Daily Media Links 7/26

July 26, 2022   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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People United for Privacy: PUFP Letter in Response to the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration’s July 19 hearing on “The DISCLOSE Act”

During the hearing, proponents of the so-called “DISCLOSE Act” positioned it as a campaign finance bill that impacts only political advocacy surrounding election campaigns. Make no mistake: The DISCLOSE Act is not a campaign finance bill. It’s an attack on issue advocacy and the ability for nonprofits of all persuasions to engage on policy issues central to their mission. Further, it is an unprecedented assault on the long-held right of Americans to support the nonprofit causes of their choice privately if they so choose. This draconian bill gives the government power its never held to surveil the caused-based giving of American citizens, and the legislation is intended to dry up such giving. As now-Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) boasted when first debuting the DISCLOSE Act in 2010, “[t]he deterrent effect” of the bill’s nonprofit donor disclosure provisions “should not be underestimated.”

The Courts

Virginian-Pilot: Judge blocks enforcement of North Carolina state law in probe of AG Stein’s campaign

By Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press

A federal judge agreed on Monday to block for now any enforcement of a state law in a political ad investigation of North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein’s campaign, saying it’s likely to win on legal claims that the law is unconstitutional.

Following a court hearing in Greensboro, U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles ruled for Stein’s campaign and other plaintiffs who filed an unusual lawsuit last week against State Board of Elections members and Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman.

The temporary restraining order that Eagles signed means that Freeman’s office is prevented from using that law to prosecute anyone associated with a 2020 commercial that the Democratic incumbent aired against then-Republican challenger Jim O’Neill.

The law prohibits anyone from knowingly publishing or circulating false information about a candidate with the intent of hurting that candidate’s chances in the election. It enabled an ongoing investigation into the Stein commercial, which focused on untested rape kits held by local law enforcement agencies.

Tennessee Lookout: Former Sullivan County teacher tests U.S. Supreme Court ruling on First Amendment in suit

By Jamie Satterfield

A lawsuit filed by former Sullivan County teacher Jeremy McLaughlin — suspended for three days without pay over posts he made to social media while off-duty — is set to become the first test case in Tennessee of the recent court decision that granted First Amendment speech protection to the prayers of Washington state high school football coach Joe Kennedy, court records show.

McLaughlin contends in his U.S. District Court lawsuit he became the target of a witch hunt by parents angered over his speech in support of virtual learning and pro-masking at a Sullivan County Board of Education meeting in August 2020.

Free Expression

New York Times: There’s More Than One Way to Ban a Book

By Pamela Paul

The American publishing industry has long prided itself on publishing ideas and narratives that are worthy of our engagement, even if some people might consider them unsavory or dangerous, and for standing its ground on freedom of expression.

But that ground is getting shaky. Though the publishing industry would never condone book banning, a subtler form of repression is taking place in the literary world, restricting intellectual and artistic expression from behind closed doors, and often defending these restrictions with thoughtful-sounding rationales. As many top editors and publishing executives admit off the record, a real strain of self-censorship has emerged that many otherwise liberal-minded editors, agents and authors feel compelled to take part in.

Online Speech Platforms

Washington Post: Dems fume at Disney’s Hulu for blocking ads on abortion, guns

By Michael Scherer

The Disney-backed streaming service Hulu is refusing to run political ads on central themes of Democratic midterm campaigns, including abortion and guns, prompting fury from the party’s candidates and leaders.

The streaming service popular among younger voters, which has a policy against running content deemed controversial, is like other digital providers in not being bound by the Communications Act of 1934, a law that requires broadcast television networks to provide politicians equal access to the airwaves…

“Hulu’s censorship of the truth is outrageous, offensive, and another step down a dangerous path for our country,” the executive directors of the three committees, Christie Roberts, Tim Persico and Noam Lee, said in a statement provided to The Washington Post. “Voters have the right to know the facts about MAGA Republicans’ agenda on issues like abortion — and Hulu is doing a huge disservice to the American people by blocking voters from learning the truth about the GOP record or denying these issues from even being discussed.”

Engadget: Meta asks Oversight Board if it should soften COVID-19 misinformation policies

By J. Fingas

Meta started removing COVID-19 misinformation early into the pandemic, but it’s now wondering if it should take a gentler approach. The Facebook owner has asked the Oversight Board for advice on whether or not it should continue its existing coronavirus policies now that the pandemic has “evolved.” The company provided multiple options for the Board’s consideration, ranging from the status quo through to significantly softer approaches.

The social media giant suggested that it might temporarily stop the immediate removal of false COVID-19 claims and either limit its distribution, submit it to independent fact-checkers or apply labels steering users toward accurate information. Meta was also willing to continue removing at least some misinformation, but said it would stop pulling content when it no longer represents an “imminent risk of harm.” The Board would provide guidance on how Meta would make that decision.

Global Affairs President Nick Clegg characterized the advice request as an attempt to strike a balance between “free expression” and safety.

The States

Politico (Florida Playbook): DeSantis gets taxpayer millions for his campaign

By Gary Fineout

The state’s public matching funds system was first set up when Democrats held sway in Florida (and then enshrined in the constitution) as a way to supposedly even the playing field for candidates. It’s been derided and condemned repeatedly by Republicans ever since as “welfare for politicians.” …

What DeSantis has done, however, is illustrate how little logic Florida’s campaign finance laws really operate with. DeSantis has nearly $129 million in the bank for his campaign. Most of it is raised through his political committee. DeSantis has to abide by spending limits in order to receive public matching money, but that requirement doesn’t apply to his political committee.

Political committees can accept unlimited donations from billionaires, special interest groups, corporations etc. while individual campaign accounts have donation limits. But unlike the way it works at the federal level, the campaign can coordinate with the committee. The committee can then spend money directly on ads (as long as they don’t say vote for X, vote against Y) or the committee can give money to political parties, which can then spend on behalf of a candidates.

DeSantis — or any other candidate — can also get public matching money even if they get millions of dollars in support from the Republican or Democratic parties. They take advantage of a provision in the law that lets the party pick up the cost of their campaign staff.

So after all that, what is the point of these particular campaign finance laws? They create bureaucratic hurdles, and even when they are broken they are rarely enforced. It’s regulation for the sake of regulation.

CNN: How two Texas megadonors have turbocharged the state’s far-right shift

By Casey Tolan, Matthew Reynard, Will Simon and Ed Lavandera

While the Lone Star State has long been a bastion of Republican politics, new laws and policies have taken Texas further to the right in recent years than it has been in decades.

Elected officials and political observers in the state say a major factor in the transformation can be traced back to West Texas. Two billionaire oil and fracking magnates from the region, Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, have quietly bankrolled some of Texas’ most far-right political candidates — helping reshape the state’s Republican Party in their worldview.

Over the last decade, Dunn and his wife, Terri, have contributed more than $18 million to state candidates and political action committees, while Wilks and his wife, Jo Ann, have given more than $11 million, putting them among the top donors in the state.

The beneficiaries of the energy tycoons’ combined spending include the farthest-right members of the legislature and authors of the most high-profile conservative bills passed in recent years, according to a CNN analysis of Texas Ethics Commission data. Dunn and Wilks also hold sway over the state’s legislative agenda through a network of non-profits and advocacy groups that push conservative policy issues.

Tiffany Donnelly

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