Daily Media Links 5/15

May 15, 2020   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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In the News

Rocky Mountain Sign Law Blog: Federal Judge Rules Kentucky’s Billboard Act Unconstitutional In Its Entirety

By Brian J. Connolly

In late April, in a case filed by an adult bookstore challenging the application of Kentucky’s Billboard Act to one of its advertisements, a federal judge of the Western District of Kentucky found the entire Billboard Act to violate the First Amendment…

In a relatively short order, the district court found that the Billboard Act was unconstitutional, both facially and as applied.  Although the court relied on Thomas v. Bright, a recent Sixth Circuit decision that invalidated the Tennessee Billboard Act as applied to noncommercial speech, it still found that the on-premises/off-premises distinction failed intermediate scrutiny. 

[Ed. Note: The Institute for Free Speech represents Mr. Thomas in Thomas v. Bright.]  

The Courts

Courthouse News: Judge Denies Bid to Block Montana Rules on Political Action Committee Names

By Carson McCullough

A federal judge has refused to block a Montana law that governs how political action committees can name themselves.

U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen, a Barack Obama appointee, denied an injunction request by the political action committee Doctors For A Healthy Montana. The group asked Christensen to halt the enforcement of a code found within the Political Committee Naming & Labeling Act of 1985.

Under the law, a political action committee must select a name that clearly identifies any economic or special interests that may be connected to it. For instance, if the majority of committee contributors share an identifiable special interest or the same employer, the committee name must disclose or reflect those interests.

Doctors For A Healthy Montana, however, claims the law infringes the group’s First Amendment rights.

Reporters Committee: Reporters Committee attorneys represent journalist suing city of Memphis over exclusion from media advisory list

Today, attorneys for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a lawsuit against the city of Memphis for refusing to include journalist Wendi Thomas on its media advisory list in retaliation for her coverage.

The complaint – filed on behalf of Thomas, the founder, editor, and publisher of the nonprofit news outlet MLK50: Justice Through Journalism – alleges that the city, along with Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Chief Communications Officer Ursula Madden, violated both the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions in repeatedly denying Thomas’s requests to add her email address to its media advisory list. The list is regularly used to alert journalists about newsworthy events and actions involving the city including, recently, information on how to join daily virtual press conferences with government officials addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city would not provide a reason for refusing to add Thomas to the list, but in a 2017 email exchange, the city’s chief communications officer told Thomas that she had “demonstrated, particularly on social media, that you are not objective when it comes to Mayor Strickland.” …

“No politician likes being the subject of critical coverage, but that comes with elected office, and I would be abdicating my role as a journalist if I failed to hold local government, including the City of Memphis, accountable,” said Thomas. 

Courthouse News: Nunes Family Told to Amend Defamation Suit or Face Dismissal

By Rox Laird

An Iowa federal judge on Tuesday put on hold a defamation suit filed by the family of California Congressman Devin Nunes against Esquire magazine and journalist Ryan Lizza, giving the Republican lawmaker’s family two weeks to file an amended complaint or the case will be dismissed.

U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams, an appointee of President Donald Trump, issued a 20-page ruling that is critical of the original complaint brought by the Nunes family for failure to be specific about precisely how the allegedly defamatory Esquire magazine article was inaccurate.

Nunes, a Republican representing California’s 22nd congressional district, sued Hearst and Lizza last September over a 2018 article Lizza wrote for Esquire magazine about how Nunes’ family moved its dairy farm from California to northwest Iowa. The story – headlined “Devin Nunes’s Family Farm Is Hiding a Politically Explosive Secret” – suggested there was a scandal involved and that Nunes attempted to hide the Iowa move.


The Atlantic: A First Step in the Fight Against Scam PACs

By David A. Graham

[S]cam PACs invert the usual logic of campaign-finance laws: Rather than the concern being that donors will exert improper influence over politicians, it’s the donors themselves who are being taken for a ride. Scam PACs confound normal expectations about the law, too. While the behavior involved would often get you in trouble with regulators or police in other sectors, like charity, it falls through a loophole in campaign-finance law. But Porter, a Democrat, and Representative Dan Crenshaw, a Republican, hope to change that. The surprisingly simple bill from an unlikely pair of legislators proposes giving the Federal Election Commission the power to regulate scam PACs…

The bill is shorter than nearly any other legislation in Congress, even post-office-naming bills. It would strike one word (fraudulently) from existing law, and replace a reference to political parties with one to political committees. For somewhat arcane legal reasons, the vagueness of the clause targeting those who “fraudulently misrepresent” themselves has blocked the FEC from cracking down on scam PACs. The commission asked Congress to grant it authority to go after the grifts in 2018, but few campaign-finance bills are enacted these days, because of Republican opposition to most measures; the FEC is hamstrung by its very structure.

National Review: Whitehouse Letter Against Federalist Society Is an Incoherent Mess

By Ed Whelan

Yesterday two New York Times reporters hyped a letter, written by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and signed by six other Democratic senators, that (per the article’s summary) “accused the Federalist Society of supporting a conservative ‘dark money’ campaign to influence the federal judiciary” and, on the basis of that accusation, stated its support for the Code of Conduct Committee’s [proposed opinion that federal judges may not be members of the Federalist Society but may be members of the American Bar Association.]
The Whitehouse letter is an incoherent mess…

The Whitehouse letter contends that federal judges shouldn’t be allowed to be members of the Federalist Society because the Federalist Society is, it claims, “at the center of a network of dark-money-funded conservative organizations whose purpose is to influence court composition and outcomes.” But the Committee itself makes no such claim and, indeed, affirmatively rejects the proposition that the Federalist Society is engaged in anything nefarious…

The Whitehouse letter fails to address the actual arguments in the 200-judge letter and even falsely asserts that the “judges go so far as to argue that the Committee’s proposed opinion may infringe on First Amendment speech or association rights.” The judges make no such argument. 

