Daily Media Links 7/30

July 30, 2019   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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The Courts

Courthouse News Service: Panel OKs Lawsuit Over Arrest for Police Parody Page

By Joe Kelly

A parody Facebook account of an Ohio police department that landed a local man in jail falls under speech protected by the First Amendment, the Sixth Circuit ruled unanimously Monday…

In a 21-page ruling issued Monday, a three-member panel led by U.S. Circuit Judge Amul Thapar found that the officers “are wrong to think that we just look to a few confused people to determine if the page is protected parody.”

“Our nation’s long-held First Amendment protection for parody does not rise and fall with whether a few people are confused,” Thapar wrote…

In the opinion’s introduction, Thapar noted that the First Amendment “does not depend on whether everyone was in on the joke” when it comes to parody, and said it is also not “bothered by public disapproval, whether tepid or red-hot.” 

The ruling punted on deciding whether the Parma Police Department had probable cause to arrest Novak for disrupting the department’s operations with his parody account, but did establish that “besides posting to his Facebook page, Novak committed no other act that could have created probable cause,” leaving his speech as the only thing that resulted in his arrest.

Thapar, an appointee of President Donald Trump, also noted that the Ohio statute making it a crime to “use any computer…or the internet so as to disrupt, interrupt, or impair the functions of any police…operations” contains broad, vague language that further heightens free speech concerns.

“Taken at face value, the Ohio law seems to criminalize speech well in the heartland of First Amendment protection. This broad reach gives the police cover to retaliate against all kinds of speech under the banner of probable cause,” the judge wrote.

Congress

The Hill: Democrats introduce constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United

By Jordain Carney

A group of Democrats, led by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and progressive activists rallied outside the Supreme Court to unveil the amendment, which faces an unlikely path to being ratified.

“Few decisions in the 200 and some odd years of this republic have threatened our democracy like Citizens United. People say they want to get rid of the swamp. Citizens United is the embodiment of the swamp,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at the rally.

Schumer added that “overturning Citizens United is probably more important than any other single thing we could do to preserve this great and grand democracy.”

Democrats pledged that if they took control of the Senate during the 2020 election, they would bring legislation overturning Citizens United up for a vote.

“We reported this amendment to the floor [in 2014]. What happened to it? A [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.] filibuster happened to it. … With a new leader by the name of Schumer in the Senate, we can be sure that it won’t be a filibuster stopping us,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) …

The 2010 Supreme Court ruling prohibited the government from limiting spending by companies, nonprofit organizations and unions on political campaign advertisements. The court’s majority wrote that such provisions would inhibit freedom of speech.

The Senate Democratic amendment would let Congress and states set rules on spending and money in elections…

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) introduced his own amendment to nix Citizens United in May.

Fox NewsDems push for amendment to restrict corporate political donations: ‘Democracy depends on it’

By Ronn Blitzer

Also, on Tuesday, Udall and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., introduced the Fair Elections Now Act, which would create a new system of public financing for Senate candidates.

“We have a broken campaign finance system that lets billionaires and corporations exercise outsized influence in our elections, all while hiding in the shadows,” Heinrich said in a statement. “This bill helps restore public confidence in congressional elections that currently force candidates to constantly chase money for their campaign coffers. Our electoral process should be fair and open, and the results should ensure every citizen has an equal voice in our democracy.”

The Hill: GOP senator introduces bill banning ‘addictive’ social media features

By Emily Birnbaum

Hawley’s Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act would make it illegal for social media platforms to hook users by offering them more content than they requested in order to get them to continue on their respective platforms.

The bill takes aim at practices specifically employed by the country’s top social networking sites – YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.

For example, it would ban YouTube’s “autoplay” feature, which loads up new videos for users automatically; Facebook and Twitter’s “infinite scroll,” which allows users to continue scrolling through their homepages without limit; and Snapchat’s “streaks,” which reward users for continuing to send photos to their friends.

It would also require the companies to build “user-friendly” interfaces, with features allowing users to limit the amount of time they spend on the platform and offering reminders how much time they’ve spent perusing the site…

Hawley’s legislation would empower the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys to take action against companies that did not remove “addictive” features within a few months. 

It would also allow the FTC and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to jointly write new rules aimed at getting ahead of new “deceptive” tactics, anticipating that there will be new innovations in technology that the bill doesn’t cover.

