Daily Media Links 5/6

May 6, 2022   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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In the News

Townhall: Sheldon Whitehouse Denies Reality on IRS Targeting of Conservative Groups

By Christian Josi

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse must think the American people have amnesia. At least that’s the impression I got while watching his Senate hearing on Wednesday, where he made the outrageous claim that the IRS never harassed or delayed the tax-exempt status of conservative groups back in 2013.

Of course, that’s not true…

Whitehouse’s blatant denial of this fact belies his distorted view that requiring nonprofits to disclose their donors will not lead to more targeting of conservatives or have a chilling effect on nonprofit donors who fear harassment or reprisal for their giving…

Democrats have tried to use the IRS for decades to stifle conservative groups. The Institute for Free Speech’s Bradley Smith compiled a long list of Democrats, including Obama, Schumer, Durbin, Shaheen, and Merkely, who have all publicly pressured the IRS to investigate their political opponents, writing letters calling for investigations of specific conservative groups or pushing similar legislation to require donor disclosure. 

Luckily, the Supreme Court recently ruled that such disclosure requirements are unconstitutional.

RNLA: The Left’s War on Free Speech and our Institutions

The past few weeks have shown that the Left is launching a full-throated assault on the First Amendment rights of Americans. Last week, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced the creation of the “Disinformation Governance Board” within the Department of Homeland Security. 

As the Institute for Free Speech’s Luke Wachob explained, the head of the board, Nina Jankowicz, has a history of spreading misinformation on everything from the COVID-19 pandemic to the Hunter Biden laptop story:

“When she wasn’t singing Mary Poppins tunes about misinformation on TikTok, she was complaining on Twitter that Americans are too ‘free spirited’ to follow COVID safety protocols and cheering for the government to ‘lock us down!’ She never criticized and appears to have supported what happened to the Post, telling reporters they should view coverage of the laptop ‘as a Trump campaign product’ and sharing an article she described as ‘casting yet more doubt on the provenance the NY Post’s Hunter Biden story.'” …

Additionally, the Left is pushing legislation, such as the DISCLOSE Act, that would severely hamper the political activities of tax-exempt entities and chill the speech of their donors. At a hearing earlier this week, Republican Senator John Thune explained why this is so dangerous.

The Institute for Free Speech’s Chairman and Founder, Brad Smith, added history on how the IRS has been used in the past to target political opposition.

The Courts

Fox News: Lawsuit filed against Biden, top officials for ‘colluding’ with Big Tech to censor speech on Hunter, COVID

By Kelly Laco

Two GOP-led states filed a lawsuit against President Biden, White House press secretary Jen Psaki, Dr. Anthony Fauci and other top administration officials alleging that they “pressured and colluded” with Big Tech social media companies to censor and suppress information on the Hunter Biden laptop story, COVID-19 origins and security of voting by mail during the pandemic.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry filed the lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. The suit accuses top ranking government officials of working with the giant social media companies Meta, Twitter and YouTube “under the guise of combating misinformation” in order to achieve greater censorship.


Bloomberg Tax: Reporting Political, Lobbying Activities of 501(c) Organizations

By George Haines

On April 29, the Joint Committee on Taxation published a report titled “Laws and Enforcement Governing the Political Activities of Tax Exempt Activities,” summarizing the tax treatment of political activity and lobbying by tax-exempt organizations. In the case of 501(c)(4), 501(c)(5), and 501(c)(6) organizations, the report noted the growth of their participation in political campaign activity and suggested that one explanation is the increased anonymity to donors of these organizations as compared to donors of Section 527 political organizations. The report suggested that 501(c)(4), 501(c)(5), and 501(c)(6) organizations could be used to influence elections in a way that permits “less transparency with respect to the ultimate sources of an organization’s financial support.” …

The report also pointed to the increased use of 501(c) organizations for political campaign activity in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which loosened federal restrictions on independent expenditures, including by 501(c) organizations. The report went on to describe the current state of prohibitions on political activity imposed on 501(c)(3) and other 501(c) organizations, highlighting the difficulty in determining whether a particular activity is prohibited political activity or permissible “issue advocacy.”

The Hill: GOP seeks testimony from DHS disinformation board head

By Emily Brooks

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee are asking Nina Jankowicz, head of the new Disinformation Governance Board within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to brief the committee and provide documents and communications about the board, which they characterize as an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth.” …

They also requested that Jankowicz “immediately” make herself available to the committee to answer questions relating to her characterizations of Hunter Biden’s laptop, how she defines misinformation and disinformation, what information the board seeks to collect and actions it plans to counter misinformation and what safeguards will be in place to respect First Amendment rights.

