Daily Media Links 5/13

May 13, 2020   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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The Courts

Charlotte Observer: What strip clubs and political consultants have in common: They’re fighting for PPP loans.

By Jim Morrill

Should political consultants have the same right to federal relief as strip clubs?

That’s essentially the case that attorneys planned to make Tuesday in a federal appeals court in Washington.

Like strip clubs, consultants and lobbyists are barred from receiving coronavirus relief money under rules from the Small Business Administration… At stake is a share of the $669 billion Congress has approved for small business loans under the Paycheck Protection Program…

The American Association of Political Consultants sued to overturn the SBA regulation. After a federal judge in Washington ruled against the group last month, it is appealing to the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia.

A similar argument was made this week in Michigan, where a judge ruled strip clubs should be eligible for the loans.

Jason Torchinsky, general counsel for the consultants’ trade group, said the SBA ban is based on the idea that “the federal government should not be subsidizing lobbying or political activity.”

“Our position is they’re not subsidizing it,” he said. “They’re loans.”

In rejecting that argument, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth called it “a distinction without a difference.”

WTVQ: New Lawsuit Says Right To Protest Was Violated

By Steve Rogers

Four people have sued Gov. Andy Beshear and the state of Kentucky, claiming their First Amendment rights to protest have been violated by orders against mass gatherings and by limits placed on where and how protests can be held at the state Capitol.

In the 31-page lawsuit and a 25-page legal brief seeking a temporary injunction, the four plaintiffs say the governor’s orders intentionally targeted protests under the veiled canopy of health and safety protections against the spread of the coronavirus…

[T]hey say comments made by the governor were meant to keep people from protesting for fear of punishment, although no citations or actions have been taken against any protesters at the Capitol since they began more than a month ago.

The four claim an injunction is needed to block enforcement of the governor’s orders because a rally is planned May 23. The group is seeking class-action status for their claims.

Congress

New York Times: Democrats Accuse Conservatives of a ‘Dark Money’ Bid to Influence Judges

By Ben Protess and Rebecca R. Ruiz

Some top Democratic senators on Tuesday accused the Federalist Society of supporting a conservative “dark money” campaign to influence the federal judiciary, including who gets selected to become a judge and how he or she rules once on the bench.

In a sharply worded letter, the senators said they supported a proposal by a judicial ethics panel that would ban membership among judges in the conservative legal group.

The prohibition, the letter said, would help curb the “rampant politicization of our federal courts.” Nearly 30 Republican senators have already written the panel to oppose the proposed ban, as have more than 200 federal judges, nearly all of them appointed by Republican presidents…

The Democratic senators suggested the group had become the “de facto gatekeeper for judicial nominations in the Trump administration” and was “in league with” special interest groups seeking to shape the outcome of court cases.

“At the end of the day, the Federalist Society is at the center of a network of dark-money-funded conservative organizations whose purpose is to influence court composition and outcomes,” said the letter, written by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. 

Daily Beast: Mitch McConnell Moves to Expand Bill Barr’s Surveillance Powers

By Spencer Ackerman

Senate GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is set to expand a highly politicized Justice Department’s surveillance authority during a vote this week to renew the 2001 PATRIOT Act.

Under cover of redressing what President Donald Trump and his allies call the FBI’s “witch hunt” over collusion with the Kremlin, McConnell, via an amendment to the PATRIOT Act, will expressly permit the FBI to warrantlessly collect records on Americans’ web browsing and search histories. In a different amendment, McConnell also proposes giving the attorney general visibility into the “accuracy and completeness” of FBI surveillance submissions to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court…

“Under the McConnell amendment, Barr gets to look through the web browsing history of any American-including journalists, politicians, and political rivals-without a warrant, just by saying it is relevant to an investigation,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, who has been trying to ban warrantless surveillance on such records…

But there’s a competing proposal, from Senators Mike Lee and Patrick Leahy, that puts oversight and review of those FBI surveillance applications in the hands of the comparatively neutral FISA Court and its amicus…

McConnell would also block expansion of the amicus’ authority. Lee and Leahy propose to involve the adversarial attorney in proposed surveillance on “a domestic religious or political organization”; a “domestic public official or political candidate” or their staff; or the news media. McConnell instead authorizes an amicus before the court only in cases that “targe[t] a campaign for Federal office or an application that targets a [U.S.] person when the application relies for its criminal predicate on only the provisions of the [FARA].”

