Daily Media Links 7/17

July 17, 2020   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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The Courts

Chicago Tribune: Feds accuse Chicago-based mortgage lender of redlining

By Abdel Jimenez

Townstone Financial has been hit with a federal lawsuit alleging the Chicago-based mortgage lender violated anti-redlining laws by making disparaging statements on its weekly radio show about Black neighborhoods in the city.

The suit, filed Wednesday by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, alleges executives with the home lender, which advertises through its radio show and podcast The Townstone Financial Show, made comments between 2014 and 2017 that would discourage applicants from applying for a mortgage loan in predominately Black communities in Chicago…

CFPB, which filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleges the company violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which prohibits creditors from discriminating against applicants on the basis of race, and anti-discriminatory mortgage-lending practices…

Lawyers for Townstone Financial say CFPB is accusing the firm of discrimination based on its political speech on crime rates and support of police in Chicago.

“The CFPB is using this case to drive all banking and mortgage companies away from advertising on conservative talk radio and to punish mainstream conservative political speech and social commentary,” James Bopp Jr., one of the lawyers representing Townstone Financial, said in a statement.

Breitbart: Lawsuit Plaintiffs Accuse Big Tech of Wanting to ‘Take Down’ President Trump

By Allum Bokhari

Lawyers representing GOP congressional candidate Laura Loomer and the conservative nonprofit Freedom Watch have asked the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals to take up a case that alleges big tech companies like Facebook and Google discriminate against conservative content.

The filing alleges that the ultimate motive of big tech companies that have censored Republicans and conservative over the past few years is to reduce President Donald Trump’s chances of reelection.

“The aim of this conspiracy to suppress politically conservative content is to ‘take down President Donald Trump’ and his administration,” says the filing…

“My legal battle against the Silicon Valley Big Tech Tyrants is America’s battle,” said Loomer “For far too long, these companies have been silencing peaceful political speech in an effort to support the political agenda of Left.”

DOJ

Politico: Barr lambastes Apple in China speech

By Betsy Woodruff Swan

Attorney General William Barr on Thursday criticized corporate America’s relationship with the Chinese Communist Party…

He also hinted at the possibility that American business leaders who advocate for the party’s political interests at its behest could face prosecutionunder the Foreign Agents Registration Act, aU.S. law that requires people to disclose lobbying for foreign governments…

Barr also hinted Thursdaythat the Chinese government has pushed American business leaders to support specific China-friendly candidates and policies. And he said such advocacy could be illegal.

“You should be alert to how you might be used, and how your efforts on behalf of a foreign company or government could implicate the Foreign Agents Registration Act,” he said. “FARA does not prohibit any speech or conduct. But it does require those who are acting as the ‘agents’ of foreign principals to publicly disclose that relationship and their political or other similar activities by registering with the Justice Department, allowing the audience to take into account the origin of the speech when evaluating its credibility.”

Wall Street Journal: FBI Investigates Twitter Hack Amid Broader Concerns About Platform’s Security

By Robert McMillan and Dustin Volz

The Federal Bureau of Investigation launched a probe into the widespread hack of Twitter that occurred Wednesday…

Lawmakers and security experts on Thursday said the attack, in which hackers commandeered numerous Twitter accounts, including for prominent figures such as Joe Biden and Bill Gates, pointed to an especially worrisome vulnerability heading into the U.S. presidential election, given Twitter’s importance as a platform for political discussion.

The hack lasted for hours, and security experts saw it as both severe and unusual. It exposed what they said was the problem of even midlevel company insiders’ access to Twitter data in ways that enable hackers to obtain such information or gain control of user accounts…

Benjamin Block, director of rapid response for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said lockouts were an issue for “dozens” of candidates. “Twitter owes these campaigns an explanation of what occurred and what the company will do to keep their platform secure going forward,” he said…

U.S. officials at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency were also in communication with Twitter about the hack, an administration official said. And the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has investigated how foreign governments weaponize social media to achieve geopolitical aims, has asked Twitter for a briefing about the disruption, according to an aide to Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the panel.

Washington Post: The Daily 202: Michael Cohen asked to sign stay-out-of-jail agreement that may violate his First Amendment rights, lawyers say

By Tom Hamburger

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney, is back in solitary confinement at a federal prison facility in Otisville, N.Y., and legal scholars across the political spectrum are expressing alarm about his treatment.

Their objections center on a Federal Bureau of Prisons agreement Cohen was asked to sign last week that he and his lawyers say would limit the ex-Trump ally’s ability to work on books, including a forthcoming tell-all about the president…

Last week, he went to New York’s federal courthouse to attend what he thought would be a routine meeting with probation officers to discuss the conditions of his home confinement.

He was stunned to be asked to sign an agreement he thought limited his First Amendment rights, according to descriptions provided last week by members of his legal team. Shortly after expressing concern, federal marshals arrived, handcuffed a panicked Cohen and returned him to prison, the lawyers said.

