Daily Media Links 6/8

June 8, 2021   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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In the News

Houston Courant: Media Back Speech Suppression, Call It “Voting Rights”

By Bradley Vasoli

The D.C.-based Institute for Free Speech (IFS) has called attention to the difficulty smaller interest groups can expect to have navigating the more burdensome disclosure obligations that H.R. 1 would impose. Less well-funded organizations would have a harder time creating effective advertisements because they would need to pay for more airtime or greater ad space to run the longer disclaimers that the legislation would compel. And because those disclaimers would reveal the identities of top donors, they would facilitate harassment and shaming by political opponents trying to hamper fundraising efforts. Elsewhere, the bill expands the definition of lobbying well beyond the activities limited to the government-relations industry, forcing many other politically active Americans to register as lobbyists…

Arguably worst of all, the resolution would force organizations responsible for “campaign-related disbursements” for “public communication” to state on their campaign finance reports “whether such communication[s] [are] in support of or in opposition to a candidate.” In other words, associations wishing to neither endorse nor oppose a political candidate mentioned in their ads must declare to the Federal Election Commission either their support for or hostility to that candidate. 

What do you call that? Not a voting rights bill. Not if you’re a journalist.

Congress

Politico: Manchin declares opposition to voting rights bill

By Marianne Levine and Quint Forgey

In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” hours after the publication of his op-ed, Manchin defended his opposition to the so-called For the People Act, describing it as “the wrong piece of legislation to bring our country together and unite our country.”

“I’m not supporting that because I think it would divide us further,” he said. “I don’t want to be in a country that’s divided any further than [the one] I’m in right now.”

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), another co-sponsor of the legislation who caucuses with Senate Democrats, acknowledged Sunday that “there are things that can be modified” in the election reform bill.

“I have said that all along. It’s an 800 or 900 or 1,000-page bill. There are clearly some things I think need to be negotiated. And I think Joe Manchin realizes that,” King told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a statement on Sunday that although “I wish with all my heart that this bill weren’t necessary … I am dead set against doing nothing.” He added: “As I have told all my colleagues many times, I am open to any conversation about the provisions of this bill, and will not give up on American democracy.”

The Hill: Democrats reach turning point with Manchin

By Hanna Trudo

Democrats say they’re at a turning point with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Manchin’s decision to make known his opposition to the party’s sweeping voting rights legislation, a top priority for many Democrats, has raised serious questions about whether they can enact the bold agenda envisioned for President Biden’s first term.

Manchin and another centrist, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), have created irksome obstacles within their own caucus, and Democrats have yet to land on a strategy for dealing with the internal dissent.

A host of Democratic leaders and progressive activists who spoke to The Hill on Monday expressed a mix of resignation and anger over Manchin’s weekend op-ed voicing his objection to the For The People Act. Several noted there appeared to be no heads up to the White House or key Democratic leaders that it was coming. And it was widely seen as an abrasive move.

While a number of Democrats were careful with their public remarks, anger is building given the difficulties to passing major structural reforms now coming from within the party…

The White House on Monday played it safe, deflecting a question about whether Biden considers Manchin, with whom he enjoys a collegial relationship, to be a hindrance.

“We’re certainly not ready to accept that analysis,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing. “I will say that the president considers Sen. Manchin a friend. He knows that they may disagree on some issues as they do on this particular piece of [voting rights] legislation. He’s going to continue to work with him, reach out to him, engage with him directly and through his staff on how we can work together moving forward.”

Politico Playbook: Manchin comes face to face with his critics

By Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Tara Palmeri, and Ryan Lizza

A host of Black and civil rights leaders will visit Sen. JOE MANCHIN to discuss voting rights this morning — two days after the West Virginia moderate announced his opposition to Democrats’ top legislative priority on the matter, the For the People Act (aka H.R. 1/S. 1). We’re told the meeting was recommended by National Urban League President and CEO MARC MORIAL, and was set up a few weeks ago.

Those who know Manchin tell us the senator’s mind isn’t exactly open to persuasion on S. 1 as he heads into this meeting. So, we asked some of the participants how they plan to approach it. Here’s what we heard back…

We’ll be watching especially closely what Rev. AL SHARPTON, who will also be attending, has to say afterward. Sharpton has had some choice words for Manchin (and Arizona Sen. KYRSTEN SINEMA) in the past, telling Eugene in March: “The pressure that we are going to put on Sinema and Manchin is calling [the filibuster] racist and saying that they are, in effect, supporting racism.” ….

Manchin might be the only avowed skunk at the S. 1 garden party, but privately a couple of Democratic senators aren’t happy with how expansive the bill is either, per multiple sources familiar. They’re apparently afraid to say so on the record; in fact, every Senate Democrat except Manchin co-sponsored the bill.

DOJ

Reason: FBI Backs Off Attempt To Subpoena Info on USA Today Readers

By Elizabeth Nolan Brown

Press freedom continues to be threatened by Biden administration. In an insane new bit of federal law enforcement overreach, the FBI demanded that USA Today turn over records showing who read a February story about two FBI agents killed in Florida. The FBI sought information, including I.P. addresses, on all “computers and other electronic devices” that accessed the story during a 35-minute period on the evening of the shooting. The subpoena is “a clear violation of the First Amendment,” said USA Today Publisher Maribel Perez Wadsworth in a statement.

In late May, USA Today’s parent company, Gannett, asked a federal court to quash the April subpoena, calling it unconstitutional and a violation of Department of Justice (DOJ) rules. “The FBI has failed to demonstrate compliance with the United States Attorney General’s regulations for subpoenas to the press—regulations that President Biden himself recently pledged the Administration would follow,” said Gannett’s May 28 motion, revealed by USA Today last Friday.

Amid the publicity, the FBI backed off. “The FBI has withdrawn a subpoena demanding records from USA TODAY that would identify readers of a February story,” the paper reported on Saturday.

But, disturbingly, the agency doesn’t seem to think it did anything wrong.

Washington Post: Something appears to be ‘simply, simply wrong’ at the Biden Justice Department

By Fred Ryan

During the final days of the Trump administration, the attorney general used extraordinary measures to obtain subpoenas to secretly seize records of reporters at three leading U.S. news organizations. After this was reported last month, President Biden rightly decried this attack on the First Amendment, calling it “simply, simply wrong” and assuring Americans that it would not happen in his administration.

Unfortunately, new revelations suggest that the Biden Justice Department not only allowed these disturbing intrusions to continue — it intensified the government‘s attack on First Amendment rights before finally backing down in the face of reporting about its conduct.

After Biden took office, the department continued to pursue subpoenas for reporters’ email logs issued to Google, which operates the New York Times’ email systems, and it obtained a gag order compelling a Times attorney to keep silent about the fact that federal authorities were seeking to seize his colleagues’ records. Later, when the Justice Department broadened the number of those permitted to know about the effort, it barred Times executives from discussing the legal battle with the Times newsroom, including the paper’s top editor.

This escalation, on Biden’s watch, represents an unprecedented assault on American news organizations and their efforts to inform the public about government wrongdoing.

FEC

NBC News: FEC’s Trump hush money fine is a win for democracy — with a bittersweet aftertaste

By Paul S. Ryan

[Last] week, the Federal Election Commission notified Common Cause that it has fined the tabloid publisher American Media Inc. for a payment made to Karen McDougal shortly before the 2016 election. McDougal has maintained she had an affair with former President Donald J. Trump, which he denies.

The $187,500 fine was for knowingly and willfully violating federal campaign finance law with the $150,000 hush payment — what the FEC said was an illegal in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign. Common Cause, where I lead policy and litigation, filed a 2018 complaint arguing the payment was “for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential general election.” This accountability is a win for democracy. But the news is bittersweet, because the FEC also let Trump off the hook for his role directing this illegal scheme.

Free Speech

Wall Street Journal: ‘Dangerous Ideas’ Review: The Follies of Censorship

By Jonathan Rose

A commitment to open expression has always defined liberalism, which gradually expanded our First Amendment protections. But now we see many liberals abandoning that principle, perhaps because they are no longer liberals in any meaningful sense of the term. How could they be, if they want tech barons to police our online reading? …

We sorely need a reminder of the follies and crimes of censorship. In “Dangerous Ideas,” Eric Berkowitz, a journalist and lawyer, offers a global history that identifies some recurring patterns in the suppression of free thinking…

What emerges from “Dangerous Ideas” is that ideological terms like blasphemy, subversion and hate speech are impossible to define. Thus there are never clear guidelines for censorship, which is inevitably inconsistent and often absurd. “We really do not know what is demanded of us,” protested a czarist censor jailed for making a wrong call. Facebook moderators can only be fired, but face a similar quandary.