Daily Beast: MAGA-Loving Congressman Accidentally Pushes to Ban Trump Campaign Spending at Trump Properties

By Lachlan Markay

It’s almost certain that Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) did not intend to prohibit the president from steering campaign funds to his own hotels, resorts, and golf clubs. He introduced a bill this month explicitly designed to target campaign spending by a House colleague, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). Steube even appears to have taken steps to insulate the president from his bill’s prohibitions. But the language of his legislation would very likely bar Trump campaign payments to Trump businesses as well, and his office could not muster an explanation otherwise.

Steube’s legislation, which was introduced on May 1, is called the Obstructing Monetary Allocations to Relatives Act, or OMAR Act, a not-at-all-subtle shot at Omar, who has steered nearly $600,000 since 2018 to a company owned by political consultant Timothy Mynett, whose ex-wife said in divorce filings in early 2019 that he had admitted to carrying on an affair with Omar.

The bill prohibits any campaign payment “to a vendor which is owned or controlled by an immediate family member of the candidate,” which it defines as “a father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, husband, wife, father-in-law, or mother-in-law.” A company is considered to be “controlled” by a candidate’s family member if that family member “is a member of the board of directors or similar governing body of the vendor.”

Media

Miami New Times: The Story Behind That Bizarre Pro-Trump Coronavirus Ad in the Miami Herald

By Jessica Lipscomb

On April 26, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 52,000…

The very next day, a bright-yellow full-page ad ran on the back page of the Miami Herald’s front section seemingly praising Trump’s response to the pandemic.

“‘God Bless You Sir,'” the ad reads. “We Appreciate Your Leadership.”

The source of the ad was unclear. The only clue was a line at the bottom that read, “paid for by PII.”

New Times reached out to the Miami Herald to ask who bought the ad and whether the newspaper had vetted it prior to publication. In an email, publisher and executive editor Mindy Marques said the ad was paid for by a company called Polo International Incorporated – a Broward- based roofing contractor…

The ad should not have been published, Marques said.

“An ad that appeared in the Miami Herald’s Sunday print edition on April 26th did not comply with our guidelines on political/advocacy advertisements…”

Because the ad did not include the company’s full name, Herald readers had no way to know who placed it or with what aim, said Brendan Fischer, a campaign finance expert with the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. Fischer continued,

“Even if it doesn’t explicitly trigger any [legally required] campaign-finance reporting, voters have a right to know who’s trying to influence their vote.” …

Lee Goodman, a former chairman of the FEC, called the ad “perfectly legal.”

“No sponsor identification is legally required on this ad because it does not expressly advocate the election or defeat of Trump and it ran in print,” he said.

Goodman and three other experts contacted by New Times pointed to the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo Supreme Court decision, which ruled that federal restrictions on political communications only apply to advertisements that expressly advocate for a candidate or against his or her opponent, using words such as “vote for,” “support,” or “defeat.”

Online Speech Platforms

The Verge: How Facebook is using AI to combat COVID-19 misinformation and detect ‘hateful memes’

By Nick Statt

Facebook on Monday released a new report detailing how it uses a combination of artificial intelligence and human fact-checkers and moderators to enforce its community standards. The report – called the Community Standards Enforcement Report, which usually encompasses data and findings from the prior three to six months – has a large focus on AI this time around.

