Daily Media Links 5/8

May 8, 2019   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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In the News

Washington Examiner: Hate campaign spending? Gillibrand’s ‘democracy dollars’ would put it on steroids

By Luke Wachob

Dumping billions of tax dollars into partisan political campaigns is a proposal only a politician could love. Yet it underscores an ugly reality of efforts to improve campaigns. Politicians aren’t interested in reforms that make it harder for them to be a politician.

Instead, Gillibrand proposes a program to give every voter up to $600 in government money each election cycle… 

The number of Americans eligible to vote is more than 230 million. If each one spent the $600 Gillibrand would provide, the government would be on the hook for almost $140 billion each presidential election cycle.

Columbus Dispatch: No: Government shouldn’t dictate views we’re allowed to hear

By Bradley A. Smith

Citizens United was not about “corporate personhood” or the corruption of politicians. It was over a most basic issue: Can the government ban political speech based on the identity of the speaker, or the mechanism that the speaker uses to communicate to fellow citizens? It was, in the end, about who decides what voices and opinions you, as a citizen, get to hear.

Houston Chronicle: Will: Is there a way to reduce money in politics?

By George F. Will

Luke Wachob of the Institute for Free Speech calculates that if even 20 percent of the 137.5 million who voted in 2016 had used Gillibrand’s vouchers, taxpayers would have given federal candidates more than $16 billion. Such candidates spent a total of $2.7 billion in the 2015-2016 cycle, amid lamentations about “too much money” in politics.

Oklahoma Watch: Donations to Lawmakers Keep Flowing Even As They Vote on Bills

By Trevor Brown

David Keating, president of the Institute for Free Speech, which defends political speech, said there are good reasons for statesnot to add restrictions to who can donate during legislative sessions.

“The government has to have a good reason for a ban,” he said. “And to me, it would seem that this would infringe on our constitutional right to associate with and support a candidate.”

In addition to philosophical concerns, Keating said there are logistical issues with blocking who can give to lawmakers when they are session. For example, he said a broader fundraising blackout period could make fundraising extremely burdensome during election years when there can be weeks between the end of the session and the primary elections.

Mother Jones: Every Democratic Candidate Rails Against Citizens United. Kirsten Gillibrand Actually Has a Plan.

By Nihal Krishan

Luke Wachob, communications director at the Institute for Free Speech in Virginia, a nonprofit that defends First Amendment rights and political speech, says Gillibrand’s program “would not cleanse our political system of corruption or inequality.” He argues it would be prohibitively expensive and “would amplify the voices of people who are already highly engaged in politics and have the awareness, resources, time, and interest to request and use the vouchers.” 

Tax-Financed Campaigns

The Hill: Gillibrand wants to nationalize Seattle’s failed, unconstitutional ‘democracy vouchers’

By Ethan Blevins

But the Seattle program has proven unworthy of emulation. While the program had a massive price tag, it made no dent in political outcomes. A city-commissioned report shows that the city raised $6 million in property tax dollars for the program and managed to blow a whopping $2.2 million of that sum on administrative and implementation costs alone. Only about $1 million of the $6 million raised actually went to vouchers, and the city dumped more money into administrative costs than campaign funding. The waste is alarming.

But the track record worsens. Data demonstrate that this measly one-sixth did not fulfill any of the voucher program’s goals. The Seattle program was supposed to broaden political participation. It didn’t. Only 4 percent of the vouchers issued were used. And that measly portion of the electorate who used the vouchers tended to be white, wealthy and already politically engaged. If anything, the program only strengthened the participation of the already powerful groups whose influence the program planned to curb.

Online Speech Platforms 

Reason: Facebook Has Every Right To Ban Louis Farrakhan and Alex Jones. But It’s Still a Bad Idea.

By Nick Gillespie

As a private platform, Facebook is completely within its legal rights to ban whomever it chooses for pretty much whatever reason it wants. But whether it’s wise to start banning awful, stupid expression that falls short of true threats and other illegal activity is a very different matter. I’d argue that it’s not, as it feeds into the tendency to try suppress beliefs that one considers contemptible, dangerous, or evil. Those are not sharply delimited categories, and the tendency will be for more and more material to be seen as worthy of being policed, regulated, and eliminated. That is what’s happening on many college campuses, and the results are not encouraging for a society that believes in freedom of expression.

Fox News: Facebook’s latest crackdown begs the question — Who is the final arbiter of free speech in America?

By Ned Ryun

In light of Facebook’s banning of Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer and others including Louis Farrakhan, it’s time we decide who is the final arbiter of free speech in America: private corporations or the people’s duly elected representatives. As is usual in Washington, the problems we are experiencing today are problems created by Washington years ago.

