In the News
By Alex Cordell
Just over a year ago, after the Trump administration gave the green light to move forward with construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, an activist group called Red Line Salish Sea staged a peaceful protest in Bellingham, Washington…
The county prosecutor’s office responded with a disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment investigation of the demonstrators. To uncover their identities, officials repeatedly attempted to obtain a warrant for private information from the group’s Facebook page…
The first two warrant applications were withdrawn after the American Civil Liberties Union and Facebook fought back, noting that they would chill political speech and association. So county prosecutor David McEachran went to the feds, and the Department of Justice chimed in with tips on how to craft a warrant to pass constitutional muster.
Third time was the charm. Must be nice to have friends in high places…
Abuses of this sort aren’t limited to one side of the political aisle, as a group of conservative citizens in Wisconsin know all too well. Their own saga began around 2010, when the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office opened a secret probe into the Milwaukee County Executive’s Office, run at the time by then-gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker.
Three years later, Wisconsinites affiliated with right-of-center groups that had supported Gov. Walker’s collective bargaining reforms had their homes raided by police officers in full riot gear before dawn.
New from the Institute for Free Speech
By Joe Albanese
Last week, the Tampa Bay Times published a detailed article about a group called “The Collective PAC,” whose mission is to “fix the challenge of African American underrepresentation in elected seats of power throughout our nation.” The Times outlines how this group is “bankrolling” Andrew Gillum, a black candidate for Florida governor in the Democratic primaries, by donating to political action committees (PACs) affiliated with Gillum’s campaign.
Collective PAC has several affiliated organizations under its umbrella: a PAC, a super PAC, and a 501(c)(4) nonprofit advocacy organization. The Times takes issue with the fact that the 501(c)(4) organization is donating the most of those three groups … Collective PAC’s Founder and Executive Director, Quentin James, has said that the 501(c)(4) is simply donating more because it has attracted more donations than the other groups under the Collective PAC umbrella…
[D]espite Collective PAC’s donors not being individually known, current disclosure laws have already managed to identify the organization’s role in supporting Gillum’s campaign and provide readers with a good amount of background information as to its mission and leadership. Voters can already judge for themselves whether Collective PAC’s role in the race is a pivotal voting issue…
[F]or those who support Collective PAC’s mission of promoting black leaders – or for those who support numerous other causes – making it easier to participate in political debate without fear of harassment can make a significant impact.
By Eric Lieberman
Several influential watchdogs and digital privacy rights groups called on big tech companies Monday to be more transparent about their content moderation tactics.
In doing so, the larger group released a set of standards for powerful websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and others to follow called The Santa Clara Principles. The guidelines center around three main categories: the quantity of accounts suspended and posts removed (numbers), the communications provided to affected users (notice) and the ability to request a re-examination (appeal).
The coalition includes the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), New America’s Open Technology Institute, the ACLU of Northern California and multiple individual free expression advocates…
“The decisions they make have major consequences for individuals’ rights to freedom of expression and everyone’s ability to access information,” Emma Llansó, director of CDT’s Free Expression Project, said in a statement. “As policymakers around the world focus on how online platforms shape our information environments, it’s crucial to know more about how content moderation happens in practice. We hope that the Santa Clara principles can prompt broader discussions amongst advocacy groups, experts, and platforms across the globe and lead to more transparent and accountable content moderation.”
Internet Speech Regulation
By Marty Swant
The release comes the same week Facebook announced plans to begin rolling out its previously announced policy changes for political ad buys. The new changes will require political ad buyers to both verify their identity and location along with new labeling that shows the ad is political in nature.
In a press release published today by Facebook, the company provided additional context to how it’s trying to improve the platform while also admitting “this will never be a solved problem because we’re against determined, creative and well-funded adversaries.”
In response to the ads being released, Meredith McGehee, executive director of the nonpartisan political reform nonprofit Issue One, called on Congress to pass legislation that would require online advertising to be more transparent. She mentioned the Honest Ads Act, a bipartisan bill that would require the largest internet companies to disclose all political ad buys. (So far, the bill hasn’t gained much traction, and political advertisers and strategists don’t expect it to this year.)
“If online ad disclosure requirements had been law, we would have already seen these ads in near real-time and that some were paid for in rubles,” she said. “And law enforcement officials would have seen they were illegal because spending foreign money in U.S. elections is illegal. The bipartisan Honest Ads Act would directly address this loophole.”
Media Matters for America: Can tech platforms protect election integrity?
By Melissa Ryan
Shadowy online ads are a staple of American elections in the digital age. In the last election cycle, voters targeted with digital ads had no way to see who purchased the ad unless they clicked through, and even then, there was sometimes no disclosure. There was no way to learn why you were being targeted or how much money was being spent on your demographic segment. (FEC disclosure requirements for online advertisements are pretty basic. Most of the time you can see only how much was spent — and not who was targeted, for example — on a digital buy that might include multiple platforms.) And that lack of transparency is particularly problematic given that thousands of ads on Facebook and Twitter came from Russian trolls and other hostile actors who were targeting American voters, a practice voters were unaware of until nearly a year after the elections.