That’s because Facebook is relying more on the technology to help moderate its platform during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is preventing the company from using its usual third-party moderator firms because those firms’ employees are not allowed to access sensitive Facebook data from home computers…

“During the month of April, we put warning labels on about 50 million posts related to COVID-19 on Facebook, based on around 7,500 articles by our independent fact-checking partners,” the company said in a blog post published today. “Since March 1st, we’ve removed more than 2.5 million pieces of content for the sale of masks, hand sanitizers, surface disinfecting wipes and COVID-19 test kits. But these are difficult challenges, and our tools are far from perfect…”

Facebook says its labels are working: 95 percent of the time, someone who is warned that a piece of content contains misinformation will decide not to view it anyway… Facebook is discovering that a fair amount of misinformation as well as hate speech is now showing up in images and videos, not just text or articles…

This is a tougher challenge for AI to tackle, the company admits. Not only do AI-trained models have a harder time parsing a meme image or a video due to complexities like wordplay and language differences, but that software must also then be trained to find duplicates or only marginally modified versions of that content as it spreads across Facebook. But this is precisely what Facebook says it’s achieved with what it calls SimSearchNet…

Mashable: Twitter says Trump is no exception to new coronavirus misinformation rules

By Rachel Kraus

Executives announced in a company blog Monday that Twitter would start affixing labels and warnings to tweets containing information about COVID-19 that goes against the advice and knowledge of public health experts. That will include tweets where the misinformation is contained in media, like videos and images.

Twitter previously announced that it would label or remove misinformation that could cause physical harm or widespread panic, including conspiracy theories. Monday’s announcement broadens the policy to content where harm is not as obviously imminent.

An important clarification to the policy came on Twitter shortly after the post. In response to questions from reporters, Twitter executive Yoel Roth clarified that the company’s new policy would apply to the tweets and content of world leaders – including President Trump.

Candidates and Campaigns

New York Times: Trump Is Staking Out His Own Universe of ‘Alternative Facts’

By Thomas B. Edsall

The Trump campaign’s digital sites serve a dual purpose. His supporters are able to enter a self-contained, self-reinforcing arena where Trump reigns supreme, and the campaign gets detailed marketing information…subsequently used for voter mobilization, fund-raising and volunteer recruitment.
According to Stefan Smith, a Democratic tech strategist, you should think of the Trump campaign website as a casino. Writing in the Daily Beast, Smith argues that the Trump campaign’s website is designed on the Vegas principle, “purposefully built to keep gamblers inside and at the table.” 

Trump’s digital infrastructure, Smith wrote,

is performing a similar function – it’s trapping people inside an ecosystem of dangerous misinformation, conspiracy theories, and grievance politics. And it’s doing so while making the experience as fun and exciting as possible.

“The new Trump campaign app uses gamification to drive voter outreach and valuable data collection,” CNN reported on April 23. “Share the campaign app with a friend, win 100 points. Earn 5,000 points and you can redeem a campaign store discount. Earn 100,000 points, and you can get a picture with President Donald Trump.”

The States

ThisWeekNews.com: Bexley council likely will not act on proposal to ban protests at houses

By Chris Bournea

A proposed ordinance that would have banned picketing at individual houses is not likely to advance, but city officials said they are committed to ensuring public safety amid protests over the state of Ohio’s stay-safe directive related to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Council members discussed an ordinance related to protests at a May 6 special meeting in response to what has taken place at the south Bexley residence of Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health.

“Targeting a residence for protest, regardless of the profile of that resident, is an invasion of privacy and a defilement of private enjoyment that we all have in our home,” Mayor Ben Kessler said. “Nonetheless, the Constitution of our country provides broad protections for speech, and there’s a deep history of case law and Supreme Court decisions that underlie the limits to which we can shield our residential neighborhoods from peaceful demonstrations.” …

The proposed ordinance said, “no person shall engage in focused picketing solely in front of, in the rear of, or the side of the residence, home or dwelling of any individual in the city of Bexley” and doing so would result in being charged with a minor misdemeanor, but didn’t specify any fines, jail time or other penalties…

“What this could mean, if passed,” City Attorney Marc Fishel said, “is that picketers could march up and down the sidewalk in front of several houses, not just one particular house.”

Missourian: Lawmakers are pushing to overturn Clean Missouri. Did your district support it?

By Ashlyn O’Hara and Galen Bacharier

The Missouri House of Representatives has until Friday to vote on Senate Joint Resolution 38, which has laid bare the divide among lawmakers on “respecting the will of the voters.”

Sponsored by Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, SJR 38 would change campaign contribution rules, eliminate lobbyist gifts and – in its major goal – almost entirely undo new changes to the state’s redistricting process approved by a majority of voters, under the common label of “Clean Missouri,” two years ago.

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly