Daily Media Links 6/16

June 16, 2021   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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New from the Institute for Free Speech

Proponents Say H.R. 1 and S. 1 Will End “Dark Money.” They Won’t.

By Alex Baiocco

If a bill fails to pass in every session of Congress for a decade because groups across the ideological spectrum oppose its constitutional infirmities, you might expect its sponsors to at least attempt to address those concerns. Yet the majority party’s marquee legislation this Congress, H.R. 1 in the House and S. 1 in the Senate, includes a version of the DISCLOSE Act, first introduced in 2010, that would restrict First Amendment rights more broadly than previous, failed versions.

As always, we are told increasing the federal government’s power to regulate and suppress speech about government is necessary because “dark money” has overtaken our elections. This claim has become almost unfalsifiable because the term’s definition mutates any time politicians find a new organization they want to silence. For that reason, any proposed “solution” to “dark money” is guaranteed to fail, or at least be deemed inadequate by its proponents.

In the United States today, it is illegal to spend more than $250 combined on communications urging the election or defeat of a federal candidate without reporting the expenditure to the Federal Election Commission, which then publishes the information online. All election-related ads, including ads about issues run close to an election, must also comply with disclaimer requirements, enabling Americans to look up the FEC reports filed by the entities responsible for the ads they see. So, unless you think the federal government should be tracking down every American who spends a couple hundred bucks on a custom “Vote for Jane Doe” banner, there is no election spending that is truly unaccounted for. 

Congress

New York Times: Manchin stays away from a lunch at which Texas lawmakers urge Senate Democrats to pass a broad voting rights bill. 

By Jonathan Weisman

Tuesday’s Senate Democratic lunch was supposed to be a homecoming of sorts — but an uncomfortable one for Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

He didn’t show up.

For the first time in a year, Senate Democrats — newly freed from pandemic precautions that prevented their weekly lunch for more than a year — convened in the ornate room in the Capitol named after a former majority leader, Mike Mansfield, just off the Senate floor, to hash out the issues facing the caucus. Front and center was the escalating pressure from Democrats nationwide to push forward with a far-reaching congressional voting-rights bill…

Mr. Manchin, as the only Democrat in the Senate who has refused to sign on to the bill, was supposed to be in the hot seat. His absence suggested that he was sticking by his opposition. 

As part of a series of meetings designed to rally support for the legislation, Senate leaders had brought in Democratic members of the Texas Legislature to make the case for why the bill, known as the For the People Act, is urgently needed…

Some senators on the Democratic side have expressed qualms at the bill’s scope. Senator Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said he had issues with the breadth of the bill, and would favor jettisoning some parts of it, especially a provision that would begin taxpayer financing of elections. 

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell: McConnell Calls For “Actual Consequences” in Latest IRS Leak

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding the IRS leak:

“One week ago today, the personal financial information of several prominent Americans was made public in only the latest leak of sensitive data from the Internal Revenue Service…

“The precise circumstances of this latest leak have not yet been made clear, but the recent history of IRS negligence and outright political targeting tells conservatives to be especially worried.

“As our colleagues remember all too well, years ago, the State of California’s database of private donor data for over 1,000 nonprofit organizations was made public illegally.

“And a few years later, confidential IRS donor information from a conservative organization’s tax filings were published. To no one’s surprise, that information made its way into the hands of liberal groups with opposite views on key issues.

“Of course, we’re talking about the same IRS that made slow-walking requests and filings from conservative organizations a matter of internal policy under the last Democratic administration…

“That’s why I’ve been outspoken in support of efforts to reduce taxpayers’ exposure to unnecessary IRS collection in the first place.

The Hill: Watchdog ramps up ad campaign pressuring companies to leave Chamber of Commerce

By Karl Evers-Hillstrom

A left-leaning watchdog group is ramping up its campaign to pressure corporations to leave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the business group’s opposition to Democratic voting rights legislation.

Accountable.US will air ads targeting Microsoft, Salesforce and Target over their membership with the Chamber starting this week. The six-figure ad campaign will hit the airwaves in Washington, D.C., and in the states where those companies are headquartered.

The group’s ads will tell viewers that the companies have publicly stated they support voting rights but continue to be members of the Chamber, which has lobbied against Democrats’ election overhaul bill to expand voting rights, among other measures…

The Chamber told lawmakers to vote against Democrats’ election overhaul bill over its provisions to more strongly regulate political advocacy groups. The trade group said Democrats’ bill would “limit fundamental First Amendment rights” in a statement last month.