The addictive features targeted by Hawley’s legislation can be considered as a form of “dark patterns,” or design features that nudge users into certain behavior without their explicit knowledge.

Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) in April introduced legislation prohibiting the largest online platforms – like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – from using dark patterns by giving the FTC more jurisdiction over the issue.

National Review: ‘Moscow Mitch’ Is A Ridiculous Smear

By Rich Lowry

There was a time when the Left considered McCarthyism the worst of all political tactics. That was before it became useful to question Mitch McConnell’s loyalty to his country…

The Washington Post headlined a column, “Mitch McConnell is a Russian asset.” It wasn’t tongue-in-cheek. “Let’s,” urged Post columnist Dana Milbank, “call this what it is: unpatriotic. The Kentucky Republican is, arguably more than any other American, doing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bidding.”

Representative John Sarbanes, (D., Md.), said supporting the bills was an opportunity for McConnell “to do the right thing in terms of demonstrating his patriotism.” A CNN national-security analyst declared, “I believe the only reason Mitch McConnell is doing this is that he believes Donald Trump cannot win without the Russians’ help.” MSNBC host Joe Scarborough dubbed McConnell “Moscow Mitch,” a moniker that trended on Twitter and substituted alliteration for thought.

The occasion for the assault on McConnell was a naked and cynical political setup. After Robert Mueller’s testimony, Democrats tried to get so-called unanimous consent for election-security bills in the Senate. This procedure is reserved for uncontroversial items that, as you might guess, have unanimous support. While everyone in the Senate agrees we should combat Russian interference, not everyone agrees on how to do it…

There’s no need to reach for extravagant explanations for why McConnell would oppose these bills (He’s a tool of the Kremlin! He hopes his Moscow minders will put Trump over the top in 2020!). The Kentucky senator has an extensive record as an opponent of federal activism and of poorly drafted campaign-reform bills.

What the case against McConnell comes down to is the usual sophomoric Washington argument that if you don’t want to do this one specific thing, you don’t want to do anything and have the worst possible intentions.

Online Speech Platforms 

The Atlantic: Why Conservatives Allege Big Tech Is Muzzling Them

By Siva Vaidhyanathan

“Big tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter exercise enormous influence on speech,” Hawley and Cruz wrote in a letter to the FTC. “The vast majority of internet traffic flows through just a handful of these companies. They control the ads we see, the news we read, and the information we digest. And they actively censor some content and amplify other content based on algorithms and intentional decisions that are completely nontransparent.” I could not have described the situation more clearly.

Yet rather than helping to forge a careful policy response, these two senators-and others on the right-leap from a description of a real set of problems to a mythical one. How and why do they mask the clear conclusions that Google and Facebook have helped mold the environment that gave us Donald Trump? The campaign to label these platforms “anti-conservative” does two main things.

First, conservatives are working the refs. If conservatives put media executives on their heels, constantly defending themselves or excusing themselves or apologizing for misunderstandings, then these companies are likely to bend toward conservatives out of fear or just exhaustion…

Platforms do make some intentional decisions to moderate the content that appears on their websites. But Facebook, Twitter, and Google staff try to do so based on principles and standards that they agonize over. Calls to violence or gender-based harassment should not be considered expressions of political ideology. More often than not, these companies under-filter hate speech because they have such strong concern for free speech. Far from rushing to suspend even conspiracy slingers and hate-mongers such as Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos, executives at Facebook and Twitter hemmed and hawed for years about whether to enforce their own terms of service…

Cruz and Hawley have to know perfectly well they can’t legislate or regulate the editorial choices that private companies make in America. And they are not making serious proposals, nor introducing any evidence for their complaints.

Independent Groups

ABC News: Outside fundraising groups plow ahead toward 2020, with or without Democratic nominee

By Kendall Karson, Benjamin Siegel, and Soo Rin Kim

“Presidential campaigns have said they don’t want personal super PACs in the primaries, so … we will not be involved in the primaries,” Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA, the largest Democratic-aligned outside group, said last week…

“We are an independent organization,” Cecil added. “So we will be involved in this election irrespective of the nominee and the nominee’s wishes … we intend to be involved in the election.” …

Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., both progressive stalwarts who have built their political brands by criticizing the influence of money in politics, have benefited from the help of outside money.

