Daily Media Links 7/19

July 19, 2021   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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ICYMI

A Biden-Zuckerberg Alliance Against “Misinformation” Should Scare Everyone

By Luke Wachob

On Thursday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki revealed that the Biden administration is in “regular touch” with social media platforms to identify posts the government believes should be taken down.

“We’re flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation,” Psaki said.

She went on to criticize Facebook for not banning 12 people she claims are responsible for almost 65% of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media. Psaki lectured that it is “important for platforms to take faster action” to remove content the government flags as misinformation.

It goes without saying, thankfully, that the First Amendment prohibits the government from censoring speech, even speech it classifies as “misinformation.” In asking Facebook to remove specific posts and accounts, the Biden administration is requesting a private company act on its behalf and exercise a power it is expressly denied by the Constitution.

The danger to free speech should be clear. The federal government possesses enormous power. Once it chooses targets, it has many carrots and sticks to corral them. If the government can intimidate private parties into doing what it cannot do directly, then its power is effectively limitless.

The Courts

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Noah Feldman: Trump’s doomed Twitter lawsuit raises one serious issue

By Noah Feldman

Current constitutional doctrine doesn’t clearly lay out how much government coercion of a private actor’s speech decisions it would take to constitute a First Amendment violation. A background threat of new legislation, such as the one Trump alleges in his lawsuit, certainly doesn’t qualify. But what about a threat not to approve a merger, along the lines of one that Trump’s White House reportedly considered in 2017 when Time Warner, CNN’s parent company, was poised to merge with AT&T?

The bottom line is that the government does have the capacity to affect private speech by threats. And under at least some circumstances, that threat should be actionable. The proper defendant would be the government actors doing the threatening, not the media platforms subject to threat.

Biden Administration

The Hill: Biden calls for voting rights passage on anniversary of John Lewis’s death

By Lauren Vella

President Joe Biden on Saturday called on Congress to pass two pieces of voting rights legislation on the one-year anniversary of Rep. John Lewis’s (D-Ga.) death…

“I again call on Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act so I can sign them into law,” Biden concluded…

On Tuesday, Biden issued similar remarks regarding Lewis and the federal election legislation. 

“Last month, Republicans opposed even debating, even considering the For The People Act. Senate Democrats stood united to protect our democracy and the sanctity of the vote. We must pass the For The People Act, it’s a national imperative,” Biden said.

Jonathan Turley:  Fear Free Speech: Biden Denounces Big Tech as “Killing People” By Not Censoring Speech

President Joe Biden slammed Big Tech companies this week for “killing people” by failing to engage in even greater censorship of free speech on issues related to the pandemic…

Biden was asked by a reporter what his message was to “platforms like Facebook” on the subject of “COVID misinformation.” He responded “They’re killing people. The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and they’re killing people.”

This comes as these companies have been criticized for censoring debates over the origin or treatment of Covid-19.

For a year, Big Tech has been censoring those who wanted to discuss the origins of pandemic. It was not until Biden admitted that the virus may have originated in the Wuhan lab that social media suddenly changed its position. Facebook only recently announced that people on its platform will be able to discuss the origins of Covid-19 after censoring any such discussion.

Congress

Bloomberg: Klobuchar Tells Social Media: ‘Take This Crap Off’

By Yuegi Yang

Senator Amy Klobuchar said misinformation on social media about Covid-19 vaccines adds urgency to her call to change liability standards for what is published on their platforms.

“There’s absolutely no reason they shouldn’t be able to monitor this better and take this crap off of their platforms,” she said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”…

Earlier this year, Senator Klobuchar, along with Democratic senators Mark Warner and Mazie Hirono, introduced a bill to target Section 230, seeking to make it easier to sue social media platforms for harmful content.

FEC

Bloomberg Government: Zombie Campaigns-to-Be Hold Millions in Cash With Murky Rules

By Kenneth P. Doyle and Nancy Ognanovich

Federal law says campaign contributions must be used to run for office or pay for official expenses; “personal use” of the money is barred. But the line between personal and political is getting more blurry, with ex-lawmakers in recent years spending millions to help elect other candidates, including family members, or to fund schools and nonprofit organizations they support.

And if a recent court decision holds up, former lawmakers may even be able to tap campaign funds to repay old personal loans they made to their accounts.

“People just keep pushing the envelope in the face of lack of clarity of the law and lack of enforcement,” said Brett Kappel, a lawyer with the firm Harmon Curran who advises Democratic candidates and other organizations on campaign finance questions.

Many of these so-called zombie committees last for years after the lawmakers who established them left electoral politics or even died, even though the Federal Election Commission has urged them to disburse their money and shut down. Few enforcement actions have been taken, and actual penalties are rare…

Leftover campaign funds are being used for more purposes partly because of deadlocks between Republicans and Democrats on the FEC over how to interpret and enforce the personal use prohibition.

In one example, Republican Commissioner Sean Cooksey wrote in an “interpretive statement” earlier this year that the prohibition on personal use “does not apply to funds lawfully transferred by an authorized candidate committee after the funds have left the campaign account, and does not apply to other types of non-candidate political committees, including leadership PACs.”

Weintraub has argued, on the other hand, that some personal use restrictions should apply to money from leadership PACs.

Tampa Bay Times: Investigation into Rick Scott ends with regulators deadlocked on campaign violations

By Steve Contorno

A three-year probe into Sen. Rick Scott has ended with a federal panel deadlocked on whether the Florida Republican and a political committee he once led violated campaign laws during his 2018 bid for U.S. Senate.

A 3-3 split decision along party lines by the Federal Election Commission, made public Friday, comes despite the commission’s general counsel concluding there was reason to believe Scott broke the law. The general counsel recommended further investigation into Scott and his former political committee, New Republican PAC.

