Daily Media Links 6/15

June 15, 2022   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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In the News

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: St. Charles County school district on the hook for $70,000 in settlement with parents’ group

By Jack Suntrup

The Institute for Free Speech, whose lawyers represented three parents suing the St. Charles County district, is set to receive $70,000 from the district or its insurer to cover attorneys’ fees, according to a copy of the agreement…

The parents sued the district in February, saying district officials unfairly used a no-advertising policy to warn them against mentioning the name of a conservative parents’ political action committee during the public portion of board meetings…

Later in April, U.S. District Judge Stephen Clark issued a preliminary injunction barring the district from banning the plaintiffs’ use of the PAC’s name, “Francis Howell Families,” or the name of its website, “www.francishowellfamilies.org,” during public comment portions of board meetings.

Clark issued a permanent injunction to that effect on Tuesday as part of the settlement, which district leaders signed on June 2.

The permanent injunction goes further than the preliminary injunction, which only required the district to stop censoring the Francis Howell Families group.

The permanent injunction also orders the district not to censor other speakers who mention other websites during public comment, as long as the speaker is speaking “on a topic relevant” to the district or education…

As part of the settlement, the district was required to issue a statement expressing that it “values stakeholder comments and the Public’s participation in its Board meetings.” …

The full statement was posted to the district’s website on Tuesday.

New from the Institute for Free Speech

Victory: Missouri School District Agrees to Stop Censoring Parents Group and Pay $70K in Attorney’s Fees

Residents of St. Charles County, Missouri, are now free to cite political organizations and websites at school board meetings, following the conclusion of a federal First Amendment lawsuit filed by three members of Francis Howell Families. On June 14, Judge Stephen R. Clark approved a consent decree and closed the case challenging the Francis Howell School District’s censorship of group names during public comments.

Under Judge Clark’s order, the Francis Howell School District must permanently allow the plaintiffs to refer to Francis Howell Families and its website, as well as allow “any other speaker” to refer to “any other website as an information source during scheduled patron comments, so long as the speaker is speaking on a topic relevant to the school district, school board, or education policy.” …

“We are pleased the district agreed to settle the lawsuit and respect our clients’ First Amendment rights. A ban on advertising on school property is no excuse to censor political speech in public comments. This case should serve as a reminder to school boards across America that they cannot single out their critics for selective enforcement of speaking rules,” said Del Kolde, Senior Attorney for the Institute for Free Speech, who represented the plaintiffs in the case…

To read more about the case, Brooks v. Francis Howell School District, click here. To read the consent decree and order concluding the case, click here.


New York Times: Jan. 6 Panel Puts Trump Fund-Raising Tactics Under Scrutiny

By Kenneth P. Vogel and Rachel Shorey

Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who led the committee’s presentation on Mr. Trump’s fund-raising, suggested that his allies continued their futile legal challenges to the election because they needed to justify their fund-raising.

After the hearing, she suggested that the Justice Department should assess whether it was a crime for Mr. Trump to have “intentionally misled his donors, asked them to donate to a fund that didn’t exist and used the money raised for something other than what he said.” …

Campaign finance experts expressed mixed opinions about the prospects of any potential prosecution…

And they pointed out that the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, the campaign committee that sent out most of the solicitations for the election defense fund, transferred funds to the Republican National Committee, which spent money on legal fights related to the 2020 election.

“In contrast with some of these other scam PAC prosecutions — where effectively none of the money raised went toward satisfying donor intent — Trump might argue that a portion of the funds raised in the postelection period went toward litigation, and an additional portion went toward future ‘election integrity’ efforts,” said Brendan Fischer, a campaign finance expert at the watchdog group Documented.

“It would certainly be novel for the Justice Department to pursue a fraud case against a former president’s PAC, but Trump’s fraudulent postelection fund-raising was novel, too,” Mr. Fischer said, adding that the amount Mr. Trump’s team had raised after the election was “entirely unprecedented.”

Stephen Spaulding, an official at the good government group Common Cause who advised Ms. Lofgren on election law issues in 2020, said the Justice Department should examine whether the misleading fund-raising “crossed the line into wire fraud.”