Right to Protest

Queens Chronicle: De Blasio declares protest to be illegal

By Peter C. Mastrosimone

At least twice in the past 11 days, protesters [in New York City] have been told to disperse by police officers and warned they are subject to arrest if they do not. In one instance, two people were issued summonses, and in another, at least half a dozen were arrested and ticketed.

The reason for banning the right “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” as the First Amendment puts it, is to thwart the spread of the coronavirus…

“The issue is so fundamental and important in my opinion,” attorney Norman Siegel, who headed the New York Civil Liberties Union from 1985 to 2000 and is representing the two protesters charged in Manhattan, told the Chronicle. “The consequence is that New Yorkers are allowed and encouraged to go out in the street with masks and stay at least six feet apart, and we’ve observed that. But if they are adhering to those requirements, and they have a sign or they say something about an issue of public concern, that speech, that sign, will make the speaker or the person holding the sign subject to arrest on the specious basis that speech is a public health risk.”

Candidates and Campaigns

Kansas City Star: Bob Hamilton blankets Kansas airwaves in ads for Senate campaign and plumbing company

By Bryan Lowry

Bob Hamilton sold his plumbing company three years before running for U.S. Senate, but he remains the name and face on much of the firm’s advertising.

Bob Hamilton Plumbing’s website features several photos of its namesake…and Hamilton frequently appears in the company’s television ads, which use the slogan “Better Call Bob!”

His image is even painted on its fleet of trucks.

The company’s advertising could provide a boost to his candidacy…

But the distinctions between corporate and campaign advertising could also create headaches for Hamilton and the company he founded.

Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, a national ethics watchdog group, said the campaign finance law Congress passed in 2002 should prohibit the company from airing ads featuring Hamilton 30 days before the primary or 60 days prior to the general election.

“If they’re presenting the candidate to the constituency within 30 days of the primary, then that would be a corporate contribution to his campaign and that would be illegal,” Holman said in a phone call.

Holman noted that the prohibition only applies to broadcast television and radio ads. It would not require the company to change its name or remove Hamilton’s image from his truck or website, he said.

Wall Street Journal (LTE): Trump, Biden, Tweets and Electoral Purpose

By Michael J. Solender

Karl Rove’s argument that President Trump’s dominant social-media reach and interaction over Joe Biden’s is an inherent plus for the president ignores that many of the president’s Twitter followers and interactions are born from detractors, nonsupporters and opponents (“Joe Biden’s Challenge,” op-ed, May 7). The president’s own words, rantings, contradictions and midnight Tweetstorms are frequently cudgels used to highlight his unfitness to serve. Having a bigger megaphone doesn’t overcome a dysfunctional message or imperiled sender; it serves to amplify them.

Ad Age: $1.3 Billion and Counting: Where Presidential Ad Campaign Spending Stands Right Now

By Simon Dumenco

The two billionaire presidential wannabes Tom Steyer and Mike Bloomberg defied the usual laws of campaign gravity by stubbornly continuing to run even as they underperformed in terms of polling and especially delegates. Usually campaign fundraising dries up when a given candidate fails to achieve meaningful traction in the marketplace, but Steyer’s and Bloomberg’s fundraising involved reaching for their own checkbooks. Ultimately, their combined ad spending totalled $815 million, as tallied by Ad Age Datacenter.

The States

Ballotpedia News: Missouri legislature sends redistricting, campaign finance, and lobbying measure to voters with changes to 2018 citizen initiative

By Victoria Antram

On Wednesday, the Missouri House approved Senate Joint Resolution 38 that would amend Article III of the Missouri Constitution to change or repeal certain provisions of Missouri Amendment 1 passed in 2018…The amendment will go before Missouri voters in November.

The amendment would [among other changes], change the threshold of lobbyist gifts from $5 to $0; and lower the contribution limit for state senate campaigns from $2,500 to $2,400.

Missouri Amendment 1 (2018) was a citizen initiative approved with 62 percent of the vote…

Amendment 1 also prohibited the Missouri State Legislature from passing laws allowing for unlimited campaign contributions to candidates for the state legislature. Amendment 1 established campaign contribution limits for legislative candidates and their committees for a single election cycle to $2,500 per person to a state Senate candidate and $2,000 per person to a state House candidate.

The 2018 initiated constitutional amendment was sponsored by Clean Missouri. 

Insider NJ: ELEC: County Parties Holding Their Own Through COVID-19 Crisis

“The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked all of our lives. It certainly poses new challenges to candidates, parties and PACs trying to raise money for their continued operations,” said Jeff Brindle, Executive Director of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC)…

“Even before the current virus crisis, party officials in New Jersey were facing long-term difficulties. Tight state caps on donations by public contractors cut into their coffers beginning around 2005,” Brindle continued.

“Another threat is competition from independent special interest groups, which used to send more checks to parties. Now they spend millions annually on New Jersey by bypassing parties and spending their money directly on campaigns,” according to Brindle.

To try to counter these trends, ELEC has recommended several legislative fixes, including lifting contribution limits for party committees, ending a $300 limit on most public contractor contributions to parties, and imposing such that strict limit instead on contributions to continuing political action committees (PACs).

“Unless we move to reinvigorate parties and require more disclosure by independent spenders, election financing will continue to become less transparent and less accountable,” Brindle said.

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly