Daily Media Links 6/9

June 9, 2022   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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New from the Institute for Free Speech

FBI Targets Outspoken Parents, School Boards Silence Them

By Nathan Maxwell

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) states that its mission “is to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States” – unless you’re a parent exercising your First Amendment right to criticize your kid’s school, it should add. New whistleblower information has revealed that the FBI targeted parents who spoke out against their local school boards’ COVID policies, after prodding from education officials…

[A]s we learned last month from whistleblowers referenced by Congressmen Jim Jordan and Mike Johnson in a letter to AG Garland, the FBI developed a special threat tag for matters concerning school board officials (EDUOFFICIALS) and opened investigations with that tag in nearly every region of the country.

The letter recounts one instance in which a mom was interviewed by the FBI after someone reported her for being a “gun owner” from the “right wing mom’s group” Moms for Liberty who told a local school board that “we are coming for you.” The interview revealed no threat at all –the mother was unhappy with the school board’s mask policy and had warned that her group would work to get the board’s members voted out of office. In another instance, a complainant labeled a father opposed to mask mandates “an insurrectionist,” but could provide no such evidence when questioned.

The letter also illustrates the potential for partisan abuse of this sort of FBI targeting program. Acting on a complaint submitted through a tip line by a Democratic Party official, the FBI opened investigations into Republican state legislators who had expressed “public displeasure with school districts’ vaccine mandates.”

The Courts

Cleveland.com: East Cleveland police harassed mayoral challenger’s employee, impounded campaign van, lawsuit says

By Adam Ferrise

East Cleveland police officers harassed a 74-year-old man working for a mayoral challenger and ultimately impounded a van he used to help campaign against Mayor Brandon King, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday night.

East Cleveland resident William Fambrough accused King of retaliating against him because he stumped for City Councilwoman Juanita Gowdy by using his vehicle outfitted with speakers. King defeated Gowdy in the primary election in September, and he was re-elected months later.

Police officers impounded Fambrough’s van in the weeks leading up to the primary. That violated his rights of free speech, the lawsuit said…

Fambrough’s attorneys from the Institute for Justice — a nonprofit law firm in Arlington, Virginia, that focuses on government abuse of power — filed the suit in federal court in Cleveland.


Daily Beast: J.D. Vance and Peter Thiel Accused of ‘Secret Website’ Shenanigans

By Roger Sollenberger

According to a new legal complaint, investment banker J.D. Vance knowingly received unlawful support from a super PAC funded by his friend and billionaire backer, Peter Thiel.

The complaint, which watchdog groups Campaign Legal Center and End Citizens United filed with the Federal Election Commission on Monday and shared exclusively with The Daily Beast, alleges that the Vance campaign and the Protect Ohio Values super PAC coordinated for months through a secret website, where the PAC posted hundreds of pages of valuable information—including strategic assessments, messaging proposals, opposition research, video footage, internal polling data, and even a draft script the campaign adopted in for a late-game ad…

“This abuse is perhaps one of the clearest and most flagrant examples of a candidate and a super PAC skirting campaign finance laws,” End Citizens United president Tiffany Muller said in a statement. “Protect Ohio Values PAC and JD Vance’s campaign completely disregarded the law as the super PAC essentially served as an all-inclusive and paid-for arm of the campaign. Wealthy donors danced around the law to prop up their preferred candidate, who will inevitably be indebted to them. People in Ohio—or anywhere else—don’t want billionaires buying elections, and are fed up with it. The FEC should immediately investigate this matter and hold all parties accountable.”

Independent Groups

Daily Beast: Free Gas Cards Are the GOP’s New Campaign Gimmick—and It’s Legal

By Roger Sollenberger

Casual observers and even some attorneys suspected the unusual arrangement was illegal. But experts say this kind of gas giveaway falls within election rules.

Brett Kappel, campaign finance expert at Hammon Curran, told The Daily Beast that laws against vote buying require an agreement.

This giveaway would then be legal, Kappel said, “as long as they aren’t given the gas cards in exchange for agreeing to vote for Herschel.” He observed that if this model were successful, then similar promotions “may indeed become a popular gimmick for Republicans to bash Democrats over inflation and gas prices.”

Brendan Fischer, deputy executive director at good government group Documented, echoed the legal take.

The Nation: Why California Voters Recalled Chesa Boudin

By Sasha Abramsky

In the end, it wasn’t close. Chesa Boudin, poster child for the progressive prosecutors’ movement around the United States, was voted out as San Francisco district attorney in a recall election that will have huge ramifications for national politics over the coming months and years. 

The recall effort was funded, at least in part, by a dark-money effort involving a number of conservative Silicon Valley venture capitalists and leading GOP donors.

But however disingenuous the dark-money effort was, it tapped into existing anger about soaring levels of quality-of-life crimes in the Bay Area—low-end crimes such as car break-ins, burglaries, and shoplifting—as well as a worsening homelessness crisis and a perception that violent and/or threatening people have joined encampments that make large parts of the city desperately unpleasant for residents.

Internet Speech Regulation

Techdirt: Academic Paper Shows How Badly The Mainstream Media Misled You About Section 230

By Mike Masnick

Professor Eric Goldman now points us to an incredible 200 page masters thesis by a journalism student at UNC named Kathryn Alexandria Johnson, who did an analysis entirely about how badly both the NYT and the WSJ flubbed their reporting on Section 230.

The paper is actually more than just that, though. It includes a really useful description of Section 230 itself, along with its history, and some of the often confused nuances around the law. Johnson clearly did her homework here, and it actually is one of the best summaries of the issues around 230 I’ve seen. The paper is worth reading for just that section (the first half of the paper) alone.

But then we get to the analysis. Johnson notes that the Times and the Journal are basically the most powerful “agenda setting” newspapers in the US, so how they cover issues like Section 230 can have a huge impact on actual policy. And they failed. Badly.

The thesis explores the data in multiple ways, but one chart stands out: when talking about the impact of 230, both newspapers almost always frame the law as having a negative impact. They almost never describe it as having a positive impact.

The States

Voice of OC: Anaheim Continues Reckoning With Big Money Influence in Wake of FBI Corruption Probe

By Spencer Custodio

Anaheim City Council members are reexamining the influence of special interest groups – and the millions of dollars pumped into city elections – as the dais continues dealing with the fallout of an FBI corruption investigation into the city.

Tiffany Donnelly

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