“This is the United States of America. We don’t send people to solitary confinement in prison because they want to write a book,” said Alan Dershowitz, a retired constitutional law professor…

In a Newsmax television interview Tuesday, Dershowitz unloaded on the decision to return Cohen to prison. 

“Whether you like him or hate him, the idea that he is handcuffed and taken to solitary because he won’t sign a form that says ‘I’m not going to write my book,’ the First Amendment has to have some impact here …” Dershowitz said.

Trump Administration

NBC News: White House tries to separate official business from the campaign with limited success

By Carol E. Lee, Monica Alba and Kristen Welker

While his predecessors took swipes at their opposition during official remarks and dutifully talked around their re-election challenger’s name, President Trump has for months taken on his political rivals from anywhere and everywhere. He’s used the same rhetoric at a campaign rally, during an East Room ceremony or in a foreign capital meeting with a world leader both domestically and overseas…

[U]nlike his two most recent predecessors during their re-election bids, Trump hasn’t hired a separate campaign press secretary to travel on Air Force One to answer reporters’ questions on campaign matters during political trips…

The Trump White House similarly hasn’t had a separate phone on the presidential aircraft installed, for Trump to use for campaign phone calls…

There are some clear rules about the president’s political actions on the White House grounds – he can’t make fundraising calls from the Oval Office, for instance. But presidents are mostly guided by an unwritten code based on tradition that can be easily stretched by one who relishes in pushing institutional boundaries, as Trump does…

“The rules are very blurry. There have been calls for literally decades to make them clearer,” said Adav Noti, a former associate general counsel of the Federal Elections Commission and chief of staff at the Campaign Legal Center.

“Past presidents have been careful to err on the side of caution and really clearly demarcate their campaign activity from their office holder activity,” Noti added. “This administration has not erred on the side of caution.”

Congress

Daily Caller: Top House Republican Says Massive Twitter Hack Had Potential To Jeopardize National Security

By Andrew Kerr

The coordinated hacking of high-profile Twitter accounts on Wednesday had the potential to endanger national security, House Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member Rep. James Comer told Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in a letter Thursday.

The Twitter accounts for some of the platform’s most prominent users – including former President Barack Obama and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden – were compromised Wednesday afternoon by apparent bitcoin scammers…

Comer, a Kentucky Republican, said in his letter to Dorsey…[:]

“Indeed, the President, with 83.5 million followers, is a frequent user of Twitter, which allows him to break through the filter of traditional media and speak directly to all Americans and the world,” Comer wrote. “Breaches similar to yesterday’s have the potential to jeopardize national and economic security and disrupt the lives of millions of Americans.” …

Comer asked Dorsey to provide a briefing to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform by July 24 that addresses how many Twitter employees were targeted during the attack, whether a foreign adversary was involved in the attack, the total number of accounts impacted by the breach and the steps Twitter will take to ensure a similar breach never occurs again.

First Amendment

Vice: U.S. Army Esports Team May Have Violated the First Amendment on Twitch

By Matthew Gault

The U.S. Army has an official esports team that streams on Twitch, runs a discord server, and participates in tournaments. It’s a recruitment tool, but it’s running afoul of internet culture and learning an important lesson about being online: moderation is hard if not impossible. Last week, it banned people from its Twitch channel for asking questions about U.S. war crimes. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says that’s a violation of the first amendment’s free speech protections.

“It looks like what happened was a violation of the First Amendment,” Vera Eidelman, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project told VICE over the phone. According to Eidelman, the Government can’t pick and choose what comments it allows on a public forum and that there’s a recent history of case law to back up the claim…

“The U.S. Army eSports Team follows the guidelines and policies set by Twitch,” a representative of the U.S. Army esports team said in a statement. “The team viewed the user’s question as a violation of Twitch’s harassment policy and banned the user. We fully support users’ rights to express themselves, but we will not support harassment of our Soldiers on our forums.”

Literary Hub: Suzanne Nossel on the Increasing Politicization of the First Amendment

By Suzanne Nossel

Public opinion polls suggest that political polarization is infecting perspectives on free speech. Political scientists Joshua Dyck and Francis Talty from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell published a study in 2017 that found wide bipartisan support for free speech alongside great partisan suspicion that the other side doesn’t truly hold such ideals. The study found that partisans on both sides were less protective of speech involving ideological positions or personalities they opposed. Republicans surveyed were far more ready to limit the speech of liberal activist Michael Moore than of conservative talk-show host Ann Coulter, and vice versa for Democrats. Both groups viewed their own party as defenders of First Amendment and other constitutional rights but were cynical about the opposing party’s commitment to the same freedoms. Several other recent studies confirm sharpening partisan divisions over what speech merits protection. According to a 2017 Cato Institute survey, staunch liberals were most likely to believe that it was morally acceptable to punch a Nazi, whereas Republicans were more inclined to believe that individuals who burn the flag should be stripped of their citizenship (the Supreme Court has held that flag burning is a form of “symbolic speech” protected by the First Amendment).