In a blistering critique of the stalemate dated Thursday, the commission’s chairperson, Shana Broussard, and Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said it was “clear” that Scott’s activities warranted a deeper review. They accused Scott of “finding a dormant PAC and commandeering it for his purposes.”…

At issue is Scott’s involvement with New Republican PAC, a political action committee first created in 2013 by a Republican operative. A complaint filed by the organization End Citizens United alleged that Scott illegally used New Republican PAC to raise money for a Senate bid before he was officially a candidate and that he coordinated with that political committee after he became a candidate, another violation of federal law.

IRS

Washington Times: Biden wants to double the IRS, can Americans stomach another scandal?

By Rep. Jason Smith

Despite attempts to blame a few bad apples, the Obama-Biden IRS had a clear, systemic bias against conservative Americans and went to great lengths to target groups that held conservative points of view.

They developed a “Be On the Look Out” list for nonprofit applications, which included words like “Tea Party” and “Patriots” and organizations educating on government spending, taxes, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Between 2010 and 2014, 66% of applications flagged for review were “conservative” groups, while just 19 percent were “liberal” organizations. Overall, the Obama-Biden IRS approved just one conservative group’s non-profit status over a three-year period.

As the scandal started to unravel, the IRS tried to cover up what happened and even destroyed evidence. In April 2013, a month before the IRS admitted to targeting conservative groups, Lois Lerner – the then director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Unit in charge of reviewing applications for tax-exempt status – advised her colleagues to be careful about what they said in emails. That same day she asked colleagues if their internal instant messaging system was archived, and when told it was not archived, responded, “Perfect.”

Philanthropy

Wall Street Journal: The Woke Threat to Philanthropy

By Naomi Riley

Government officials are threatening the independence and privacy of philanthropists. “Donors have faced intimidation and threats of violence simply for supporting causes they believe in,” [Philanthropy Roundtable president] Elise Westhoff tells me…

The roundtable itself has become a target from rivals on the left…

While the information [head of the National Center for Responsive Philanthropy, Aaron] Dorfman shared was publicly available, this move to “name and shame” [Philanthropy Roundtable’s] donors—and to force disclosure of anonymous ones—is part of a larger trend that worries Ms. Westhoff. “There are many legitimate reasons donors may not want to publicly disclose charitable gifts,” she says, “including religious beliefs and a desire for personal privacy”—and, most of all, “fear of retaliation.”

So she was elated when the Supreme Court closed its term with a ringing vindication of donor privacy. In Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, the justices voted 6-3 to strike down a California regulation requiring charitable organizations to disclose large donors to the state attorney general, who claimed to be building a confidential antifraud database…

Ms. Westhoff calls the decision “a win for philanthropic freedom.” …

Ms. Westhoff says that, in 2021 alone, 16 states have considered enacting donor-disclosure measures similar to California’s.

Online Speech Platforms

Facebook: Moving Past the Finger Pointing

By Guy Rosen, VP of Integrity

At a time when COVID-19 cases are rising in America, the Biden administration has chosen to blame a handful of American social media companies. While social media plays an important role in society, it is clear that we need a whole of society approach to end this pandemic. And facts — not allegations — should help inform that effort. The fact is that vaccine acceptance among Facebook users in the US has increased. These and other facts tell a very different story to the one promoted by the administration in recent days.  

The States

Reason (Volokh Conspiracy): City Announces Cancellation of “America First” Rally at Private Venue, Claims Security Threats + “Values”

By Eugene Volokh

The rally would have featured Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, according to this City News Service story.

Now a private venue doesn’t violate the First Amendment by cancelling a rally based on “public safety concerns.” … And it isn’t generally a First Amendment violation for government officials to simply try to persuade private parties not to participate in distributing certain kinds of speech…

But when the government tries to coerce private entities into suppressing speech, that may well violate the speakers’ First Amendment rights (see, e.g., Rattner v. Netburn (2d Cir. 1991), Okwedy v. Molinari (2d Cir. 2003), and Backpage, Inc. v. Dart (7th Cir. 2015)). So the questions are: When a city “share[s] public safety concerns” about a speech with a private venue, and then publicly announces the cancellation of the event with the statement, “As a city we respect free speech but also have a duty to call out speech that does not reflect our city and its values,”

  1. Do you think there was likely any coercive pressure exercised by the city against the venue?

  2. If this had been, say, a Socialist rally that was cancelled with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, with the same public statement, what would your inference be?

  3. Say the City of Anaheim had indeed simply passed along some information about threats against the speakers or the venue, i.e., concrete “public safety concerns” rather than just abstract ones. Indeed, say that it even gave….

NJ.com: N.J. woman must remove anti-Biden F-bomb signs or face $250-a-day fines, judge rules

By Rebecca Panico

A municipal judge on Thursday ruled that a Roselle Park homeowner’s owner’s anti- President Biden flags including the F-bomb on her fence were obscene and must be removed because they violated a borough ordinance.

Roselle Park Municipal Court Judge Gary Bundy ordered the Willow Avenue homeowner to remove the signs with profanity within a week or face a $250-a-day fine. Patricia Dilascio is the property owner but her daughter, Andrea Dick, had the signs, three of which include the F-word, on display…

The ordinance prohibits displaying “any obscene material, communication or performance or other article or item which is obscene within the Borough.” It defines obscenity as material that depicts or describes sexual conduct or lacks any serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

Michael Campagna, an attorney representing the homeowner, argued that standards for obscenity have changed over the years, stating that it was obscene for women to show their knees in the 1920s. He said using the f-word towards someone no longer has a sexual connotation in society and is simply a colloquialism…

The three signs with the f-word and others remained up Friday morning.

Tiffany Donnelly

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

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