New from the Institute for Free Speech
By Nathan Maxwell
Many are questioning the nature of the loans disbursed by the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) after it was discovered that businesses owned by Trump donors comprised several of the program’s earliest recipients. As the Associated Press noted, “There is no evidence the companies received favorable treatment as a result of their ties to Trump, and the businesses account for just a fraction of the overall spending under the program.” Yet we’ve seen headlines like “Millions in coronavirus aid went to major Trump donors” that don’t make the situation seem nearly as innocuous.
I’m hard-pressed to think of a reason such a story would even exist absent the implication of corruption. Given Trump’s large network of supporters and the vast number of PPP loan recipients, of course those two groups overlap in some capacity. That seems like a basic matter of probability, not a scandal.
Instead, businesses are being suspected of profiting from a corrupt relationship with the government based on nothing but their owners’ political support. (Keep in mind that federal law prohibits the corporations themselves from contributing to candidates and political parties.) Even though there is no evidence for the claim, some in the media have managed to turn a story about nothing into a conspiracy. And they’ve done so by taking advantage of existing donor disclosure laws, which supporters allege improve voter knowledge, but so often become fodder for misleading narratives.
By Carson McCullough
Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, who was recently sent back to prison after being released to home confinement due to Covid-19, claims in a lawsuit filed Monday that he is being punished for writing – and intending to publish – a book critical of the president…
In the 21-page lawsuit, Cohen alleges that he is being retaliated against by the Trump administration over his decision to write and publish a memoir Cohen claims will be not only be critical to the president, but will contain detailed depictions of Trump’s behavior behind closed doors – including, according to the complaint, stories of the president using anti-Semitic and racist remarks against prominent leaders, such as Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela…
Danya Perry, partner at the Perry Guha, and the American Civil Liberties Union brought the suit on behalf of Cohen…
Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said that these restrictions on Cohen serve as just another example of the Trump administration attempting to silence Trump’s critics.
“The government cannot imprison Michael Cohen for writing a book about President Trump,” Wizner said in a press statement. “The gag order that the government sought to impose on Mr. Cohen was an unconstitutional prior restraint, and his continued imprisonment is part of a dangerous pattern of retaliation against Trump critics.”
By Rashaan Ayesh
Top Democrats in the House and Senate have written a letter requesting that the FBI provide Congress with a defensive counterintelligence briefing regarding what appears to be a “concerted foreign interference” targeting Congress.
U.S. intelligence officials have warned that Russia, China and other foreign adversaries are actively seeking to interfere in the 2020 elections…
The specifics of how Congress is being targeted were not immediately clear, but the Democrats said the alleged campaign seeks to “launder and amplify disinformation in order to influence congressional activity, public debate, and the presidential election in November.”
The letter was signed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Senate Intelligence Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.).
Office of Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo: Reps. Eshoo, Rush, House Colleagues Demand FBI and CBP Answer Questions About Surveillance of Protests
Today, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), and 21 of their House colleagues sent letters to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) demanding answers to several questions about surveillance of protesters.
On June 9th Reps. Eshoo and Rush led letters to the FBI, CBP, the National Guard Bureau, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) demanding that the agencies immediately stop surveillance of peaceful protesters around the country. After receiving responses from the FBI and CBP that raised more questions, 23 Representatives sent follow up letters with a long list of questions for the agencies…
“As we stated in our letter, the First and Fourth Amendments protect protesters from government surveillance. The reason our Constitution has such critical protections is that government surveillance has a chilling effect on peaceful protests, and Americans should not have to take proactive measures to protect themselves from government surveillance before engaging in peaceful demonstration,” the lawmakers stated in both letters.
By Kyle Cheney
Three House committee chairs are demanding that internal Trump administration watchdogs immediately investigate whether the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security have “abused emergency authorities to justify the use of force” against peaceful protesters – concerns that have gained urgency with footage of unidentifiable security officers confronting protesters in Portland…
“Reports from Oregon this week make clear that this misuse of resources and personnel remains a growing threat,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson and House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney wrote to DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz and DHS inspector general Joseph Cuffari.
“Accordingly, we write to request an investigation by your offices into the use of federal law enforcement agencies by the Attorney General and the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security to suppress First Amendment-protected activities in Washington, D.C.; Portland, and other communities across the United States.”
Wall Street Journal: ‘Civic Gifts’ Review: Where to Turn in Times of Crisis
By Leslie Lenkowsky
“Civic Gifts: Voluntarism and the Making of the American Nation-State,” [written by Elisabeth Clemens, is] a fascinating, though rather densely written, work of historical analysis. During wars, natural disasters, economic depressions and previous epidemics, Americans have turned not just to the public sector for aid and guidance but also to a variety of business groups and voluntary organizations-in essence, taking “personal responsibility” for the problems they were facing. This philanthropy-rooted approach, Ms. Clemens argues, has helped Americans offset their ambivalence about active government while forging a sense of shared purpose in crisis…
In the decades after independence, Ms. Clemens says, Americans-aided by a Constitution that supported freedom of speech and association-formed a “Benevolent Empire” of voluntary and religious groups to accompany their country’s westward expansion. These were the civic organizations that so impressed Alexis de Tocqueville and others as critical to the success of American democracy: By performing so many tasks, they allowed government to remain limited in size and influence.
Online Speech Platforms
By Jacob Siegel
In response to the present state of emergency, which shows no signs of lifting anytime soon, the large technology platforms and monopolists that control much of the world’s information flow and dictate the ways that Americans meet, interact, and engage in politics, have significantly-and likely, irreversibly-expanded their authority and influence into domains where it cannot be checked.
In the name of public safety, but without any public referendum or accountability, Google, Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook, are taking active steps to censor information and tweak the underlying algorithms that determine the picture of reality on our screens and newsfeeds. In doing so they have claimed to be acting, as governments once did, on behalf of the common good. But what happens when the actions taken by companies like Google make the public less safe, and spread misleading and downright false information?
The reality of monopoly tech platforms acting to censor public availability of information and viewpoints is already with us, in ways that few people seem to acknowledge or understand. On March 23, for example, in the early weeks of the pandemic, Google removed a public Google document containing what it apparently considered to be dangerous misinformation about the efficacy of the drug hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment. The company issued no formal warning to the document’s creator and offered no explanation for its action. Were you even aware that such a thing was possible? The document simply went poof and disappeared.
By Whitney Phillips
Political speech has always been tethered to public health. The mass protests that erupted following George Floyd’s murder foreground this overlap: white supremacy is a public health disaster. Climate denialism and anti-vaxx activism similarly threaten the lives and safety of citizens around the globe. With Covid-19, the line between political speech and public health has eroded in even more distressing ways. Objects of science have, for many, been reduced to matters of opinion-or even outright conspiracy. In those cases, masks aren’t just masks; they’re symbols of oppression. Anthony Fauci isn’t just the country’s most prominent infectious disease expert; he’s part of a Deep State cabal seeking to undermine the Trump administration from within. The virus itself isn’t ripping through our neighborhoods, forcing cities like Houston to use backup morgue space; it’s a hoax, or something the Democrats are exploiting to goose their election odds. The inability to cordon off the basic facts of public health from reactionary propaganda threatens people’s lives. And, like everything in this godforsaken pandemic, things are on track to get much worse…
Until we fundamentally reimagine our information ecosystem and our respective roles within it, we’ll keep repeating the same patterns over and over-not as a bug of the system, not as a feature of the system, but as the system itself.
Candidates and Campaigns
By Natasha Bertrand
Joe Biden has released his most comprehensive statement yet warning against foreign election interference and threatening to hold the Kremlin and other foreign governments accountable for any meddling if he is elected president.
In the 700-word statement, first obtained by POLITICO, the presumptive Democratic nominee said he “will treat foreign interference in our election as an adversarial act that significantly affects the relationship between the United States and the interfering nation’s government,” and plans to “direct the U.S. Intelligence Community to report publicly and in a timely manner on any efforts by foreign governments that have interfered, or attempted to interfere, with U.S. elections.” …
“Despite the exposure of Russia’s malign activities by the U.S. Intelligence Community, law enforcement agencies, and bipartisan Congressional committees, the Kremlin has not halted its efforts to interfere in our democracy,” Biden’s statement reads…
[T]he Biden camp…has stood up a team that works with the DNC to track misinformation and foreign interference efforts, which is now positioned to quickly flag issues to staff to determine the best response, the people said-though in most cases, that means no overt response at all.