National Review: The First Rule of Social-Media Censorship Is That There Are No Rules

By David French

The result is that hate-speech policies exist not as easily interpreted, uniformly applied rules that provide all users fair notice of the conditions for using the platforms, but rather as subjectively interpreted, selectively applied weapons to wield on behalf of favored ideas and individuals. The result is that some people are more exposed to abuse than others because those people are deemed less worthy of protection.

Twitter will move to protect a U.S. congresswoman like Ilhan Omar – a highly visible public figure with a huge platform – from attacks on her faith, but it will not lift a finger to protect an unknown elderly woman from becoming an object of hate and derision on the basis of her age, race, or faith. How does this make any rational sense?

As a matter of principle (private companies enjoy the blessings of liberty) and pragmatism (social media is unlikely to improve under the watchful eye of, say, President Kamala Harris), I oppose government efforts to regulate social-media speech policies. But publicly exposing inconsistency and hypocrisy lays the groundwork for a market correction.

Politico: Here’s How Facebook Should Really Handle Alex Jones

By Jack Shafer

I suspect that some of the anger directed against accounts like Jones’ comes from users who recoil at such unwanted content shoved into their feeds. They can blame Jones, but the real perp is Facebook, which could rewrite its code to limit dissemination of posts by “bad actors” to only the users who have explicitly followed him. This would give Jones’ detractors some peace without punishing his followers-and without offending the First Amendment.


Mother Jones: A Lawsuit About Trump and the NRA Could Upend How the Government Polices Campaign Finance

By Nihal Krishan

A gun safety group, Giffords, and a campaign finance watchdog, the Campaign Legal Center, are suing the Federal Election Commission for failing to act on multiple complaints alleging that the National Rifle Association unlawfully coordinated with Donald Trump and other Republican candidates in recent elections. And the lawsuit is poised to act as a major test for the FEC chair’s new strategy to try and force the agency to take more aggressive action to police campaign finance.

Ellen Weintraub, the chair of the FEC, can’t discuss specific ongoing cases, but her recent statements make it clear that she doesn’t plan on voting to defend the agency in any cases involving delays in agency action. If she follows through on this promise, it would result in the first actual instance of her utilizing a new strategy, as Mother Jones first reported, to effectively sabotage her own agency in order to enforce campaign finance law, a move that one former FEC lawyer termed the “nuclear option.”

American Prospect: FEC Dysfunction Now Threatens Democracy

By Eliza Newlin Carney

[T]he agency needs a top-to-bottom overhaul along the lines of what House Democrats recently approved in their “For the People Act” democracy reform package. That bill will not be taken up in the GOP-controlled Senate, but provides a blueprint for some future Congress. In the meantime, Democrats on the House Administration Committee have launched a long-overdue oversight effort, sending the FEC a list of 46 questions about its key vacancies and enforcement backlog, among other matters. 

Members of Congress should also ask the agency how it plans to respond to Mueller’s evidence of campaign finance violations.  

Corporate Speech

The Federalist: Netflix’s ‘Knock Down The House’ Is A Campaign Contribution to Ocasio-Cortez

By David Marcus

To be clear, this kind of contribution to a candidate is perfectly legal. The Supreme Court has been clear on this point, most recently in its Citizens United decision. An unkind movie about Hillary Clinton violated the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, also known as the McCain-Feingold Act, caused that Supreme Court case in the first place. The court rightfully found that the government has no place stopping corporate entities from airing movies about political candidates.

The Supreme Court made the right decision, but of course that isn’t exactly how far-left Democrats look at it. No, they like to tell us, as often as possible, that corporate influence in our politics is a great scourge on our nation. However, the last time I checked, Netflix is itself a big ol’ corporation.

The Courts

EFF: EFF to Tenth Circuit: First Amendment Protects Right to Record Police

By Sophia Cope and Adam Schwartz

The First Amendment protects the public’s right to use electronic devices to record on-duty police officers, EFF argued in an amicus brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The case, Frasier v. Evans, was brought by Levi Frasier against five Denver police officers for interfering with his First Amendment right to record them while arresting another man.

EFF’s amicus brief argues that people frequently use modern electronic devices to record and share photos and videos, especially on social media. These often include newsworthy recordings of fatal police shootings and other police misconduct. Such recordings facilitate police accountability and enhance the public discussion about police use of force and racial disparities in our criminal justice system.

Independent Groups 

NPR: Democrats Want To End Dark Money, But First They Want To Use It

By Peter Overby

A recent study by the government reform group Issue One found that in the 2018 midterm elections, politically active tax-exempt groups spent about $150 million in secret money, and Democratic-leaning groups accounted for 54% of it.

Issue One’s Michael Beckel said the researchers tried to identify the donors behind the groups, but “we turned over every rock we could, and we could only identify about two of every nine dollars that these groups had raised.”

One tax-exempt group, Majority Forward, spent about one-third of all the secret money.

