Daily Media Links 6/5

June 5, 2019   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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The Courts

MediaPost: Electioneering Law Will Curb Political Ads, Newspapers Say

By Wendy Davis

“The Washington Post,” “Baltimore Sun” and other newspapers are urging a federal appellate court to continue blocking a new Maryland electioneering law that requires news sites to post information about political ads…

The publishers add that the law could result in fewer political ads altogether.

“Google has already ceased running Maryland political ads, and, if the Act were permitted to be enforced against publishers … at least some of them will be forced to do the same,” the publishers argue in papers filed late last week with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals…

Shortly after the law took effect, Google said it would stop accepting political ads in Maryland.

The Post and other papers sued to block the law last year, arguing that several of its provisions violated the First Amendment, including the provision compelling news organizations to post information about political ad purchases and to make records available to state inspectors.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Grimm in Maryland sided with the publishers and blocked the state from enforcing the law against news organizations.

Grimm wrote it was “evident” that campaign finance disclosure laws imposing burdens on the media implicate the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press. He added that laws compelling publishers to post information on their own sites are particularly problematic, describing them as “treading on their First Amendment-protected interest in controlling the content of their publications.”…

Maryland officials recently appealed that ruling to the 4th Circuit, arguing that the government has a legitimate interest in preventing foreign interference in elections, and in “electoral transparency.”


The Hill: Senate passes bill to deny entry for individuals who meddle in US elections

By Jordain Carney

The Senate cleared legislation on Monday night to block individuals who meddle in U.S. elections from being able to enter the United States.

The legislation, known as the Defending Elections against Trolls from Enemy Regimes Act (DETER Act), easily passed the Senate by unanimous consent – a move that any one senator could have blocked.

The bill, spearheaded by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), would block individuals from being able to obtain a visa if they were attempting to or had engaged in “improper interference in U.S. elections.”

According to the legislation, that would include violating voting or campaign finance laws or trying to interfere in elections or a campaign while under the direction of a foreign government.

“As we saw in the 2016 elections, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is attempting to strike at the very heart of the democratic values, freedoms, and liberty all Americans hold dear. By barring foreigners who improperly interfere in our elections from coming to the United States, the DETER Act sends a message to hostile nations across the world that the United States will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections,” Graham said in a statement after the committee’s vote.

Trump Administration 

Politico: Trump administration seeks criminal crackdown on pipeline protests

By Ben Lefebvre and Anthony Adragna

The Trump administration is joining calls to treat some pipeline protests as a federal crime, mirroring state legislative efforts that have spread in the wake of high-profile demonstrations around the country.

The Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration released a proposal Monday calling for Congress to expand a law that threatens fines and up to 20 years’ prison time for “damaging or destroying” pipelines currently in operation. The expanded version would add “vandalism, tampering with, or impeding, disrupting or inhibiting the operation of” either existing pipelines or those “under construction.”

While House Democrats will almost certainly block the proposal, it intensifies fights already underway in several energy-producing states to tamp down the waves of pipeline protests launched by progressive environmental advocates around the country as they seek to stop production of fossil fuels. PHMSA insists it doesn’t want to inhibit legitimate protests, butfree speech advocates worry that efforts to impose massive fines and years in prison for “impeding” pipeline construction could also infringe on activists’ First Amendment rights.

“The proposed penalty is far and away more extreme than what we’ve seen at the state level,” said Elly Page, attorney for International Center for Not-For-Profit Law, a nonprofit group that has tracked anti-protest bills through state legislatures. “When you combine provisions that vague to penalties that extreme, that creates uncertainty about what is and isn’t legal.”


Washington Free Beacon: AOC-Linked PAC Questioned on Contributions

By Joe Schoffstall

A political action committee linked to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y) is being questioned on potentially impermissible contributions that it made to a number of Democratic committees last year, according to a letter from the Federal Election Commission.

The FEC sent a request for additional information to the Justice Democrats PAC, a far-left group that helped elect Ocasio-Cortez to Congress, on May 30 after conducting its preliminary review of the PAC’s amended July quarterly report from 2018. Ocasio-Cortez was listed as a governor of the group until recently.

The FEC states that the amended report from Justice Democrats disclosed one or more contributions to federal candidates for the “retirement of debts incurred during the 2018 Primary election campaign” and that the committees that received the payments themselves had “insufficient debts to warrant such a contribution” from the PAC.

Political Advertising 

Campaigns & Elections: Digital Ad Industry Unveils New Transparency Guidelines

By Sean J. Miller

The group behind the YourAdChoices program wants to implement the political version of the display icon served on consumer digital ads before the first presidential primary is held in 2020.

On Tuesday, the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) announced its new transparency guidelines for political advertisers at the state and federal level will become effective Nov. 1, 2019 with enforcement of compliance starting on January 1, 2020.

The guidelines include use of the “Political Ad” icon, which a viewer can click on to get the political advertiser’s name, contact information, contribution or expenditure records (when applicable) and individual contacts-including the name of the advertiser’s CEO, member of the executive committee or board of directors, or treasurer…

DAA Executive Director Lou Mastria said that compliance with the guideline will signal that a political advertiser is “responsible.”

“Transparency and accountability are two of the foundational principles of our democracy, and the advertising industry is committed to giving voters simple access to the information they need about express advocacy political ads,” Mastria said in a statement…

Randall Rothenberg, CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a business research and standards group, said it’s now up the FEC to “make PoliticalAds the foundation of digital political ad disclosure, and protect our democracy from the threats it faces.”


Marketplace: The campaign finance of women’s suffrage

By Kimberly Adams

On June 4th, 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing all women the right to vote. It would be another year, in August of 1920, before enough states ratified the amendment for it to become law.

Women’s suffrage took more than seven decades of political struggle, and included marches, hunger strikes, and arrests. And, like political campaigns of today, it required a lot of money. While women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were on the front lines of the movement, there were other women working behind the scenes to fund it.

“We don’t tend to teach about the suffrage movement as a major lobbying force, a major well-funded organization in American political history – but it was,” said Corrine McConnaughy, an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, and author of “The Woman Suffrage Movement in America: A Reassessment”.

“You’re talking money on the order of what the major political parties had to spend,” said McConnaughy. “This is this is not just a few ladies sitting around signing petitions.” …

The financial break for the suffragists came in 1914, when wealthy widow Mrs. Miriam (Frank) Leslie left her estate – worth more than a million dollars even then – to the movement. With the million or so that remained after legal challenges from the family, the suffragists did what interest groups in Washington do to this day: They hired a bunch of lobbyists…

Suffragists also used the money to publish their own newspapers, cartoons, and silent films – an effort to counter the anti-suffrage messages in some mainstream press, and in popular culture.


National Review: Three Ways to Fight Dishonest PACs

By Jim Geraghty

First, some of these scam PACs violate the law in the course of soliciting donations and moving money around – setting up dummy pass-through corporations, shell entities that exist only on paper, using fake identities in business correspondence – and the perpetrators can be prosecuted for fraud. Last November, one organizer of these kinds of PACs pled guilty to a count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

That organizer was sentenced to two years in prison! Sing that from the rooftops. After the plea, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said, “This is the first-ever federal prosecution of fraudulent scam PACs, but it won’t be the last.” Here’s hoping there are many more to come.

Second, despite deep partisan divides on what campaign-finance reform should actually include, there’s a broad bipartisan consensus in favor of disclosure. These groups are already required to disclose how they’re spending their money in their form 990s and form 8872. Perhaps it’s time to to change federal law and require political action committees to give donors regular updates on how they’re spending donors’ money, and which candidates receive their contributions. (Some PACs already do this.)

Third, just as the best defense against foreign disinformation is a more discerning and less credulous public, the best defense against scam PACs is a more discerning and less credulous donor base. Grassroots conservatives need to learn to not break out the checkbook for every fundraising letter in the mail that mentions their favorite political figures. 

Online Speech Platforms 

Bloomberg: What Facebook Can Do to Avoid Regulation

By Ramesh Ponnuru

One school of conservatives argues that while the tech titans’ decisions may be wrong and worthy of condemnation, it is not government’s business to regulate their decisions because they are private companies…

Another group on the right thinks that the hands-off approach is dogma unsuited to the world we actually inhabit…

Soon after his election in 2018, Hawley argued that the big tech companies are benefiting from a government-granted privilege. He observed — on Twitter, naturally — that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gives these companies immunity from liability for content that appears on their sites…

Republican Senator Ted Cruz, questioning Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, made the same point as Hawley: “The predicate for Section 230 immunity under the CDA is that you’re a neutral public forum.” …

We can split the difference on the question of what the law assumes. The CDA does not require companies to be neutral about the political content of messages they host in order to have immunity. It was, in fact, written to encourage them to police obscenity, which is why it’s called the Communications Decency Act…

Perhaps we should split the difference on the policy question, too. The companies are too important to ignore, but government regulation is full of dangers.

It does not seem like too much for Congress to ask that the immunity it has provided be conditioned on some more transparency from the companies about how they decide what content to promote, hide or suppress. One possibility would be to require the companies to disclose summary information about how they make these decisions; another, perhaps easier to administer, would be to require them to publish a database of content they have deleted.

Before we decide either to regulate the tech companies or leave them alone, let’s find out if the anecdotes of bias are just anecdotes, or something more.

New York Times: YouTube to Remove Thousands of Videos Pushing Extreme Views

By Kevin Roose and Kate Conger

The new policy will ban “videos alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion,” the company said in a blog post. The prohibition will also cover videos denying that violent events, like the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, took place.

YouTube did not name any specific channels or videos that would be banned. But on Wednesday, numerous far-right creators began complaining that their videos had been deleted, or had been stripped of ads…

The decision by YouTube, which is owned by Google, is the latest action by a Silicon Valley company to stem the spread of hate speech and disinformation…

The companies have come under intense criticism for their delayed reaction to the spread of hateful and false content. At the same time, President Trump and others argue that the giant tech platforms censor right-wing opinions…

The tension was evident on Tuesday, when YouTube said a prominent right-wing creator who used racial language and homophobic slurs to harass a journalist in videos on YouTube did not violate its policies…

On Wednesday, YouTube appeared to backtrack, saying that Mr. Crowder had, in fact, violated its rules, and that his ability to earn money from ads on his channel would be suspended as a result…

The whiplash-inducing deliberations illustrated a central theme that has defined the moderation struggles of social media companies: Making rules is often easier than enforcing them…

The company also said channels that “repeatedly brush up against our hate speech policies” but don’t violate them outright would be removed from YouTube’s advertising program…

In addition to tightening its hate speech rules, YouTube announced that it would tweak its recommendation algorithm, the automated software that shows users videos based on their interests and past viewing habits.

Candidates and Campaigns 

CNN: Beto O’Rourke calls for term and donation limits in new voting rights plan

By Eric Bradner

Beto O’Rourke is proposing term limits for Supreme Court justices and members of Congress and far-reaching new restrictions on donations from wealthy individuals and corporations as part of an overhaul of election laws that his presidential campaign unveiled Wednesday…

Former lawmakers and their senior staffers would face a waiting period of at least six years before they could become lobbyists…

The plan would turn O’Rourke’s signature campaign pledge — refusing donations from political action committees — into a national mandate.

It would also restrict other vehicles for wealthy individuals and corporations to funnel money to political interests, setting a $2,000 limit for contributions to issue PACs, inaugural committees and post-retirement foundations.

PACs would have to disclose every donation they receive. Public companies, large private corporations and government contractors would have to disclose their political contributions. And lawmakers would have to turn away donations from companies that are regulated by committees on which those lawmakers sit.

O’Rourke’s plan would establish public financing for campaigns, matching donations of up to $500 each — a move that would give candidates a strong incentive to court small-dollar donors. Campaigns would have to disclose donations of $1,000 or more within 48 hours. And individuals would face lower limits on contributions to state and national political parties.

