Daily Media Links 6/3

June 3, 2021   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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New from the Institute for Free Speech

Watchdog Group Sues Colorado City Over Campaign Law That Violates Freedom of the Press

Lakewood city officials claim that a local watchdog group broke the law when its regularly published newsletter reported on candidates in a recent election. The city said it should have exposed its supporters and included campaign disclaimers on its articles. Yesterday, represented by attorneys from the Institute for Free Speech, the Lakewood Citizens Watchdog Group filed a federal lawsuit challenging the law as an unconstitutional restriction on freedom of the press.

The Watchdog is asking the court to rule that its newsletter, The Whole Story, is protected by the First Amendment and that the city laws it was fined $3,000 for violating are unconstitutional. The group says it has a First Amendment right to report on local issues, including city and county government, elections, and candidates.

“If the council can redefine reporting and commentary as campaigning, it can punish news outlets that criticize candidates in the months leading up to an election. Congress and the state of Colorado both exempt the media from their campaign finance laws to avoid this precise outcome,” said Institute for Free Speech Senior Attorney and Deputy Vice President for Litigation Owen Yeates…

By failing to exempt news gathering and reporting from its campaign finance laws, Lakewood has unconstitutionally infringed on the freedom of the press. That freedom is essential to a functioning democracy, even more so in the context of elections. Politicians may wish to control who can speak about them, but they can’t regulate The Whole Story.

The case is Lakewood Citizens Watchdog Group v. City of Lakewood. To read the complaint, click here.

The Courts

KARK: ACLU files lawsuit on behalf of state contractor fired for advocating against transgender health care ban

By Ashley Fugo

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of a state contractor whose contract was canceled because he emailed his state legislator to advocate against a bill to ban transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming care.  

Casey Copeland was a contract attorney for the state’s court system when he emailed his state representative, Rep. Charlene Fite (R-80th District), from his personal email to express his opposition to House Bill 1570…

The lawsuit alleges that state officials violated Copeland’s constitutional rights to free speech and due process and asked the court to block the termination of his contract.

“The right to petition our government is one of the core freedoms enshrined by the First Amendment – yet our client was retaliated against and his contract was terminated for exercising this fundamental right,” said Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director. “As a citizen, Casey Copeland had every right to express his opposition to this harmful legislation and urge his representative to oppose it.

Congress

Washington Post: Pressure mounts on Manchin as ‘panic’ sets in among Democrats over voting rights

By Sean Sullivan and Mike DeBonis

Democratic leaders and activists are urgently stepping up pressure on Sen. Joe Manchin III to support legislation to fight Republican-led voting restrictions across the country, with party officials increasingly concluding that the battle over voting rights could come down to what the centrist Democrat from West Virginia does…

Even some of Manchin’s Democratic colleagues are beginning to prod him more aggressively to join their cause, while activists and civil rights leaders are loudly decrying his hesitation.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said Wednesday that he and other civil rights leaders plan to meet with Manchin next week to talk about the importance of supporting Democrats’ voting legislation. “The idea there is to is not to attack Manchin but to appeal to him,” said Sharpton. He said NAACP president Derrick Johnson and National Urban League president Marc Morial are also expected at the Tuesday meeting…

Democrats are hoping that Schumer’s decision to bring the measure to the floor for a vote could force Manchin off his position — or at least demonstrate that Republicans are unwilling to even debate the issue. Failing to reach even 50 votes would be an embarrassing setback for Democrats, who have described the present threat to voting rights and democracy in increasingly stark terms. But that possibility continues to loom over Schumer’s gambit.

IRS

Axios: Dems’ dark-money bid aimed to paint Josh Hawley as an anti-gun lefty

By Lachlan Markay

A dark-money group aligned with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer helped pay for deceptive ads aimed at depressing Republican general election turnout in 2018, newly released records show.

These contests were decided more than two years ago, but the details show how partisan operatives exploited gaps in campaign finance laws to attack their rivals while obscuring their true motives — tactics both sides may adopt in next year’s pivotal midterms…

Majority Forward is the nonprofit arm of Senate Majority PAC, a high-dollar super PAC affiliated with Senate Democrats. Newly released tax records show that Majority Forward gave nearly $2.7 million in 2018 to another nonprofit called the Coalition for a Safe and Secure America (CSSA)…

It used those funds to finance direct mail and digital advertising campaigns attacking Republican candidates in some of the nation’s most competitive Senate contests…

Laws allowing nonprofits to engage in limited political activity permitted Majority Forward to finance these ads in a way that made it impossible to trace the money until years after the elections at issue.

CSSA is now facing an IRS complaint from the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which says it illicitly concealed political activity in its annual tax filings.

Nonprofits

Center for Responsive Politics: Leading money-in-politics data nonprofits merge to form OpenSecrets, a state-of-the-art democratic accountability organization

The nation’s two leading money-in-politics data organizations have joined forces to help Americans hold their leaders accountable at the federal and state levels, they said today.

The combined organization, OpenSecrets, merges the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) and the National Institute on Money in Politics (NIMP), each leading entities for three decades. The merger will provide a new one-stop shop for integrated federal, state and local data on campaign finance, lobbying and more, that is both unprecedented and easy to use.

Free Speech

New York Times: Police Chief Who Threatened Facebook Critic With False Arrest Pleads Guilty

By Neil Vigdor

A police chief in Pennsylvania who threatened a critic with false arrest unless the person deleted Facebook posts attacking him has pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights violation.

The chief, Brian Buglio of the West Hazleton, Pa., Police Department, made the threats in March 2020 to a private citizen, telling the person that he would pursue felony charges in retaliation for several social media posts that were directed at him and the police, the authorities said.