Michael Carpenter, the managing director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement who now serves as an informal foreign policy adviser to the Biden campaign, said the campaign is “closely monitoring and exposing these methods, and actors, as Russian tools, precisely so that it’s unmistakably clear to the American people, if something fabricated or tampered with or dishonestly presented were to drop later in the campaign, that it’s coming from the same people who have been spewing lies and disinformation for months.”
By Alex Isenstadt and John Hendel
A test run of one of Donald Trump’s most important voter-contact programs was abruptly shut down over the July 4 weekend, potentially costing the president millions of dollars in donations and raising alarms about whether the initiative will face roadblocks in the run-up to the election.
Trump’s campaign used the weekend to test-drive its text messaging program, a cornerstone of its small-donor outreach and its voter turnout plan. But after sending out over 1 million patriotic-themed messages, the enterprise was taken offline by anti-spam monitors employed by mobile phone giants.
Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, a White House senior adviser who wields vast control over the president’s political apparatus, quickly reached out to Verizon and T-Mobile executives to inquire about initiating communication between the campaign and the companies in hopes of fixing the problem.
It took five days to resolve the shutdown, leading Republicans to worry the same thing could happen this fall as the president urges his supporters to vote, when the stakes will be much higher.
By Ben Schreckinger
Christopher Tigani was a wealthy beer distributor who relished his close ties to Delaware politicians, particularly Joe Biden, when the FBI confronted him outside a Royal Farms gas station in September 2010.
Tigani was in trouble. While serving as a bundler for Biden’s aborted 2008 presidential campaign, he had reimbursed his employees for contributions made in their names, a well-worn tactic for circumventing campaign-finance laws.
What happened between that day and Tigani’s 2012 sentencing has never before been revealed: He would wear a wire for the FBI and record people close to the then-vice president, seeking, he said, to confirm his belief that they knew of his reimbursements and investigate whether they, or others close to Biden, engaged in any quid pro quo deals with donors…
In interviews with POLITICO, Tigani, now 49, agreed to share the details of his informant work for the first time, in part, he said, because he felt he was left out to dry by the Bidens when revelations about his illegal fundraising for both Joe and Beau, along with other top officials, placed him at the center of a Delaware political scandal a decade ago…
But Tigani’s saga – the story of a businessman so eager to cultivate relationships with the leaders of his small state that he crossed the line into criminality – offers a window on the Delaware political world from which Biden emerged, one in which long-standing family and social ties often mix freely with business and policy-making.
By David Moore
Untraceable spending to influence state elections has dramatically risen since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizen United ruling, which allowed groups that are technically independent of candidates and political parties to spend unlimited amounts of money on political contests…
Fully transparent outside spending on elections fell from 76% in 2006 to just 29% in 2014 in six states, according to a June 2016 report, “Secret Spending in the States,” by the nonpartisan policy institute Brennan Center for Justice. In those states analyzed-Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, and Massachusetts-dark money spending by outside groups surged by 38 times, on average, during that time…
The ability for states to set meaningful disclosure requirements scored a significant win in June, when the Supreme Court said it would not reconsider a strong Montana law requiring dark money groups to register with the state as PACs if they run campaign ads referring to a candidate or ballot issue.
On the less-sunlit side of the disclosure spectrum, in March of 2019, Mississippi’s Republican government trifecta passed a law that prohibits state agencies from requiring any disclosure by politically active nonprofits. On December 28, 2018, Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder vetoed a similar bill passed by the state’s lame-duck House of Representatives.
By Mark Weiner
Danny Fitzpatrick outspent John Lemondes by almost 2-to-1 in his losing Republican primary bid in the 126th Assembly District, new public records show.
Fitzpatrick, the LaFayette town supervisor, spent $58,461 on his campaign against John Lemondes, who spent $29,878, according to campaign finance reports filed with the state Board of Elections.