Our Revolution, the group Sanders founded to continue to push his agenda after his primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, has served as a force multiplier for his campaign…

Formed as a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organization, Our Revolution can accept unlimited contributions without having to disclose donors… The group has argued that its grassroots network of small-dollar donors, along with its disclosing every donor who gives more than $250, sets it apart from the dark-money groups…

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a political action committee founded by a pair of activists in 2009, supported Warren’s first run for the Senate, and has worked closely with her throughout her political career…

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee’s federal work and efforts supporting Warren are subject to spending and contribution limits, though some of its accounts and branches are subject to different rules.

One offshoot focused on organizing and training progressive candidates can accept unlimited donations. That group, which does not disclose its donors, is not conducting work on Warren’s behalf…

Priorities USA’s affiliated 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization launched its “Let’s Be Honest” campaign on July 23 to focus on Trump’s economic agenda.

Trump Administration

Fox News: Trump decries ‘gutless’ Antifa, says he’s weighing declaring group major terror organization

By Louis Casiano

President Donald Trump said Saturday that he is considering declaring the far-left Antifa activist group a terrorist organization, equating it with the MS-13 street gang amid reports of members physically attacking conservative demonstrators and journalists at rallies across the country.

“Consideration is being given to declaring ANTIFA, the gutless Radical Left Wack Jobs who go around hitting (only non-fighters) people over the heads with baseball bats, a major Organization of Terror (along with MS-13 & others). Would make it easier for police to do their job!” Trump tweeted.

Trump’s tweet came days after Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La.,and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduced non-binding legislation that would designate the group as a domestic terrorist organization…

At a Senate hearing last week, Cruz asked FBI Director Christopher Wray if he could investigate Antifa under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Wray responded that the bureau recognizes Antifa as more of an ideology than an organization…

Some critics say labeling certain groups as domestic terrorists is a step too far.

“It is dangerous and overly broad to use labels that are disconnected [from] actual individual conduct,” Hina Shamsi, director of the national security project at the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Washington Post last week. “And as we’ve seen how ‘terrorism’ has been used already in this country, any such scheme raises significant due process, equal protection and First Amendment constitutional concerns.”

Fundraising  

Politico: How Democratic debate rules are forcing a billionaire to plead for pennies

By Maggie Severns and Zach Montellaro

Billionaire Tom Steyer is begging for money.

“Can you contribute even one dollar?” Steyer says in a presidential campaign ad running on Facebook, where he is spending thousands of dollars seeking a relative handful of $1 donations in return. “That would help a lot.”

The hedge fund founder’s online panhandling is a surreal consequence of the Democratic Party’s presidential debate rules. Steyer launched his 2020 campaign a little over two weeks ago and plans to self-fund his White House run with $100 million of his own money. But he still needs 130,000 people to donate to him by August 28 (and get at least 2 percent in four polls) to qualify for the third primary debate in mid-September and prove his mettle against rival candidates…

Steyer isn’t the only self-funder in the 2020 field: Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, who made his millions in the financial industry, has also poured about $19 million of his own money into his campaign. (Of the $19 million, $9 million was a loan that Delaney quickly repaid to himself.) Facing the same donor threshold that Steyer is trying to meet, Delaney memorably promised to give $2 of his own money to charities for every new donor he received, in what he called the “Delaney Debate Challenge.”

Center for Responsive Politics: Debate rules drive 2020 Dems’ digital ad spending over $31 million

By Jessica Piper

Campaign strategists see online advertising as a way for candidates to gather small-dollar donors, who can chip in just $1 on platforms such as ActBlue. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who raised $12.7 million from small donors during the second quarter of 2019, leads all candidates in digital ad expenditures, with $4.1 million spent.

The Massachusetts senator has already qualified for the September debates, as have Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Sens. Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders. Each of those candidates has spent at least $1 million on digital ads so far.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) has also spent nearly $2 million on digital ads. The senator has met the polling requirement for September but has not reached 130,000 donors, though her campaign has told supporters she is just 10,000 donors away…

Steyer, along with former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), can afford to continue running expensive digital ads even if they fail to gain ground in the polls. Their campaigns have the cash – for Steyer and Delaney, due to self-funding, and for Gillibrand due to the $9.6 million that she transferred from her Senate committee.

But candidates such as Bullock, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) don’t have the same ability to tap into reserves in the long hunt for donors.

Alex Baiocco

Alex Baiocco