In the News
By Victoria Eavis
Wyoming Gun Owners filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan and Attorney General Bridget Hill claiming that Wyoming’s electioneering communications law is unconstitutionally vague under the First Amendment.
“It violates the First Amendment because people are inclined to self-censor when the law’s vague,” said Del Kolde, a senior attorney from the Institute on Free Speech who is co-representing Wyoming Gun Owners.
The lawsuit, which was also filed against Deputy Secretary of State Karen Wheeler and Election Division Director Kai Schon, comes after the secretary of state investigated the gun rights group for allegedly engaging in electioneering without disclosing their donors.
Wyoming Gun Owners pressed the state to drop the investigation in late 2020 but to no avail. The secretary of state ruled that the group had to disclose their donors or pay a $500 fine, and the group chose the latter. Stephen Klein, one of the lawyers who filed the lawsuit, said the state told Wyoming Gun Owners that paying the fine didn’t mean the group wouldn’t have to disclose donors in the future.
American Action News: Free Speech Watchdog Sues Colorado City Over Campaign Law
By Peter Roff
Attorneys with the Institute for Free Speech who are representing the Lakewood Citizens Watchdog Group said the city’s requirement for the newsletter to identify donors and to include campaign disclaimers in its articles because the cost of publishing and distributing it crossed a $500 threshold violate the First Amendment.
“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,” Institute for Free Speech Senior Attorney and Deputy Vice President for Litigation Owen Yeates said in a release…
The case is Lakewood Citizens Watchdog Group v. City of Lakewood.
Courthouse News: Senator Ted Cruz Wins Legal Challenge Over Campaign Finance Rule
By Kayla Goggin
A federal court in Washington D.C. ruled in favor of Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz in a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission challenging a cap on how much money candidates can use after an election to reimburse themselves for pre-election loans.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia unanimously rejected arguments from the FEC that the rule is necessary to prevent quid pro quo corruption, ruling instead that the cap unfairly restricts candidates’ free speech.
“A candidate’s loan to his campaign is an expenditure that may be used for expressive acts. Such expressive acts are burdened when a candidate is inhibited from making a personal loan, or incurring one, out of concern that she will be left holding the bag on any unpaid campaign debt,” U.S. District Judge Neomi Rao, a Trump appointee, wrote on behalf of the panel…
Cruz’s lawsuit challenged Section 304 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which prohibits political candidates from using post-election contributions to repay personal campaign loans over $250,000.
Inside Sources: Sheldon Whitehouse: A Modern-Day Alabama Bully?
By Bill Pascoe
The Senate Committee on Rules and Administration will hold a hearing soon on S. 1, the “Corrupt Politicians Act.”
While much has been discussed about the effect the proposed legislation would have on the conduct of elections in the U.S., not so much has been discussed about the DISCLOSE Act, one of the more than 60 different pieces of legislation wrapped up in S. 1, and the effect the legislation would have on non-election-related political speech – that is, the kind of political speech that occurs when citizens band together to try to have an impact on the development or passage of legislation. So let’s be clear: The new donor disclosure requirements contained within this bill are so outrageous that if it were to be enacted into law, the result would be that we’d have a lot less non-election-related political speech.
Shutting down political speech is bad enough. What’s worse is that this bill’s sponsors know this will be one of the likely effects – and, for its most determined advocates, this seems to be a primary purpose of the legislation.
For instance, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), the principal Senate sponsor of the DISCLOSE Act, tipped his hand when he spoke just weeks ago to a Facebook live virtual townhall activist training session.
Center for Responsive Politics: New bill aims to shut the FARA revolving door
By Alyce McFadden
Former federal government officials would be prohibited from representing foreign corporations and governments as lobbyists under new bipartisan legislation introduced by Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Jared Golden (D-Maine).
The ‘‘Congressional and Executive Foreign Lobbying Ban Act’’ seeks to prohibit federally elected lawmakers, senior-level government appointees and high-ranking military officers from registering as lobbyists for foreign agents after they leave the government.
By Matt Zapotosky and Jacob Bogage
The FBI is investigating Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in connection with campaign fundraising activity involving his former business, according to people familiar with the matter and a spokesman for DeJoy.
FBI agents in recent weeks interviewed current and former employees of DeJoy and the business, asking questions about political contributions and company activities, these people said. Prosecutors also issued a subpoena to DeJoy himself for information, one of the people said.
By Charlie Savage and Katie Benner
The Trump Justice Department secretly seized the phone records of four New York Times reporters spanning nearly four months in 2017 as part of a leak investigation, the Biden administration disclosed on Wednesday.