Free Speech

Hannah Arendt Center: Justice and Vigorous Debate

By Roger Berkowitz

“Intellectual cowardice,” as George Orwell once wrote, “is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face.” In every society, there is an orthodoxy and speaking against it is difficult. “Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban.” There is a constant struggle between orthodoxy and dissent. On both the right and the left today, the balance is tilting strongly toward orthodoxy and against dissent. The Letter [on Justice and Open Debate, published by Harper’s] seeks to say this plainly and steel people for the challenge of free-thinking and dissent. I signed the Letter because I thought I should have the courage to say publicly, with what power and security I have, that I support the right of those who dare to speak their minds. 

Independent Groups

Center for Responsive Politics: Influential ‘dark money’ network steers millions to pro-Biden super PACs

By Karl Evers-Hillstrom

Sixteen Thirty Fund, an expansive liberal “dark money” network that emerged as a key player in the 2018 midterms, is injecting millions of untraceable dollars into super PACs backing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. 

The influential nonprofit donated a total of $5.7 million to two pro-Biden groups, Unite the Country and American Bridge 21st Century, on June 30…

Sixteen Thirty Fund made the donation through a recently formed joint fundraising committee called Victory 2020. These committees typically distribute large donations from wealthy individual donors to a number of campaigns and party committees. It’s rare to see a joint fundraising committee raise cash for super PACs – and fund them with dark money. 

Organized as a 501(c)(4), Sixteen Thirty Fund is best known for bankrolling Demand Justice, an effort that opposed Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court…It also posed as news outlets in an attempt to influence voters…

Biden has pledged to crack down on dark money and coordination between campaigns and billionaire-backed super PACs if he is elected president. But Democrats have maintained throughout the Citizens United era that their willingness to implement stricter campaign finance laws will not stop them from abusing existing loopholes to win elections…

It’s becoming more common for dark money groups to steer money to super PACs rather than fund political ads themselves. Each of the top super PACs tied to House and Senate Democrats have received large donations from nonprofits that don’t disclose their sources of funding. A mysterious super PAC that meddled in Colorado’s Democratic Senate primary revealed this week that it was funded entirely by Majority Forward, a dark money group tied to Democratic leadership.

Online Speech Platforms

Wall Street Journal: Republicans and Democrats Even Tweet Differently

By Sarah E. Needleman

Democratic lawmakers are more active on social media, though Republicans get more likes or replies on their posts.

The party divide was among the findings of a Pew Research Center report released Thursday on how members of Congress have used Facebook and Twitter over the past several years and the increased role social media plays in political communication…

Social media enables politicians, especially those seeking higher office, to communicate with an audience beyond direct constituents. But it isn’t known whether lawmakers’ social-media activity has increased or decreased political polarization, said Joshua A. Tucker, a professor of politics at New York University and co-director of the school’s Center for Social Media and Politics…

Social media “power users,” the top 10% of lawmakers in terms of followers, account for more than three-quarters of all likes and other user reactions on the platforms. Those users include Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez among Democrats and Sens. Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz among Republicans.

“Members of Congress would rather reach their constituents through social media than go through news media” to share their messages, said David Lazer, a professor at Northeastern University and visiting scholar at Harvard University. “Plus, with the decline of local media, there are fewer avenues through mainstream media.”

CNBC: Facebook will launch a new section to debunk coronavirus myths

By Salvador Rodriguez

Facebook on Wednesday announced it will launch a new section of its social network dedicated to dispel inaccurate myths about Covid-19…

The company…will have a new “Facts About Covid-19” section within its app and website where it will “debunk common myths about the pandemic,” Facebook said in a tweet.

The sample screen shown in the tweet suggests that Facebook will use the World Health Organization as a trusted source, and will include simple statements of fact like “Hydroxychloroquine hasn’t been proven to cure, treat, or prevent it.”

Facebook has previously said social networks should not be the arbiters of truth, and has refused to ban misleading political advertisements.

Techcrunch: On Facebook, Trump’s next false voting claim will come with an info label

By Taylor Hatmaker

Starting today, Facebook posts by federal elected officials and candidates – including presidential candidates – will be accompanied by an info label prompting anyone who sees the post to click through for official information on how to vote. The label will link out to usa.gov/voting. For posts that address vote-by-mail specifically, the link will point to a section of the same website with state-by-state instructions about how to register to vote through the mail.

Facebook plans to expand the voting info label to apply to all posts about voting in the U.S., not just those from federal-level political figures. 