The Chamber has called Accountable.US a “barely disguised political front group” and noted that the American Civil Liberties Union has also voiced free speech concerns about the For the People Act.

Daily Beast: Gohmert Swears $5,500 ‘Donation’ to Holocaust Denier Was a Mistake

By William Bredderman

Rep. Louie Gohmert celebrated New Year’s Eve 2020 by dropping several thousand dollars into the coffers of a vitriolically homophobic and antisemitic pastor, federal records indicate. But his office insists the whole thing was just a giant mistake.

Team Gohmert claims it hired a Christian singer named Steve Amerson from Granada Hills, California, but accidentally reported to the Federal Election Commission that the cash went to the Tempe, Arizona address of the Faithful Word Baptist Church, led by the infamous Pastor Steve Anderson…

Yes, the money was earmarked as a “donation.” But it wasn’t meant for Anderson, and wasn’t a donation at all, in Team Gohmert’s telling. They just screwed up the name, purpose, and address of the recipient of their largesse. Oops.

Biden Administration

Washington Times: Justice Department outlines plans for crackdown on domestic terrorism

By Jeff Mordock and Emily Zantow

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced a sweeping new strategy to root out domestic terrorism, tying the rising threat of extremism to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol…

While [Attorney General Merrick] Garland said the new strategy is “focused on violence, not ideology,” … conservatives fret the plan could result in muffling free speech protected under the Constitution.

Mr. Garland said the Justice Department will not prosecute people for their beliefs, adding that espousing a hateful ideology is not unlawful.”

But he also voted to root out extremists who “advocate for the superiority of the White race.”

“Hate speech is protected by the First Amendment,” [Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice, a conservative advocacy group] said in rebuttal. “But no one wants to say that because no one wants to seem like they are in favor of hate speech.” …

The FBI Agents Association, which advocates on behalf of current and retired agents, called on the Justice Department to push for a domestic terrorism law.

“Making domestic terrorism a federal crime would not result in the targeting of specific ideas or groups. Rather, it would target acts of violence that have no place in the political discourse secured by our Constitution and Bill of Rights,” the group said in a statement.

The Courts

EFF: Unconstitutional Florida Law Barring Platforms from Suspending Politicians Should be Blocked, EFF Tells Court

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Protect Democracy urged a federal judge to strike down Florida’s law banning Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms from suspending political candidates’ accounts, saying it unconstitutionally interferes with the First Amendment rights of the companies and their users, and forces companies to give politicians’ speech preferential treatment that other users are denied.

EFF has long criticized large online platforms’ content moderation practices as opaque, inconsistent, and unfair because they often remove legitimate speech and disproportionately harm marginalized populations that struggle to be heard. These are serious problems that have real world consequences, but they don’t justify a law that violates the free speech rights of internet users who don’t happen to be Florida politicians and the private online services on which they rely, EFF said in a brief filed today in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

Online Speech Platforms

Tablet: America’s Censored Speech Platforms

By Nadine Strossen

As someone committed to robust freedom of speech for all—including for those who own communications platforms, and those who communicate on them—I am vexed by the monopolistic dominance of Google, Facebook, and Twitter, and their increasing restrictions on controversial speech and speakers.

On the one hand, I am wary of government interference with the platforms’ editorial judgments, including any government compulsion to carry content that they don’t want. As the Supreme Court has held in analogous cases, a government requirement that a platform must include speech that it prefers to exclude constitutes a First Amendment violation that is at least as bad as—and maybe even worse than—a government requirement that the platform must exclude speech.

On the other hand, I am wary of the unbridled censorial powers that the social media giants have been wielding at an almost unfathomable scale, dwarfing the censorship powers that even some tyrannical governments have exercised. Facebook’s most recent quarterly “Community Standards Enforcement Report” reported that each day it removed or restricted (through measures such as warning labels or downranking) approximately 462,000 Facebook and Instagram posts that it considered hate speech.

Townhall: Social Media Censorship Is Contempt for the People

By Jason Garshfield

Freedom of speech is not merely a legal principle enshrined within the First Amendment, but a cultural value necessary for sustaining a free society. It is based on a very simple notion: that human beings are rational creatures capable of discerning good ideas from bad ones, that the truth is discoverable via free and open debate, and that if all ideas are allowed to be heard, the better ones will ultimately prevail – not always, and not everywhere, but often enough to be worth it.