Online Speech Platforms
New York Times: Facebook Plans to End Hands-Off Approach to Politicians’ Posts
By Mike Isaac
Facebook plans to announce on Friday that it will no longer keep posts by politicians up on its site by default if their speech breaks its rules, said two people with knowledge of the company’s plans, reversing how it has allowed posts from political figures to remain untouched on the social network.
The change, which is tied to Facebook’s decision to bar former President Donald J. Trump from its site, is a retreat from a policy introduced less than two years ago, when the company said speech from politicians was newsworthy and should not be policed.
Under the change, politicians’ posts will no longer be presumed newsworthy, said the people with knowledge of the plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Politicians will be subject to Facebook’s content guidelines that prohibit harassment, discrimination or other harmful speech, they said.
By Cat Zakrzewski
TikTok has one of the strictest bans on political advertising in the tech industry. But partisan influencers are flying under the radar on the social network, exposing a critical blindspot in the company’s rules, researchers say.
A new Mozilla report uncovered more than a dozen examples of influencers on the platform with apparent financial ties to political organizations posting without basic disclosures that their messages were sponsored.The researchers say both conservative and liberal influencers were exploiting a “loophole” in TikTok’s rules and enforcement…
Sponsored content, often called “sponcon,” has long been controversial because it can be difficult to differentiate from a regular post in the social media ether. Some experts have called on the companies to treat sponcon the way they would treat traditional political ads.
The Mozilla researchers say their findings show that TikTok is not keeping up with industry best practices on political advertising or disclosing sponsored content.
By Joseph Choi
A new study published this week by liberal media watchdog Media Matters for America found that Facebook’s misinformation labels may have actually helped to amplify former President Trump’s content.
According to Media Matters, the posts from Trump between January 2020 to 2021 that were labeled as containing misinformation by Facebook received more than twice the amount of interactions compared to his overall posts. The labeled posts received around 407,000 interactions on average, while his posts overall received an average of 152,000 interactions in comparison.
More than 500 of Trump’s posts were labeled by Facebook in the time period that Media Matters studied.
“Facebook keeps touting its labels as a proactive response to misinformation spread on the platform, even though internal and external data shows the labels are ineffective and the platform’s application of them is inconsistent at best,” the group concluded.
By Paula Reed Ward
Criminal justice advocates and elected officials are calling for the resignation of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. after an email he sent banning plea offers to a Black attorney who called his office “systematically racist” became public.
Additionally, an Allegheny County judge is now refusing to accept plea deals from his office…
“It is unethical for a DA to order a blanket ban on offering plea deals to an individual attorney’s clients. It’s also a violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
By Robert Davis
An Arapahoe County judge sided with Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman Tuesday by granting a preliminary injunction against the city’s new campaign finance ordinance.
With the injunction, Aurora must ease its enforcement of the ordinance. The Arapahoe County judge who issued the order opined that the ordinance relied on a “dubious premise.”
“These extreme rules are designed specifically to deny me the fundamental right to publicly support candidates or ballot initiatives,” Mayor Coffman said in a statement. “I’m grateful that the Court has granted an injunction suspending these rules while our lawsuit to have them declared unconstitutional continues.”
Coffman filed the suit in March, claiming that the new ordinance is an “abuse” of First Amendment rights. The ordinance limits campaign contributions from independent expenditure committees, recall campaigns, or conduits — individuals who transmit donations.
The restrictions even apply to candidates who do not appear on local ballots, which effectively bans Coffman from supporting candidates. A person who violates the ordinance can be fined up to $10,000, or three times the amount of the illegal donation, whichever is greater.
By Franke Stoltze
The L.A. Sheriff’s Department has refused to issue a permit to a group seeking to protest killings and unnecessary use of force by deputies in South L.A., leading the ACLU and a local First Amendment expert to raise free speech concerns.
The denial also prompted an unusual appeal to the County Board of Supervisors to overturn the sheriff’s decision.
The communist Revolution Club filed a permit application for a June 12 march from Southwest College to the South L.A. Sheriff’s station. It said a sound truck would lead the procession, and asked for rolling street closures during the approximately two-mile march…
In a letter to the board, the ACLU of Southern California said the Sheriff’s denial was unconstitutional and suggested it was the result of bias.
“This arbitrary and unreasoned denial is particularly suspect in the context of what appears to be growing and blatant anti-protest sentiment within LASD,” attorneys Zoe McKinney and Sari Zureiqat wrote. “We are concerned that this permit denial represents another effort to delegitimize and suppress protest and criticism of law enforcement, which the First Amendment unambiguously protects.”