The person agreed at the time to remove the posts from Facebook and to refrain from making future comments about Chief Buglio and the police, according to a criminal complaint that was filed on Thursday in federal court in Scranton, Pa.

Slate: A Law Student Isn’t Allowed to Graduate Because He Made Fun of the Federalist Society

By Mark Joseph Stern

On Jan. 25, Nicholas Wallace, a third-year student at Stanford Law School, sent a satirical flyer to a student listserv reserved for debate and political commentary. The flyer promoted a fake event, “The Originalist Case for Inciting Insurrection,” ostensibly sponsored by the Stanford Federalist Society…

Wallace’s email was designed to mock the Stanford Federalist Society for refusing to disavow the many Federalist Society luminaries who fomented the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, including Hawley and Paxton. It worked: The flyer went viral, prompting USA Today to confirm that it was, indeed, satire. But the Stanford Federalist Society was not amused. In March, one of the group’s top officers filed a complaint against Wallace with Stanford’s Office of Community Standards. (This person’s name has been redacted from all documents.) The student alleged that Wallace’s satire “defamed” the Stanford Federalist Society, causing “harm” to the student group and to the “individual reputations” of the officers.

Then, on May 22, with graduation looming, the Stanford Federalist Society officer pushed the school to initiate a formal investigation. Wallace did not receive the complaint against him until May 27, his last day of classes. Stanford then placed a hold on his degree, prohibiting him from receiving his actual diploma at graduation on June 12…

On Tuesday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sent a letter to Stanford urging the school to “immediately abandon its investigation and commit to procedural reforms to protect the expressive rights Stanford promises to its students.”

Fundraising

Insider: Republicans and Democrats alike are abandoning one of their favorite — and bogus — fundraising gimmicks. A Vegas scammer’s guilty plea has them spooked.

By Dave Levinthal

A line buried in a recent Department of Justice guilty-plea announcement, which used the word “matched,” has so spooked most Republicans and Democrats alike that they’ve all but abandoned this popular — and decidedly bogus — fundraising ploy, say several political operatives, speaking to Insider on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential legal advice.

Out of more than 150 political-committee solicitations Insider reviewed in late May, only a handful still used “match” gimmicks. Just a month before, at least three dozen of the same committees did. 

The States

U.S. News and World Report: Another Lawsuit Challenges Amended Montana Campaign Bill

By Amy Beth Hanson, Associated Press

Another lawsuit has been filed to challenge a new law that bans voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts on college campuses in Montana and also requires judges to recuse themselves from cases if they have received campaign donations from anyone involved in the case.

Forward Montana, The Montana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Lewis and Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher and other attorneys filed the complaint Tuesday against the state of Montana in District Court in Helena.

It asks District Judge Michael McMahon to declare the law unconstitutional and seeks an order to block the state from enforcing it.

Montana’s Constitution requires that bills contain only a single subject and prevents the Legislature from amending laws so much during the process that they change their original purpose.

The plaintiffs argue a campaign finance bill to allow groups of candidates to create joint fundraising committees was hijacked in the final hours of the legislative session. They say it was amended without public comment to require judges to recuse themselves from cases if an attorney or other party involved in a case before them had donated, directly or indirectly, to the judge’s election campaign.

“If the provision takes effect on July 1, it will cause chaos in the judiciary by forcing the removal of judges from hundreds of pending cases in Montana,” the plaintiffs said in a statement.

The legislation violates attorneys’ First Amendment rights to make campaign donations, the complaint states.

MSN: Oregon campaign finance reforms catch criticism from activists

By Tim Gruver

House Bill 2680, sponsored by state Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, would cap political campaign contributions for individuals and committees at $1,000 in local candidate and statehouse races, $2,000 in circuit court judges and state senate races, and $2,900 for other state elections. Local governments could adopt lower limits for local elections…

HB 2680 would also create the Small Donor Election Program offering a public match for state legislative races, including primaries and general elections. The program applies to in-state contributions of $10,000 from 400 persons for state senate races and $6,000 from 250 persons for statehouse races.

Some who testified on the bill took issue with its spending limits on “persons” rather than “individuals.” State law defines the former as an individual, a corporation, a limited liability company, and even a club or partnership. Such groups are not required to disclose the source of their funds under Oregon law.

Dan Meek, a lawyer with the group Honest Elections Portland, worries the bill’s word choice could open a state-sized loophole for big donors.

“This would render the contribution limits illusory,” Meek testified. “It would also destroy the ability of voters to know where the campaign money is originating.”

Meek recommended state lawmakers pass a competing campaign finance bill, HB 3343, whose language centers on “individuals.” The bill, which has 21 co-sponsors as of Tuesday, remains in committee.

The Hill: Governors can protect civil liberties, too

By Dillon Chepp

Gov. Gianforte vetoed a bill requiring certain nonprofits that litigate against government action to disclose the names and addresses of donors giving more than $50. Donor disclosure requirements have a sordid history in the U.S. In 1956, Alabama required the NAACP to disclose its members, knowing that the fear of retaliation likely would cause members to end their affiliation with the organization. Two years later, the Supreme Court invalidated this requirement, finding that it violated the free association rights of the NAACP and its members.

While the threats posed to members and donors of advocacy groups today are certainly less severe than those posed to members of the NAACP in the Jim Crow South, they are nonetheless very real. Last year, a survey by the Cato Institute revealed that 62 percent of Americans are scared to share their political opinions because of the current political climate, and 32 percent of employed Americans are worried about missing out on career opportunities or losing their jobs if their political opinions become known. Retribution for donations to disfavored groups is not limited to private actors. For example, the IRS has a lengthy history of targeting nonprofit groups and donors for political purposes.

Tiffany Donnelly

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

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