Fundraising

ABC News: Out-of-state contributions dominate high-dollar fundraising in top Senate races

By Soo Rin Kim and Kendall Karson

Across key Senate races defining the battle for the majority, out-of-state contributions are overwhelmingly dominating the higher end of fundraising for both Democrats and Republicans…

For the most aggressive fundraisers among Democratic challengers, at least 74% and up to 96% of itemized donations so far this cycle were from out-of-state contributors. Among their Republican rivals, out-of-state donations span a range of 69% to 91%, according to an analysis by ABC News of the top five fundraisers for Democratic Senate challengers and their Republican opponents…

“This is consistent with what we’ve been seeing even before the Q2 numbers this year. It shows an exceptionally high pattern of out-of-state money, particularly for when you include donations of $200 or less, and particularly for Democrats,”[executive director of nonpartisan campaign finance research group Center for Responsive Politics, Sheila] Krumholz said. “It is also true of all large donations that are more than $200 and for Republicans as well…” …

But out-of-state dollars don’t guarantee success – and come with some drawbacks.

“The downside for these recipients is that these out-of-state donors can’t vote for them,” Krumholz said. “Jon Ossoff in Georgia against Karen Handel, did very well, outraised her by a good deal, but fell on Election Day because those Massachusetts voters couldn’t couldn’t help on Election Day. What counts is not the money, but the votes.”

Out-of-state cash can also be leveraged against a campaign, she said…

Krumholz…warned that these competitive contests are not all about war chests.

“Money still is no panacea for the whole state effort,” she said.

Wall Street Journal: Republicans Alarmed by Democratic Senate Hopefuls’ Fundraising Haul

By Julie Bykowicz and Lindsay Wise

[Recent Federal Election Commission] fundraising filings covering April to June…underscore Democrats’ advantage over the Republicans when it comes to donors giving small amounts online-a vital source of campaign cash since the coronavirus pandemic shut down most in-person fundraisers. Small donors are defined in FEC filings as those who contribute $200 or less.

GOP strategists called the fundraising gap an urgent problem…

“It’s a serious fundraising disparity that jeopardizes our Senate majority, and Republican senators need to wake up and develop a small-dollar program or they’ll be out of a job,” said Michael Duncan, a Republican digital strategist who works with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign…

While some GOP Senate candidates have made strides online, “we’re still light-years away from where we need to be as a party,” [National Republican Senatorial Committee] executive director Kevin McLaughlin said…

Late last year, Republicans developed an online payment portal called WinRed to compete with ActBlue, which Democratic candidates and groups have used in increasing numbers since 2004. President Trump and most federal GOP candidates now link to WinRed for online donations. 

The States

Post and Courier (“Understand SC” podcast): Why dark money groups can play an outsize role in state elections

By Emily Williams

In the couple weeks leading up to the primary runoff for South Carolina state Sen. Luke Rankin’s seat, televisions in the Myrtle Beach area were flooded with political ads – at least $785,000 worth of them, to be exact.

The ads were paid for by three different groups but, beyond those groups’ names, not much else is known about them. That’s because they’re so-called “dark money” organizations that pour huge sums of money into political ads but don’t disclose their donors.

For this particular race…those groups combined were able to spend more than three times what Rankin raised for his own campaign.
This kind of political spending is becoming increasingly common in the U.S., but the system is particularly bad here in South Carolina because of the state’s campaign finance laws.

South Carolina is one of just three states that does not track or police this type of political advertising in any way.

For this week’s podcast, we talked with political reporter Jamie Lovegrove and business reporter Andrew Brown who followed the money with the race for Rankin’s seat.

They also discussed why this race in particular was targeted, which other S.C. elections have been influenced by dark money and how likely it may be to see legislation that reins in these groups in the near future.

Democrat and Chronicle: New bill takes on frivolous lawsuits that attempt to silence free speech

By Brad Hoylman and Helene Weinstein

Short for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation,” a SLAPP is a frivolous lawsuit filed purely to silence critics by dragging them into court…

The message these lawsuits send is that criticism will cost you. For the powerful, spending thousands of dollars on a spurious case is a mere public relations expenditure…

Candidates for office, too, are chilled into self-censorship. Don’t go too hard in your editorial or commercial, or else a nervous publisher or television station may reject it. Even worse, it could inspire a SLAPP against your campaign…

[I]n New York – home to several of the largest daily newspapers in the nation, major book publishers, national television and cable stations, online news outlets and a growing number of film and television productions- our anti-SLAPP laws are woefully inadequate…

We’ve proposed legislation that offers legal protection to any individual or entity sued for exercising their free speech rights.

Our bill improves New York’s existing anti-SLAPP statute by expanding coverage to speech (or other lawful conduct) relating to an issue of public interest. If a defendant’s speech or activity fall under the protection of the statute, judges will have the ability to dispose of these bogus claims quickly.

 

 

 

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly

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

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