Daily Media Links 8/10

August 10, 2021   •  By Nathan Maxwell   •  
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The Courts

Orlando Sentinel: Florida won’t appeal block of ‘John Morgan’ law; 2022 drives have already piled up cash

By Gray Rohrer

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody won’t appeal a federal court ruling knocking down a new law capping donations to political committees pushing ballot measures, allowing large donations to flow…

Judge Allen Winsor issued a temporary injunction against SB 1890 on July 1, the day it was slated to take effect, preventing the Florida Elections Commission from enforcing its prohibition against individual donations of more than $3,000. The deadline to appeal the ruling passed last week.

The bill was dubbed the “John Morgan law” after the Orlando attorney bankrolled the state’s medical marijuana amendment in 2016.

“It was unconstitutional when [Gov. Ron] DeSantis signed it and he knew it then and knows it now,” Morgan stated in an email.

The Hill: Watchdog sues FEC for closing investigation into Rick Scott, allied super PAC

By Karl Evers-Hillstrom

A watchdog group on Monday sued the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for dismissing a complaint alleging that Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) unlawfully used a super PAC to support his 2018 Senate run.

In a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Democratic group End Citizens United, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) Action challenged the decision by Republican FEC commissioners to close an investigation into Scott against the recommendation of the agency’s nonpartisan lawyers.

End Citizens United had alleged that Scott and the New Republican PAC, a group he formerly chaired, violated election laws prohibiting coordination between candidates and outside groups. 

Election Law Blog: Sixth Circuit affirms convictions for unlawful contributions to Kentucky candidate for U.S. Senate

By Derek Muller

The opinion in United States v. Emmons is here. Alison Lundergan Grimes from Kentucky challenged Mitch McConnell in 2014 for a U.S. Senate seat. Her father (who ran a closely-held business) and a family friend were found guilty of making unlawful corporate contributions to the campaign. The Sixth Circuit found that “intrafamilial contributions” could be constitutionally regulated (relying on Buckley v. Valeo), and that funds from a closely-held, family run corporation could be constitutionally regulated (distinguishing Citizens United v. FEC: “given that intrafamilial contributions can be constitutionally restricted, there is no concern regarding speech discrimination based on the ‘speaker’s corporate identity,’ and no basis to treat these contributions any differently from other corporate contributions, or contributions generally for that matter”). More details in the 30-page opinion.

Cato: The Police Can’t Arrest You for Mocking Them

By Thomas A. Berry

Anthony Novak of Parma, Ohio, created a Facebook page parodying his local police department. The page superficially resembled the department’s official Facebook page, but its content was far too outlandish to be easily mistaken for a police department’s communications. Satirical posts promoted free abortions for teens out of a police van, a contest featuring removal from the sex offender registry as the grand prize, and other Onion‐style “fake news.”

The Facebook page was only online for twelve hours, but on the basis of nothing more than Novak’s Facebook posts, the Parma Police obtained warrants to arrest Novak and search his apartment. Novak was charged under a statute criminalizing disrupting police operations…

The case went to trial and a jury acquitted Novak. Novak then sued the city and police for retaliating against First Amendment protected speech. After an appeal and remand on preliminary issues, the district court dismissed Novak’s case, holding that the police had probable cause to arrest him even if his Facebook parody was protected speech under the First Amendment.

Novak has again appealed to the Sixth Circuit, and Cato has joined the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU Ohio on a brief supporting Novak. In the brief, we explain that the First Amendment protects Americans’ right to criticize their government, and that includes not only sober and straightforward speech but also mockery, satire, and parody.


The Hill: Democrats press Facebook over suspension of researchers’ accounts

By Rebecca Klar

Democratic senators are pressing Facebook over its decision to suspend the accounts of New York University (NYU) researchers who created a tool to analyze political ads and the spread of misinformation on the platform. 

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Chris Coons (Del.) wrote a letter to Facebook Monday asking for details regarding the platform’s decision to suspend the accounts and effectively cut off the researchers’ work looking into the spread of misinformation on Facebook…

“We were surprised to learn that Facebook has terminated access to its platform for researchers connected with the NYU Ad Observatory project. The opaque and unregulated online advertising platforms that social media companies maintain have allowed a hotbed of disinformation and consumer scams to proliferate, and we need to find solutions to those problems,” the senators wrote, according to a copy of the letter shared with The Hill.

Reason: Rubio Bill Would Make Tech Companies Disclose Government Interference

By Elizabeth Nolan Brown

A lot of what people mistake as tech-company ideology creeping into their business practices actually stems from attempts to comply with government demands. The feds put pressure on digital companies to suppress or block certain types of content and transactions in ways that are both overt…and unseen…wielding appeals to stopping everything from crime and violence to disinformation and foreign propaganda. Many of these asks are of dubious effect and seem more politically motivated than anything else.