Free Expression

Axios: Abortion challenges Corporate America’s political activism

By Lachlan Markay and Emily Peck

The Supreme Court’s forthcoming abortion ruling will put Corporate America in a vise, squeezed between employees pressuring companies to speak out and state governments that might punish them if they do.

Companies have gotten significantly more outspoken on a host of political and social issues. Abortion was a tougher one to begin with, and a Supreme Court ruling striking down Roe v. Wade is likely to come just as big corporations are growing more afraid of how much their activism can cost them…

“It’s a pivotal moment for corporate America to be on the front lines with women and others,” said Noreen Farrell, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates. Her group is reaching out to companies and urging them to make statements affirming reproductive rights.

Online Speech Platforms

Washington Examiner:  Conservatives eager to see return of political ads on Twitter under Musk

By Nihal Krishan

Conservatives are hoping for the return of political ads to Twitter under the ownership of billionaire Elon Musk, a move that could shake up political messaging on social media platforms.

Just Security: Facebook Provided Warning to FBI Before January 6, GAO Report Reveals

By Justin Hendrix

A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reveals that seven federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies were aware of open source information on social media about “potential violence” planned for January 6, 2021. The report suggests that federal agencies had ample authority and information to anticipate and prepare for a violent assault on the Capitol.

Independent Groups

Politico: A mole hunt, a secret website and Peter Thiel’s big risk: How J.D. Vance won his primary

By Alex Isenstadt

Shortly after Vance launched his campaign last summer, [Republican strategist Luke Thompson, who ran Vance’s allied super PAC] set up a public website where he published a trove of sensitive documents — from thousands of pages of polling data, to memos assessing the strengths and weaknesses of Vance’s opponents, to a 177-page opposition research book detailing all of the areas where Vance’s opponents might attack him. There were suggested lines for Vance to use on the campaign trail, and even guidance on how the candidate could win Trump’s endorsement.

All of it was out in the open for the world to see. But it had one intended audience: the Vance campaign.

The site — housed on the publishing platform Medium under the username @protectohiovaluesforms — allowed the super PAC to publicly convey information to the Vance campaign without breaking federal laws prohibiting coordination between big-spending outside groups and campaigns. By accessing the website, the lesser-funded Vance campaign was able to capitalize on the resources of the Thiel-funded super PAC.

Election Law Blog: New Developments in Campaign Finance: Reverse Coordination in Ohio’s Senate Race

By Richard Pildes

Politico’s story on how JD Vance won the Republican primary contains what is a striking new development in campaign finance. Vance’s campaign itself was not raising large amounts of money, but the massive contributions from Peter Thiel and others were sent to a super PAC that was supporting Vance. The super PAC leaders decided they had to substitute, in essence, for the campaign. To receive unlimited donations, the super PAC must be independent and cannot coordinate directly with the campaign. So instead they set up a public website on which they posted data and analysis that they hoped the Vance campaign would follow…

This story illustrates what I call “reverse coordination” and I am not sure it’s happened on this scale before. The super PAC takes the lead: it does much of the work a traditional campaign does, makes that analysis public, and the campaign then follows the path the super PAC has laid out.

What’s going on here is implicit coordination between campaigns and super PACs, though in this case the other way around. Could Congress or the FEC ban this kind of implicit coordination through the public posting of information? That’s hard to imagine, and it would certainly raise substantial First Amendment issues.

The States

People United for Privacy: Citizen Privacy Protections Enshrined into Virginia Law in Second 2022 Victory for Donor Privacy

On April 11, 2022, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) signed House Bill 970 into law, a bill which “provides that public agencies shall not request personal donor information… from (i) any individual or any entity organized under § 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) any bidder, offeror, or contractor of an agency.” The measure further “prohibits such public agencies from disclosing personal information without the express, written permission of every individual who is identifiable from the potential release of such personal information, including individuals identifiable as members, supporters, or volunteers of, or donors to” a nonprofit. Delegate Israel O’Quinn (R) introduced H.B. 970 in the Virginia House of Delegates while Senator Jill Vogel (R) introduced a companion bill, Senate Bill 324, in the Senate. The passage of this law in Virginia marks the second victory for donor privacy in the states this year, following the passage of House Bill 2109 in Kansas in mid-April.

Tiffany Donnelly

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