course, money spent for the purpose of influencing elections is primarily money spent on speech. And presumably, those in power would determine what speech qualifies as an attempt “to influence elections.” When left to the discretion of politicians, this could mean anything from an ad expressly advocating for the election or defeat of a candidate, to an educational pamphlet on a policy issue that may be relevant to the current election, or a nonpartisan voter guide.

The stated goal of Deutch’s constitutional amendment is to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United…

Understandably, no candidate particularly likes it when a group of citizens spends money on speech in opposition to their candidacy. But that doesn’t mean that such speech is bad for democracy, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the politicians currently in power should have the ability to regulate and limit that speech. 

Free Speech

Cato: Internet Speech 2016: More Regulation Needed?

By John Samples

Election law expert Nathaniel Persily has written an interesting article about the Internet and the 2016 election. The problems Nate (and others) see in 2016 will inform the debate about free speech now and in future elections…

From a First Amendment perspective, 2016 saw more speech by more people than previous elections. The election also showed that you can win the White House without dominating fundraising, an outcome that weakens the case for campaign finance regulation. Both results seem good for free speech…

To be clear, Persily is not proposing Congress censor “fake news.” But the nature of online political speech in 2016 (and the outcome of the election) may encourage the thought that “something ought to be done” about false and ugly speech. Free speech advocates should be prepared…

Anonymous speech and anonymity has a long history in American politics. It has been both protected (in voting and in some speech) and not protected (with campaign contributions). We should expect a renewed debate about anonymity, a debate that will be worth having for no other reason than the alternatives are so much worse for free speech.

Townhall: Liberals Want To Kill Free Speech, So We Patriots Must Fight Back

By Kurt Schlichter

Recently, every single Democrat voted to effectively repeal the First Amendment. You see, the words “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech” were too expansive for liberals’ tastes because they prevented Congress from making laws abridging the freedom of speech.

This creepy idiocy was in response to Citizens United, a Supreme Court case that, to people who actually believe in free speech and not liberal fascism, conforms to the First Amendment by telling the federal government that no, you can’t put people in jail for making a movie critical of Hillary Clinton.

Yes, you read it correctly. Democrats think that Congress should be able to make laws to put people in jail for making movies critical of Democrat politicians. Roll that around in your head for a while.

Now, they call it “campaign finance reform,” and their argument is that they aren’t really limiting speech – just limiting how people spend their own money. Apparently, under the First Amendment, we are allowed to say anything we want, but Congress can pass a law telling us that we just can’t spend any money to actually be heard.

Independent Groups

The Guardian: Disney, the Gap and Pepsi urged to quit US Chamber of Commerce

By Dominic Rushe

Disney, the Gap and Pepsi are being pressured to quit the US Chamber of Commerce, America’s largest lobby group, amid criticism of its big-money efforts to fight climate change legislation and promote tobacco products.

A coalition of pressure groups including Action on Smoking and Health, Greenpeace, Public Citizen and the Sierra Club have written to the CEOs of the three companies asking them to stop funding the powerful business group…

The US Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business organization and represents more than 3m businesses, large and small. Under its president and CEO, Thomas Donohue, who took over the chamber in 1997, it has become a political powerhouse with global influence, although it is secretive about its membership…

Dan Dudis, director of chamber watch at Public Citizen, said activists would target other chamber members in the coming months. “We are looking at companies that have explicit public policy positions that run counter to the chamber’s stance.”

The Media

New York Times: Floyd Abrams Sees Trump’s Anti-Media Tweets as Double-Edged Swords

By Jim Rutenberg

Yet even as the shock effect wears off (should it ever?), Mr. Trump’s anti-media Twitter posts still serve as reminders of his campaign vows to “open” libel laws, his veiled threats to punish corporate owners of news organizations whose coverage he does not like and his occasional calls for leak investigations…

His Twitter trail could be a gift to lawyers for the news industry…

It could provide great grist for legal arguments that the investigations are less about prosecuting damaging leaks than they are about punishing journalists.

That, at least, is the view of Floyd Abrams, the titan of free speech jurisprudence…

The occasion of my recent visit to his downtown Manhattan office was the publication of his new book, “The Soul of the First Amendment,” which he called “really a story of American exceptionalism.” It argues that the United States’ protections for free speech are the best in the world, at least as of now. (The book comes out on Tuesday.)

Mr. Abrams has a way of angering people all along the political spectrum. For all the points he has scored with liberals over the years, he helped argue the conservative side of the Citizens United case, which allowed corporations and unions to spend more freely in elections.

Politico: Trump’s Fake War on the Fake News

By Ben Schreckinger and Hadas Gold

On the campaign trail, Trump called the press “dishonest” and “scum.” He defended Russian strongman Vladimir Putin against charges of murdering journalists and vowed to somehow “open up our libel laws” to weaken the First Amendment. Since taking office, he has dismissed unfavorable coverage as “fake news” and described the mainstream media as “the enemy of the American people.” And there’s been a string of symbolic, almost gratuitous little slaps: He not only rejected the traditional invitation to the White House Correspondents Association dinner, but announced the Saturday beforehand that he’d be holding a rally the same night, meaning some reporters will have to skip their own professional event to cover his…

But behind that theatrical assault, the Trump White House has turned into a kind of playground for the press. We interviewed more than three dozen members of the White House press corps, along with White House staff and outside allies, about the first whirlwind weeks of Trump’s presidency. Rather than a historically toxic relationship, they described a historic gap between the public perception and the private reality.