Online platforms — such as Google and Facebook — would have to disclose the sponsors of political ads on their sites.

The Hill: Hillary Clinton’s Russia collusion IOU: The answers she owes America

By John Solomon

It’s time for the American public to call in their own IOU on political transparency.

The reason? 

Never before – until 2016 – had the apparatus of a U.S. presidential candidate managed to sic the weight of the FBI and U.S. intelligence community on a rival nominee during an election, and by using a foreign-fed, uncorroborated political opposition research document.

But Clinton’s campaign, in concert with the Democratic Party and through their shared law firm, funded Christopher Steele’s unverified dossier which, it turns out, falsely portrayed Republican Donald Trump as a treasonous asset colluding with Russian President Vladimir Putin to hijack the U.S. election.

Steele went to the FBI to get an investigation started and then leaked the existence of the investigation, with the hope of sinking Trump’s presidential aspirations.

On its face, it is arguably the most devious political dirty trick in American history and one of the most overt intrusions of a foreigner into a U.S. election.

It appears the Clinton machine knew that what it was doing was controversial. That’s why it did backflips to disguise the operation from Congress and the public, and in its Federal Election Commission (FEC) spending reports.

Clinton and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) used the law firm of Perkins Coie to hire Glenn Simpson’s research firm, Fusion GPS, which then hired Steele – several layers that obfuscated transparency, kept the operation off the campaign’s public FEC reports and gave the Clintons plausible deniability.

The States

CT Mirror: Senate takes late-night jab at elections watchdog

By Mark Pazniokas

With barely 60 seconds of debate, the Senate voted unanimously late Tuesday night to transform an innocuous elections bill into a rebuke of the State Elections Enforcement Commission, imposing a term limit on the agency’s director and apparently setting aside fines it imposed on a former senator and his successor…

The Senate voted 35-0 for the measure, with one abstention. Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, the lawmaker who has been fighting a fine imposed on him in 2017 for a campaign finance violation in 2014, recused himself. He said he was under the impression the measure ended the case against him…

Sampson said he did not seek the provision that appears to block the commission from collecting a $2,000 fine against him or a $5,000 fine against his predecessor, Joe Markley of Southington.

Asked by CT Mirror if the bill indeed ended the case against Sampson and Markley, Looney replied, “I think it does.”

The case against Sampson and Markley involves what the commission called “a bright line” prohibition against publicly financed candidates using their grants to promote or attack candidates in other races.

In 2014, when Sampson was seeking re-election to the House and Markley to the Senate, they frequently attacked Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who then was seeking re-election. In one joint mailing, they said, “Rob and Joe have consistently fought Governor Malloy’s reckless spending and voted against his budget which resulted in nearly $4 Billion in new and increased taxes for Connecticut residents.”

Sampson and Markley said their intent was to use Malloy to make a point about their politics, not his. But the commission ruled against them. They appealed in court on free-speech grounds, and the case is under review by the state Supreme Court, Sampson said.

CBS Denver: Polis Signs Bill Aimed At Protecting Free Speech Rights

By Associated Press

Gov. Jared Polis on Monday signed a law to protect citizens and news outlets from lawsuits that seek to curb their free speech rights. Colorado joins nearly 30 states that have adopted measures to curb what are called strategic lawsuits against public participation.

Witnesses testified during the legislative session about how they’d been sued for libel or slander simply for exercising their First Amendment rights.

The new law allows a citizen to seek an immediate stay of such a lawsuit by arguing it’s motivated by the citizen’s exercise of First Amendment rights. A higher court can order immediate dismissal of the lawsuit, and plaintiffs can be held liable for court costs and attorneys’ fees.

Democratic Reps. Lisa Cutter and Shannon Bird and Sen. Michael Foote sponsored the bill, which was modeled after a longstanding California statute that is considered one of the nation’s toughest…

Polis also signed a bill to create a media literacy advisory panel in the state education department to study how to educate Colorado students about the role of the news media.
The panel will report to lawmakers on the possible introduction of media literacy studies in public schools.

Alex Baiocco

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