In the News
By Nathan Maxwell
In the name of protecting democracy, Democratic leaders have built a Trojan horse for censorship.
The so-called “For the People Act” failed a key vote in June. Yet Sen. Joe Manchin’s proposed compromise would revive Democratic leaders’ attempt to disguise harmful restraints on political speech as a win for democracy.
The DISCLOSE Act, a tortured acronym for “Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections,” is a part of both S. 1 and Manchin’s compromise proposal. The bill is full of new privacy invasions and political speech regulations that have nothing to do with elections. Instead, the measure burdens the First Amendment freedom to join groups with like-minded individuals and speak freely on bills pending in Congress.
It would expand the blackout period where ads mentioning a candidate are regulated to include more than 10 months out of any election year. But these ads are already regulated in the months leading up to an election. Since nearly all incumbents run for reelection, the effect of DISCLOSE will be to discourage groups of Americans from criticizing their representatives — or even discussing their actions — for nearly half of their term.
Any group sponsoring such an ad would be forced to report to the Federal Election Commission and declare their communication either “in support of or in opposition” to the candidate referenced. Groups that take no position on elections but wish to urge people to contact their representative about a piece of legislation will be forced to lie on a government form. How does that strengthen democracy?
New from the Institute for Free Speech
By Luke Wachob
Holding that our client has a substantial likelihood of succeeding on the merits, a federal district court last week issued a preliminary injunction in Hetherington v. Madden (formerly Hetherington v. Lee). The court’s order prevents the state of Florida from punishing our client, Kells Hetherington, under the law he is challenging until the trial on the merits occurs. As a result, Hetherington is now free to speak to voters about his membership in the Republican Party as he campaigns for a seat on the Escambia County School Board in 2022.
You might expect that to have always been the case, given the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. Yet during his last campaign for school board, Hetherington was fined $200 by the Florida Elections Commission for stating that he is “a lifelong Republican” in an online voter guide. The Commission ruled that Hetherington broke a Florida law prohibiting candidates in nonpartisan elections from campaigning based on party affiliation.
Hetherington paid the fine and then sought help from the Institute for Free Speech to challenge the law as an unconstitutional restriction on his First Amendment rights. Such cases can take years to resolve, so we requested a preliminary injunction protecting Hetherington’s right to speak freely to voters in the campaign, which has already begun.
By Timothy Head
Free speech isn’t free if people can’t speak without fearing harassment, persecution or violence for what they say. In a robust and lively republic, some forms of speech are bound to be controversial…
That’s where anonymity comes into play. Anonymity provides people with a way to exercise their free speech without great social cost. If your speech is controversial, anonymity can ensure you aren’t penalized for speaking…
That’s what makes the partisan political weaponization of Americans for Prosperity Foundation vs. Bonta so alarming. Free speech isn’t just for one side of the aisle; it’s for everyone. And that’s reflected in the court case itself. While conservative organizations were at the forefront of this case, more than 40 organizations spanning the political spectrum, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Campaign, filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the plaintiffs’ case.
By Robby Soave
The federal government is stepping up its war on Facebook: President Joe Biden has accused Mark Zuckerberg’s social media platform of failing to purge anti-vaccine content, thus contributing to vaccine hesitancy and “killing people,” said the president.
Now the White House is considering methods of tinkering with Section 230, the federal statute that immunizes internet platforms from legal liability, in order to punish Facebook for failing to do everything the government wants.
“We’re reviewing that, and certainly they should be held accountable,” said Kate Bedingfield, White House communications director, in response to a question about Section 230 posed by Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski.
Biden has long supported getting rid of Section 230, though it would take an act of Congress to do so. Ironically, Section 230 is equally unpopular with many Republicans—including former President Donald Trump, who has called for its total repeal—because they consider it a sort of special perk enjoyed by tech companies that are purportedly hostile to conservative users. But the Biden administration’s latest threats should disabuse Republicans of their anti-230 notions once and for all. The White House wants Facebook to proactively censor more content, and views Section 230 as an obstacle getting in the way of that goal.
TK News by Matt Taibbi: NPR’s Brilliant Self-Own
Yesterday’s NPR article, “Outrage As A Business Model: How Ben Shapiro Is Using Facebook To Build An Empire,” is among the more unintentionally funny efforts at media criticism in recent times.
The piece is about Ben Shapiro, but one doesn’t have to have ever followed Shapiro, or even once read the Daily Wire, to get the joke. The essence of NPR’s complaint is that a conservative media figure not only “has more followers than The Washington Post” but outperforms mainstream outlets in the digital arena, a fact that, “experts worry,” may be “furthering polarization” in America. NPR refers to polarizing media as if they’re making an anthropological discovery of a new and alien phenomenon…
Is the complaint that Shapiro peddles misinformation? No: “The articles The Daily Wire publishes don’t normally include falsehoods.” Are they worried about the stoking of Trumpism, or belief that the 2020 election was stolen? No, because Shapiro “publicly denounced the alt-right and other people in Trump’s orbit,” as well as “the conspiracy theory that Trump is the rightful winner of the 2020 election.” Are they mad that the site is opinion disguised as news? No, because, “publicly the site does not purport to be a traditional news source.”
The main complaint, instead, is that:
Candidates and Campaigns
By Lachlan Markay
Wealthy congressional candidates are pouring millions into their own campaigns but failing to file mandatory disclosure forms, keeping voters in the dark about how they got their cash.