A new bill in the Senate would demand digital companies disclose such government pressure and dictates. It was introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.)—who paints the proposal in the most ludicrously partisan terms possible.

“Through campaign contributions, censorship, and woke nonsense, it’s perfectly clear that Silicon Valley giants are working together with the Left to destroy conservative values in America,” writes Rubio in introducing the bill, called the PRESERVE Online Speech Act.

The left certainly has no monopoly on trying to use the government to shape and censor the internet and, in turn, the world it reflects and shapes. But despite Rubio’s paranoid partisan shtick, his idea might not be a bad one.

Online Speech Platforms

Washington Post: YouTube yanked public meeting videos over covid misinformation. Now it’s backtracking.

By Caroline Anders

Local government meetings often come with a designated time for public comment, offering a glimpse into the good, the bad and the strange of each community.

The coronavirus pandemic pushed many of these meetings online. But city councils and school boards around the country ran into a dilemma: Public comment, a time for people to speak their minds, was governed by the same policies that platforms such as YouTube applied to other content.

So when someone spoke up at a city council meeting and falsely claimed the coronavirus vaccine was killing people or the virus wasn’t real, the video could be taken down in its entirety — which is what happened in at least a dozen cases.

Frustrated officials raised concerns about censorship and limiting access to public meetings in response. YouTube has reversing course, telling The Washington Post on Friday that it had updated guidelines to “make exceptions for videos of school board or town hall meetings, where the intention isn’t to promote misinformation.”

New York Times: TikTok, YouTube and Facebook Want to Appear Trustworthy. Don’t Be Fooled.

By Ashley Boyd

In the case of political advertising, platforms should meet researchers’ baseline requests by introducing databases with all relevant information that are easy to search and navigate. In the case of recommendation algorithms, platforms should share crucial data like which videos are being recommended and why, and also build recommendation simulation tools for researchers.

Transparency must also be designed to benefit everyday users, not just researchers. People should be able to easily identify why specific content is being recommended to them or who paid for that political ad in their feed.

To achieve all this, we must enforce existing regulations, introduce new laws and mobilize a vocal consumer base…And Congress’s bipartisan interest in reining in major tech companies has begun to focus on transparency in some important ways: The Honest Ads Act, which was introduced in previous Congresses, would make online political ads as transparent as their TV and radio counterparts.

The States

The Center Square: Seattle mayor race’s ‘democracy vouchers’ meant more money, not votes

By Tim Gruver

Seattle’s primary election was the first to be financed with $1.9 million in taxpayer dollars split among ten mayoral candidates. The result was anything but a sea change for the city’s political landscape.

Democracy vouchers were conceived in 2015 as part of a local initiative, I-122 or “Honest Elections Seattle,” which enacted campaign finance reforms intended to help diversify the city’s candidate pool…

Seattle is the first city in the nation to adopt this type of campaign financing, but this week’s primary election results show city dollars did not equal more votes.

That’s especially true for [Andrew Grant] Houston’s [mayoral] campaign, which took home more democracy voucher money than any other campaign–$346,325–finishing sixth place in the race with 3,309 votes or 2.5% of the total vote, based on Thursday’s tally.

Overall, voters who mailed democracy vouchers were a lot less likely to mail in a ballot.

Insider NJ: NJ Contribution Limits Safe Despite Circuit Court Ruling in Alaskan Case

By Jeffrey Brindle

Even though New Jersey’s [contribution] limits are far higher than those in Alaska, pending legislation could lead to even higher contribution limits or none in the Garden State. The bill is sponsored by state Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-22).

A recent story by Politico reporter Matt Friedman said the bill, which initially called for an end to contribution limits in New Jersey, is facing revisions and may ultimately lead to higher contribution limits instead of total elimination along with quicker disclosure.

In a column written for Insidernj.com in 2019 about the Alaskan case, I disagreed with many in the reformist community who feared that the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case “foretold the Court’s intent to end contribution limits altogether.”

“There appears to be no suggestion in the Court’s per curium opinion that it intends to undue precedent vis-à-vis contribution limits but rather that it desires to have precedent upheld pursuant to its 2006 ruling in Randall v. Sorrell; and by extension by Buckley v. Valeo (1976),” I wrote two years ago.

The recent ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in overturning Alaska’s limits bears out my prediction. It was not because the limits are in and of themselves unconstitutional. It is because they are too low under the Randal v. Sorrell precedent cited in the Supreme Court’s ruling involving the Alaskan case.

Nathan Maxwell

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