Washington Post: Trump campaign rebukes ‘dishonest fundraising groups,’ in veiled swipe at former top aide David Bossie

By Felicia Sonmez and Josh Dawsey

The statement by Trump’s campaign Tuesday makes no mention of the president’s former deputy campaign manager, David N. Bossie. But people close to Trump told The Washington Post that it is specifically aimed at Bossie and the organization he founded in 2005, Presidential Coalition.

“President Trump’s campaign condemns any organization that deceptively uses the President’s name, likeness, trademarks, or branding and confuses voters,” Trump’s campaign said in the message, which was titled “Trump Campaign Statement on Dishonest Fundraising Groups.” 

New York Times: Trump Embraces the Traditional Fund-Raising He Once Shunned

By Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman

The tiered bundler system that Mr. Trump’s campaign has built – modeled after President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign and complete with super PACs supporting it from the outside – is the most tangible example yet of Mr. Trump’s ceding to the reality of his second presidential race. This time, he is a candidate of the establishment, complete with bundlers who are lobbyists, even while he tries to run as if he is still the marauding outsider at the gates. 

RealClearPolitics: Dems’ ‘Dark Money’ Disconnect: Groups Mum on Disclosure

By Susan Crabtree

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who has spent years railing against so-called “dark money” conservative groups for what he regards as their outsized, improper political influence, now grudgingly concedes that it’s a problem on both sides.

The Rhode Island Democrat has had little choice as recent reports from groups calling for less money in politics, such as the Washington-based Issue One, have found that left-wing nonprofits far outspent conservative ones in the 2018 midterms and are gearing up to expand their activity this cycle.


AP: NY, NJ sue IRS for info on nonprofit-donor disclosure shift

By Jennifer Peltz

New York Attorney General Letitia James and New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal filed a public-records lawsuit Monday against the tax agency. The suit comes as Montana and New Jersey are challenging the policy change itself in a separate case.

The new lawsuit seeks records that could shed light on the reasons behind the change, which the states worry will hamper their own work as nonprofit watchdogs.


Just Security: The Failures of the Mueller Reports Campaign Finance Analysis

By Bob Bauer

The Report treats the campaign finance issues almost cursorily-one could say, superficially- even to the point of failing to identify and address all the applicable law. The results are an unconvincing decision to decline any prosecutions, and a major question about the enforcement of this law in 2020 and beyond.

Candidates and Campaigns 

The Guardian: American democracy is broken. We must demand 2020 candidates commit to a fix

By Lawrence Lessig

Since Beto O’Rourke launched his campaign for Senate in 2017, this type of reform-through-abstinence has become a single metric for whether a candidate is a reformer for democracy. If you don’t give up corporate cash, then you can’t be for us.

But this is an odd and fake measure of reform. The important question is not how you get elected, but what your fundamental commitment is if you are elected. Money from Pacs and lobbyists is actually among the most moderate, and least polarizing of the money in American politics today. Removing it alone won’t fix democracy. And this obsession with where the money comes from obscures the real questions about what type of reformer a candidate would be.

Vox: Why are there so many Democratic candidates for president?

By Mark Schmitt

But the number of medium donors, those giving more than $200 … and reported by name to the Federal Election Commission, has also grown. In 2000, only about 778,000 people made reportable donations to any federal campaign. By 2008, with Barack Obama taking Dean’s achievement much further, that number had almost doubled, to 1,337,000, and in 2016, 1,672,000 people donated more than $200.

Even as Democratic candidates have challenged themselves and each other by renouncing various forms of money, whether from PACs, organized fundraising events, lobbyists, or people employed in the oil and gas industries, they are operating under conditions of abundance rather than scarcity. 

Public Opinion

ABA Journal: 16% of Americans think Clarence Thomas is chief justice, ABA civics survey finds

By Amanda Robert

But despite strong support for the First Amendment, the ABA said the survey revealed some confusion over its protections:

* Nearly 20% mistakenly said freedom of the press is not in the First Amendment.

* Nearly 20% said the right to peaceably assemble does not fall under the First Amendment, either.

* More than half incorrectly think the First Amendment does not permit the burning of the American flag in political protest. The Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that a person cannot be penalized for flag burning under the amendment.


Politico: Election security push stumbles amid White House resistance

By Marianne Levine and Tim Starks

The Missouri Republican said the federal government was of greater assistance in protecting elections during the 2018 midterms. He also blamed the House Democrats’ election reform bill, HR 1, for contributing to the conflict.

“I think Sen. McConnell thinks this is a bad direction for us to head in … that won’t lead to any positive conclusions, so he is not going to put that bill on the floor,” Blunt said. “I think that’s even been further complicated by the excessive direction that the House has taken with their election legislation.”

The States

Denver Channel 7: Colorado lawmakers approve First Amendment bill to protect against frivolous lawsuits

By Associated Press

The bill creates an expedited process for a defendant to obtain a stay of such a lawsuit by arguing it’s motivated by his or her exercise of free speech or for exercising their right to petition government.

Alex Baiocco

Alex Baiocco