Wall Street Journal: The Challenge of Our Disruptive Era

By Sen. Ben Sasse

Think of the news media. We are going from a world in which we had too much central control by a few large organizations, to one in which everybody, everywhere can deluge us with information. What is likely to happen next is not a lot more higher-quality journalism. We’re going to have higher-volume journalism, and some of it will be good. A free, thriving, and independent press is critical to self-government, so this is a big challenge.

But people are also able to silo themselves into an echo chamber, where they hear only things that they already agree with. More conspiracy theories come to flower than ever before. You can see it on our college campuses, where students don’t want to encounter any new idea without a trigger warning. If you’re never going to encounter ideas that you didn’t already know and affirm, I don’t know why your parents are paying tuition, because education is all about wrestling with new ideas.

The political result is not just polarization, which is a big problem, but political disengagement.

Trump Administration

Associated Press: ‘Drain the swamp’ more a Trump slogan than a practice so far

By Julie Bykowicz

Then, a filing this week showed that the president raised a record $107 million for his inauguration, much of it from companies and people who do business with the government.

Trump also has brought scores of special-interest players into government. And he has yet to push any proposals to tighten campaign finance or lobbying disclosure rules.

Trump’s boldest anti-swamp move – a January executive order limiting the lobbying of outgoing officials – has already been undermined by a waiver he granted to at least one departing employee…

Yet Issue One also sees the unconventional president as a natural potential partner, particularly on campaign finance changes such as incentivizing small donors and making the Federal Election Commission enforce rules already on the books.

Trump raised a stunning $282 million from donors giving $200 or less to his 2016 campaign and a joint account with the Republican Party. Even a tweet urging lawmakers to take up the subjects of money in politics and lobbying would help, Wamp said. “His bully pulpit is like no other.”

Candidates and Campaigns

Atlanta Journal Constitution: Georgia’s 6th District race could set epic new spending record

By Greg Bluestein

The ad blitz in the race for Georgia’s 6th District started up anew on Thursday as outside groups began to pour millions more into winning what could become the most expensive U.S. House election in the nation’s history.

After a one-day respite, the bombardment of advertisement that already has cost well over $14 million resumed with biting attack pieces on Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff. It’s a taste of what’s to come in an all-out battle between national Republicans and Democrats over the suburban Atlanta district.

Ossoff’s strong showing Tuesday – he came within two points of an outright win – invigorated Democratic groups that still see the race as a chance to deal Donald Trump a devastating blow in a district long held by Republicans. His campaign took in more than $500,000 in the hours after he captured about 48 percent of the vote in the district – about the same level of support Trump notched.

With her No. 2 finish, Handel’s campaign is fast expanding from the shoe-string operation she built as one of 11 Republicans in the race. Republican leaders didn’t get involved the first time around or endorsed her opponents are pledging their support, and national GOP groups launched ads backing her bid. 

The States

New York Post: The hypocrisy of the city council campaign-finance program 

By Editorial Board

It looks like several City Council members will be opting out of the city’s public campaign-finance program for this year’s elections – although they still claim to champion the system.

The excuse for having taxpayers fund campaigns is that it supposedly reduces the influence of special interests and “pay to play” fund-raising. Yet the councilors who are opting out insist that doesn’t mean they’ve sold out…

Members seem willing to stay within the limits if they face no real opponent for re-election – in other words, if it’s a no-risk proposition. How moral of them.

Candidates have until June 12 to join the program. Yet, of about 40 incumbents likely to run this year, only Councilmen Stephen Levin and Robert Cornegy Jr. have opted in.

And at least a quarter of the 40 are looking to opt out of the system because it doesn’t serve their selfish interests – that is, because they get an advantage from dropping out.

Taxpayer funding of campaigns is supposed to level the playing field between incumbents and machine pols on the one hand and challengers and outsiders on the other. The evidence is growing that it does the reverse. 

Washington Post: ‘Dark money’ vs. corporate cash: Virginia Democratic rivals clash over funding 

By Gregory S. Schneider

One candidate takes money from an international activist group that doesn’t disclose the names of the overwhelming majority of its donors. The other takes money from Virginia’s biggest utility, which is also the top lobbyist in the state.

As Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former congressman Tom Perriello battle for the Democratic nomination for governor, their fundraising is emerging as an issue that defines them as much as their slim differences on policy.

Northam has called on Perriello to renounce “dark money,” just days after Perriello disclosed $230,000 in contributions from an international activist group called Avaaz, which Perriello helped found a decade ago…

Perriello’s campaign declined to comment specifically on the Avaaz contributions. Instead, a spokesman highlighted money that Northam has received from the state’s biggest utility – Dominion Power – and from the health insurer Anthem. 

St. Louis Public Radio: Gov. Greitens’ nonprofit zeroes in on GOP state senator in online ad 

By Erica Hunzinger

Missouri state Sen. Rob Schaaf has his hands in a lot of important legislation this session, yet he’s still made time to criticize Republican Gov. Eric Greitens over his new nonprofit.

A New Missouri Inc., which isn’t beholden to campaign finance laws and doesn’t have to disclose its donors, is fighting back, publishing a digital ad this week…

Schaaf even filed Senate Bill 73, which would establish the “Dark Money Disclosure Act” and compel disclosure of expenditures or “covered transfers” that exceed $2,000 in an election cycle.

Grietens has two 501(c)(4) nonprofits: A Committee for A New Missouri raised money for his inauguration, and A New Missouri Inc., was set up this year to, as Greitens put it recently, “advocate for our agenda.”

The Kansas City Star was the first to report on the ad against Schaaf. The Republican told St. Louis Public Radio that the ad itself was paid for with dark money.

“I’m just going to continue to try to get the people of Missouri to understand what’s going on and to try to stop this corruption … I’d kind of like to know who the contributors were who paid for the attack ads,” he said.

Alex Baiocco

Alex Baiocco