Freedom of speech also, conversely, requires a certain element of humility, an acknowledgment that no one person or group has all the truth, and even the most widely accepted ideologies are subject to criticism…

In her book Unfollow, Megan Phelps-Roper credited Twitter, back in its early-2010s free speech days, for helping her to leave the Westboro Baptist Church: “Instead of booting me from the platform for ‘hate speech,’ as many had demanded, it had put me in conversation with people and ideas that effectively challenged beliefs that had been hammered into me since I was a child.”

The States

Florida Politics: Intellectual diversity bill awaits Gov. DeSantis’ signature

By Renzo Downey

Lawmakers have presented Gov. Ron DeSantis with legislation aimed at protecting conservative viewpoints on college campuses.

The bill (HB 233), delivered to the Governor’s desk Friday, would prohibit the state Board of Education and Board of Governors from shielding students, staff and faculty from certain speech. Additionally, the bill would require those academic governing bodies to annually survey the viewpoints of college and university professors “to assess the status of intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity.”

Under the bill, school leadership couldn’t “shield” students from free speech protected under the First Amendment. They couldn’t limit students’ access to ideas and opinions they may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable or offensive…

Many conservatives say the measure would protect their speech. But the bill’s critics, including college faculty across the state, say it would have a chilling effect on free speech. Some critics include conservative professors themselves.

Monterey County Weekly: A year-and-a-half after passing it, Marina repeals its campaign finance ordinance.

By Celia Jiménez

Less than two years after the city of Marina adopted its first campaign finance ordinance limiting donors’ contributions, the city council voted to repeal it on June 2.

Marina’s short-lived ordinance excluded businesses and organizations from donating, while individuals could donate up to $200. The penalties for violating the ordinance could result in a misdemeanor charge and being ineligible to hold office for up to five years…

Newly elected councilmembers Kathy Biala and Cristina Medina Dirksen were investigated just a few weeks after being sworn in for violating the ordinance by accepting contributions over $200 from organizations; both returned the funds as soon as they knew about their mistake.

Harvey Biala, Biala’s husband and campaign treasurer, told council that “the campaign ordinance was poorly conceived and written and probably unconstitutional.” He said some people, instead of celebrating Biala’s swearing in, used the ordinance as an attempt to overturn the election results.

Medina Dirksen says the ordinance could discourage people from running for office. “It mandated so many things, and really benefited somebody who would already have known how to run a campaign,” she says. She ultimately paid $3,600 for representation, fees and fines. “We were able to pay for it, even though that fine amount exceeded our house payment,” she adds…

City staff reported that the ordinance could be viewed as unconstitutional because it doesn’t allow political parties to donate to candidates. Staff recommended amending the ordinance to follow Assembly Bill 571, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in 2019. The law limits individual contributions to $4,900 per campaign cycle.

Gothamist: DA Candidate Tali Farhadian Weinstein Dumps $8.2 Million Of Her Own Money Into Campaign

By Gwynne Hogan, WNYC

Just weeks before the primary election, Manhattan District Attorney candidate Tali Farhadian Weinstein has pumped $8.2 million dollars into her campaign, raising alarm bells among ethics watchdogs as she blows past the amounts raised by her seven rival candidates by more than $10 million…

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, which advocates for government accountability and transparency, called the 11th hour campaign contributions “anti-democratic.” While it’s legal to donate unlimited sums to your own political campaign per state and city election law, Lerner said it was an unethical choice.

“It’s designed to get the least amount of scrutiny possible,” she said. “It’s an enormous amount of money to spend on a local DA race and it [seems like she’s] trying to buy justice.”

New York Post: Yang won’t deny Adams’ claim of campaign-finance shenanigans with YouTuber

By Julia Marsh and Aaron Feis

Democratic mayoral hopeful Andrew Yang pushed back Tuesday on rival Eric Adams’ accusation that he’s benefited from the unreported labor of a prominent YouTuber — but did not deny the allegations.

Speaking in separate interviews on 1010 WINS on Tuesday morning, both candidates addressed Adams’ complaint to the city’s Campaign Finance Board claiming that Yang’s team failed to properly report the work of online superfan Matthew Skidmore and count it toward contribution limits.

“There are many people who are active on the internet making blog posts for any candidate,” said Yang, laughing as he called the Adams campaign’s choice to target the work of Skidmore “mystifying.”

“Singling out a particular blogger is just really confusing,” he said…

Asked point-blank if his campaign was supposed to be compensating Skidmore, Yang avoided answering, and instead accused his rival of skirting campaign-finance regulations.

“Every campaign has a host of people on social media and on blogs doing things every day,” he said.

Tiffany Donnelly

https://www.ifs.org/author/tdonnelly/

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