In 2016, Facebook’s terms of service did not explicitly prevent foreigners, including Russians, from purchasing political ads on digital platforms. Its ad policy simply stated, “Advertisers are responsible for understanding and complying with all applicable laws and regulations.” But it’s not even clear if it’s against the law for foreign trolls to purchase ads targeting American voters. And it’s highly unlikely that the law will change before the midterm elections, even though lawmakers have introduced The Honest Ads Act, a bipartisan bill to provide more transparency in digital political ads, and it has the support of several government reform organizations and both Facebook and Twitter.
By Former Reps. Tom Davis III (R-Va.) and Jason Altmire (D-Pa.)
The failure of campaign finance reform has also contributed to our political dysfunction. A lawmaker’s schedule is often squeezed out by the demand to constantly raise money. Big money has also moved from the political parties themselves to less-regulated, opaque “Super PACs.” This dominant role of money in politics has engendered deep cynicism in the electorate, with 65 percent of respondents in a 2016 University of Maryland national poll saying that the U.S. political system is “rigged.”
With non-competitive districts and the explosion of special interest money, it is no surprise that voter turnout in the United States is embarrassingly low…
We believe it is essential to find a way out of this downward spiral. That is why we are co-chairing the new Commission on Civility and Effective Governance, sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress…
We will focus on reforming the incentives in U.S. politics that currently drive our leaders to favor partisan point scoring, personal attacks, and all-or-nothing posturing over reasoned debate and finding real solutions to our nation’s daunting challenges.
Candidates and Campaigns
New York Times: Big Donors Form New Alliance to Seize House From Republicans
By Shane Goldmacher
Major Democratic donors in New York have discreetly formed a new political alliance to raise roughly $10 million that would be injected into as many as two dozen key House battlegrounds in an effort to wrest control of Congress from Republicans.
Admission to be an official partner in what’s being called the House Victory Project comes with a $108,000 price tag. More than 80 people have each committed that sum, according to a half-dozen donors familiar with the group, whose existence has not previously been reported.
The $108,000 pledge allows each donor to effectively give the maximum $5,400 contribution to 20 different House candidates. With nearly $9 million in commitments amassed so far, each Democratic recipient could see a windfall of as much as $432,000 – an amount that, for many House candidates, equals months of fund-raising in one fell swoop…
For House candidates, large-scale direct campaign contributions are a hard commodity to come by.
Federal election rules limit direct donations to candidates to $2,700 per donor for both the primary and general election, but joint committees, such as the House Victory Project, can bundle those contributions into one larger check.
By Griffin Connolly
Rep. Kathleen Rice, a leading name to replace former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, could be dogged in the coming months by a batch of potential campaign finance violations involving her old district attorney campaign account.
Rice never deactivated the account from when she was elected Nassau County district attorney after she lost to Scheiderman in the 2010 Democratic primary for state attorney general. Since winning election to the House in New York’s 4th District in 2014, she has subsequently spent thousands of dollars from the DA campaign account on ads, consulting services, and donations to local Democratic groups that have actively worked on her elections to the House, according to a report by Crain’s New York.
Federal Elections Commission rules prohibit candidates for federal office from using leftover money from old local campaigns – such as Rice’s DA campaign account – for their federal office campaigns.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Donors behind political cash cannot be concealed, ethics watchdog says
By Sky Chadde
Nonprofits that donate to political campaigns can’t conceal the identities of their donors, Missouri’s campaign finance watchdog said in an opinion Thursday.
The opinion targets dark money groups…
“Both the Missouri Constitution and Missouri campaign finance disclosure law contain prohibitions on making contributions to a committee with intent to conceal the identity of the actual source of the contribution,” James Klahr, the Missouri Ethics Commission’s executive director, wrote in the opinion…
According to the ruling, under Missouri law a nonprofit becomes a political committee once it accepts contributions of more than $500 in a year or more than $250 from a single person in an attempt to sway voters.
Once the nonprofit becomes a committee, it must register with the ethics commission and start to file reports that include names of donors and amounts, according to the opinion.
By Scott Shackford
In April, Michael Picard staged a protest outside the Stamford courthouse with a sign that read “Fuck Free Speech -Stamford PD.” Picard was showing support for a buddy, Michael Friend, who had been arrested earlier that month for standing around in public holding a sign warning drivers of a police checkpoint designed to catch and ticket distracted drivers.
Police ordered Friend to dump the sign. He refused. He was then charged with a misdemeanor count of interfering with police.
That arrest, of course, was a violation of Friend’s speech rights, and that’s why Picard showed up in front of the courthouse with his own sign when Friend was being arraigned. He had a fellow protester, Dawud Talib, recording him. Picard provided video of what happened next to Reason. Picard and Talib wandered next door to the police station, and that’s where they were confronted by Police Chief Jon Fontneau, who ordered them to put the sign down or face arrest for breach of peace. When Picard refused, he was arrested by three other officers and escorted into the police station, leaving Talib out on the curb.
While Picard’s arrest report claims witnesses saw him jumping out in front of pedestrians with his sign, I did not see anything like that in the video, which shows hardly any foot traffic near the police station. According to the report, “Michael was publicly displaying offensive and indecent language.” The report says Picard was ordered to move to the public sidewalk under the threat of arrest for breach of peace. In the video, he is clearly on a public sidewalk in front of the police station.