Mr. Berkowitz recognizes that “censorship doesn’t work. The ideas animating suppressed speech remain in circulation and, in the end, can become more effective for being forbidden.”

Independent Groups

Axios: Scoop: Conservatives sound alarm against taking Big Tech money

By Kim Hart

Conservatives in Washington are growing much more leery of groups with financial ties to Big Tech.

The American Principles Project, a conservative advocacy group, will send a letter today warning Republican lawmakers and staffers to be aware of third-party lobbyists who receive funding from Big Tech in an attempt to “influence public policy on the Right” and “coopt the Republican party.” …

“Over the last two years, Big Tech has not only interfered in our elections and increasingly censored conservatives, but also simultaneously plotted to coopt the Republican Party and avoid scrutiny on the Right by pouring millions of dollars into center-right think tanks,” Jon Schweppe, director of policy and government affairs at APP, writes in the letter.

The group, which promotes family issues, warned Republicans to be particularly careful about Google and Facebook…

“Meeting with a group that gets Google money is essentially the same as meeting with a Google lobbyist,'” Schweppe told Axios about the letter.

“When you get funding from an entity, you have some loyalty to that entity, especially when they’re bankrolling your salary,” he said. “Members don’t always know how deep this influence is.”

PACs

New York Times: On Voting Rights, It Can Cost Companies to Take Both Sides

By Ephrat Livni

This year, investors at shareholder meetings are passing more proposals about political activity than ever before. Among other things, these resolutions call for regular reports on decision-making processes for donations and a comprehensive account of all political spending on candidates, lobbyists, parties, trade groups and any other organizations that may use the money for political ends.

In many cases, company management is resisting the proposals. Losing shareholder votes this way erodes directors’ authority and even puts their jobs at risk.

In 2019, there were 51 political spending proposals at S&P 500 companies; none passed, and they received an average of 28 percent support. Last year, of 55 similar proposals, six passed and average support rose to about 35 percent. The nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Political Accountability partnered with activist shareholders on many of these resolutions. So far this year it has advanced 30 resolutions, and five of the seven that have been put to a vote won majority support…

“This is the strongest opening we’ve had,” said Bruce Freed, the president of the Center for Political Accountability. “It sends a strong message to companies that shareholders want them to adopt disclosure and accountability policies for their political spending with corporate funds. Companies are really under the gun.”

Forbes: It Should Be Mandatory To Disclose Political Influence Seeking And Payoffs From The State—There’s An Evidence Based Reason Why

By Shivaram Rajgopal

Today’s Dealbook column in the New York Times highlights increased investor scrutiny of companies’ political donations. Gary Gensler, the new SEC chief has suggested that the SEC should consider corporate political spending disclosures. There are strong evidence-based reasons for why he’s right. 

Roll Call: After hitting pause, PACs begin to press play again

By Kate Ackley

Business PACs, many of which paused donations earlier this year amid fallout from the violent Jan. 6 Capitol attack, have begun to send more money to lawmakers, including to the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying the presidential election results of some states…

Still, PAC money is down. Donations to both parties’ House and Senate campaign arms dropped significantly in the first four months of this year when compared with the same period in the previous two election cycles, federal election records show…

“Employees continue to believe their company and trade association PACs are important ways for them to exercise their civic duty and provide support to lawmakers who will advocate for their jobs, industries, and communities,” [executive director of the National Association of Business Political Action Committees Micaela] Isler said in an emailed statement.

Online Speech Platforms

New York Times: What Happened When Trump Was Banned on Social Media

By Davey Alba, Ella Koeze and Jacob Silver

The New York Times examined Mr. Trump’s nearly 1,600 social media posts from Sept. 1 to Jan. 8, the day Mr. Trump was banned from the platforms. We then tracked the social media engagement with the dozens of written statements he made on his personal website, campaign fund-raising site and in email blasts from Jan. 9 until May 5, which was the day that the Facebook Oversight Board, which reviews some content decisions by the company, said that the company acted appropriately in kicking him off the service.

Before the ban, the social media post with the median engagement generated 272,000 likes and shares. After the ban, that dropped to 36,000 likes and shares. Yet 11 of his 89 statements after the ban attracted as many likes or shares as the median post before the ban, if not more.

How does that happen?

Tiffany Donnelly

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

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