Unlike regular donors, candidates can give unlimited sums to their campaigns. Watchdogs say knowing the source is crucial to vetting potential conflicts of interest and ensuring hidden supporters won’t unduly influence them in office…
Financial disclosure filings are legally mandatory…
“This information is especially relevant for candidates who rely solely on their financials assets to fund their campaigns,” said Kedric Payne, the general counsel and senior director for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center.
“Voters may question whether candidates seek office to serve personal interests or the public’s interest if they are not transparent from the start,” Payne said.
Those disclosures can also prompt additional questions about the sources of money candidates use to self-fund.
By Eric Mack
While all signs are pointing to him getting back to a 2024 presidential campaign, former President Donald Trump said “antiquated” campaign finance regulations preclude him from making an official announcement.
“I can’t really because of campaign finance rules, regulations,” Trump told Tuesday’s “The Michael Savage Show.” “It’s very complicated, very stiff, and frankly very antiquated, if you want to know the truth.
“It’s ridiculous. It’s actually ridiculous.”
Wall Street Journal: Midterm-Election Ad Spending Poised to Soar as Streaming TV Attracts Campaigns
By John McCormick
A top advertising-industry observer expects elections this year and next will see political ad expenditures of roughly $9 billion, more than doubling the amount spent in the 2018 midterm cycle…
AdImpact, a firm based just outside Washington, says in a report first shared with The Wall Street Journal that it expects ad spending to at least match the record amount spent during the 2019-20 election cycle, even though there will be no presidential contest on the ballot.
The higher spending is expected to be fueled by online fundraising that has made more dollars accessible to more candidates.
“Facebook, when used as a fundraising tool, has allowed campaigns to quickly and easily reach a highly polarized electorate,” the report says. “This, combined with the rise of easy online donation tools such as ActBlue and WinRed, has allowed candidates and issue groups to fundraise with greater ease than ever before.” …
Campaigns are increasingly gravitating to the streaming platforms because ad placement there is more efficient than on traditional broadcast TV and specific voter groups and geographic areas are more easily targeted. “It has the benefit of microtargeting, and it still appears on the big screen,” said Kyle Roberts, AdImpact’s chief executive.
By Celine Castronuovo
A left-leaning political watchdog group is calling on AT&T to hold firm in its commitment to support the expansion of voting rights after the company contributed thousands of dollars to Texas Republicans who oppose such measures.
By Jacob Bliss
Last campaign cycle, over 150 Democrat congressional candidates, including Axne, took a pledge not to accept any corporate PAC money. However, the Daily Beast now reportsthat Axne broke her promise and even deleted the pledge off of her campaign website.
Axne, a second-term lawmaker who sits on the House Financial Services Committee and the Agriculture panel, found ways to accept the money as campaign contributions. The report noted, she has “received tens of thousands of dollars from corporate executives—and hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors in the financial world.” Axne took money from executives at corporations that have their own PACs like ITC Holdings and Wells Fargo.
Online Speech Platforms
By Bryan Pietsch
Twitter temporarily suspended Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) for violating its covid-19 misinformation policy after she falsely claimed the coronavirus was “not dangerous” for some people…
Greene tweeted Monday that the novel coronavirus was “not dangerous for non-obese people and those under 65.”
She also made claims about vaccine-related deaths and side effects, calling the coronavirus vaccines “controversial.”
In another tweet, Greene falsely claimed “defeating obesity” would protect people from covid-19 complications and death.
Twitter added a warning to both tweets, labeling them as “misleading.”
Greene said in a statement that the [12 hour] suspension was “a Communist-style attack on free speech.”
By Faiza Patel and Mary Pat Dwyer
Four of the Facebook Oversight Board’s 13 decisions so far have taken aim at the platform’s Dangerous Individuals and Organizations Community Standard (DIO Standard). The policy has long been criticized by civil society for being opaque, overbroad, and targeting political speech by Muslim users – such as posts by activists in Kashmir and Palestine, and commentary on the U.S. drone strike on Iranian official Qassem Soleimani. The company has responded with a series of clarifications and policy revisions, but the rules require a fundamental rethink and far more transparency about enforcement, including governmental pressure.
By Ed Shanahan
Andrea Dick is a die-hard supporter of former President Donald J. Trump…
When local officials asked her to take down several of the banners that they said violated an anti-obscenity ordinance, she refused. Now, she is resisting a judge’s order that she do so and pledging to fight it in court on free speech grounds…
In a country where the political fault lines are increasingly jagged and deep, Ms. Dick’s case is the latest of several such disputes to highlight the delicate balance local officials must sometimes strike between defending free speech and responding to concerns about language that some residents find offensive…
At that appearance, last Thursday, Judge Gary A. Bundy of Roselle Park Municipal Court gave Ms. Dilascio, as the property owner, a week to remove three of the 10 signs displayed on the property — the ones including the offending word — or face fines of $250 a day.
“There are alternative methods for the defendant to express her pleasure or displeasure with certain political figures in the United States,” Judge Bundy said in his ruling, noting the proximity of Ms. Dick’s home to a school…
Citing a 1971 Supreme Court decision, Cohen v. California, that turned on the question of whether the same word at issue in Ms. Dick’s case was obscene, [Seton Hall University Professor Thomas Healy] said the word clearly did not qualify as obscene speech in the context of the political banners.
“It’s hard to imagine a simpler case from a constitutional standpoint,” he said, adding that he would be “stunned” if Judge Bundy’s ruling were upheld.