Biden Administration

Washington Times: Biden’s DHS dubs border security advocates as ‘domestic violent extremists’

By Dan Stein

Concerns about domestic terrorism are not displaced. But using threats of domestic terrorism for political purposes — to single out in order to discredit and silence viewpoints that the administration in power opposes — is as dangerous as any politically driven mad man with a gun. Labeling some political speech — such as fierce opposition to the Biden administration’s immigration policies, or angry parents confronting school boards over the teaching of critical race theory — as terror threats, and not others displaying vehement opposition to overturning Roe v. Wade amounts to weaponizing the executive branch authority.


Washington Post: Maker of Uvalde massacre gun broke campaign finance law, complaint alleges

By Isaac Stanley-Becker

Now a complaint from the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group, alleges Daniel Defense violated federal law when it gave the money to the Gun Owners Action Fund because federal contractors are barred from making contributions to federal candidates or committees…

Preventing [“pay to play”] corruption, the complaint adds, is why Congress prohibited companies from making political contributions at any time between the beginning of negotiations over a federal contract and the completion or termination of that contract. The ban was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. in 2015, with then-Chief Judge Merrick Garland, now President Biden’s attorney general, writing the majority opinion.

This is also an area of campaign finance law that the FEC, whose six members increasingly deadlock along party lines, has proved willing to enforce. In April, the commission fined a lab equipment manufacturer $56,000 for violating the ban on federal contractors making political donations when it gave $300,000 to Americans for Prosperity Action, a conservative super PAC. The super PAC refunded the donation last year, following a complaint from the Campaign Legal Center.


New York Times: We’re Staring at Our Phones, Full of Rage for ‘the Other Side’

By Thomas B. Edsall

In theory, American federalism allows a thousand flowers to bloom, as cities and states serve as laboratories of democracy. Transparent governance — “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants” — empowers the electorate to see what its representatives are up to. The internet gives both voice and access to virtually everyone regardless of their status. The surge in small dollar campaign contributions democratizes the financing of elections, lessening the power of the rich.

The question, as contemporary developments suggest, is whether these reforms also exacerbate polarization and lead to the escalation of partisan hostility based on moral conviction.

Online Speech Platforms

Protocol: Big Tech’s political ad bans are a big charade

By Issie Lapowsky

Say ExxonMobil wanted to run an ad on Twitter about how natural gas is actually totally climate-friendly. The company could get certified as a “cause-based” advertiser, provide some basic details like its company ID and country of origin, and fire away.

But if Erik Polyak, managing director of the climate advocacy group 314 Action, wanted to run an ad debunking that very debunkable claim, he couldn’t. 314 Action is registered as a political action committee and, in late 2019, Twitter announced it would no longer take ads from PACs — or political candidates, parties or government officials, for that matter.

“We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” Jack Dorsey tweeted at the time. (Twitter spokesperson Elizabeth Busby shared a verbatim statement with Protocol.)…

But as the midterm elections loom, questions remain about how apolitical these policies really are and whether they’re actually reducing abuse or simply taking the spotlight off of the companies that imposed them. “They launched this policy that’s really tilted the playing field,” Polyak said of Twitter. “Instead of getting serious about disinformation on the platform, they’ve just gravitated towards this one-size-fits-all policy that really favors big corporations and penalizes advocacy groups like us.”

Candidates and Campaigns

4 CBS Denver: Colorado Republican Party & U.S. Senate Candidate Joe O’Dea Sue Over Dark Money Mailer

By Shaun Boyd

{A] mailer in the Republican Senate Primary could result in criminal charges.

The mailer says the Colorado Republican Party endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Ron Hanks. Party Chair Kristi Burton Brown says it, “has not and does not endorse in primary races.” She called the claim “false and malicious.”

Hanks’ opponent, Joe O’Dea, says it is also criminal. Under state law, false statements meant to influence the outcome of an election are a crime.

O’Dea plans to file a complaint with the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office…

The flyer appears to be part of a tenacious campaign by Democrats to dupe Republican primary voters. Those voters tend to be staunch conservatives so Democrats are promoting far-right candidates who they believe will be easier to beat in the general election against incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet.

The mailer was sent by a company in Iowa which, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission, has only done work for Democratic groups. The company won’t reveal who paid for the mailer. There’s no name listed on the flyer, as campaign finance laws require.

O’Dea is also filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission and asking a federal judge for an injunction to stop the company from sending any more mailers.

Tiffany Donnelly

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