In the News
National Review: Doxing Trump Donors Is Just the Beginning
By Bradley A. Smith
The Supreme Court has permitted mandatory disclosure of contributions to candidates, political parties, political-action committees, and super PACs. But historically the Court has protected our right to privacy when we support groups advocating for social change. A unanimous Supreme Court ruled in 1958 that “compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute as effective a restraint on freedom of association” as other forms of censorship. In Buckley v. Valeo (1976), the landmark ruling on campaign-finance laws, the Supreme Court upheld donor-disclosure requirements only after limiting the law’s reach to candidates and political committees.
Representative Castro and others in Congress want to move that line. The so-called For the People Act would invade the privacy of advocacy groups and their supporters by publishing the names of donors and members.
Too many politicians think they have a right to track our political activity. They want to know who is supporting any group or person standing in the way of their agenda: who is funding the grassroots advocacy groups that organize petition drives and protests; the public-interest law firms that challenge unconstitutional laws in court; the think tanks that promote policy solutions to today’s biggest challenges. In short, they want to know what ideas you support, and what groups you join.
And as Castro’s doxing of Trump donors shows, many are willing to use this information to put a target on the backs of Americans. If we do not defend privacy in association, everyone who participates in politics may one day be at the mercy of the social-media mob. Let’s keep transparency for the government, and privacy for the people.
By Fredreka Schouten
On Friday, seven Republican House members — all part of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus — called on the House Ethics Committee to investigate Castro’s tweet, which they argued “sought to encourage harassment” of Trump donors “simply on the basis of their political beliefs.” …
[T]he Institute for Free Speech…cited Castro’s tweet as another reason to oppose a bill passed by the Democratic-controlled House this year that would require nonprofits active in elections to disclose donors who contribute more than $10,000.
Currently, the names of donors to political non-profits are secret to the public.
Castro’s action “emphasized that disclosure can be abused,” Bradley Smith, the group’s chairman and a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, told CNN. “It’s hard to read Castro’s methods as anything other than ‘go make life miserable for these people.’ ” …
Earlier this year, McConnell called the measure “custom-built to chill the exercise of the First Amendment and give federal bureaucrats — and the waiting left-wing mob — a clearer idea of who to intimidate.” …
Richard Hasen, an expert on election law at the University of California at Irvine, said neither the boycott calls nor Castro tweet appears to cross the line into the “unconstitutional harassment” of donors…
But Hasen said the increased availability of donor information over the Internet and social media does raise privacy concerns.
“The Internet has changed the calculus,” he said. “As part of policy, we might well raise the disclosure threshold to $1,000 or $2,000, so people of modest means who are making small contributions don’t get caught up in these strong policy debates in our very polarized society.”
By Don Gonyea
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: Trump campaign donors are under pressure. A congressman tweeted the names and businesses of top Trump donors this week. Then, a boycott was called against a businessman who’s hosting a fundraiser for the president’s re-election bid. All this has prompted a sharp public debate about the public shaming of political contributors. NPR’s Don Gonyea reports…
GONYEA: … Sheila Krumholz is with the Center for Responsive Politics and is a fierce advocate for transparency. She says the timing of Castro’s tweet, coming right after a weekend of violence, plays into the hands of anti-transparency forces.
SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: Which are out there – there are folks who would like nothing better than to remove access to information about who’s paying for our elections.
GONYEA: But she also stresses that the point of disclosure laws passed after the Watergate scandal is to monitor politicians and the impact of contributions, not to target individual donors. David Keating is president of the Institute for Free Speech.
DAVID KEATING: The reason for this database is to make sure that contributions that are coming in to a candidate are on the up and up. And it’s not something we should encourage politicians or anyone else to use this to target people to take retribution against these individuals.
GONYEA: Keating and other conservatives say such episodes only highlight how current campaign disclosure laws missed the mark.
By Christian Britschgi
There is a difference, however, between campaign finance information being available and a member of Congress broadcasting that information on social media…
Transparency advocates argue that by allowing the public to see who donates how much to which campaign committees and ballot initiatives, voters can better understand the motivations and incentives of officeholders and the relationships between special interests and the government. The stated justification of campaign finance transparency, in other words, is not to publicly shame private individuals for their political preferences.
And yet this isn’t the first time that campaign contribution data has been used to punish private individuals for their political donations. Former Mozilla Firefox CEO Brendan Eich was forced to resign in 2014 after it was revealed that he gave $1,000 in support of a 2008 ballot initiative to ban gay marriage in California.
The ability to punish people for supporting or opposing particular political campaigns is one reason a lot of libertarians oppose making political donations public.
“Given all the death threats, risks to family members, calls for people to be fired, and personal relationships strained by politics, the value of political anonymity is higher today than at any time since the McCarthy era,” wrote Brad Smith of the Institute for Free Speech, a group that opposes many disclosure requirements, in an April National Review article. “Requiring people to choose between participation in the political process and a private personal life will lead to a situation where the only ideas in the public square will be those deemed acceptable by the prevailing political majority.”
On August 6, Congressman Joaquin Castro publicly exposed on Twitter the names and employers of private citizens who donated to the re-election campaign of President Donald Trump. As Institute for Free Speech Chairman Bradley A. Smith said, “It is hard to imagine a purpose for Rep. Castro’s tweet other than to incite harassment and retribution against these individuals and businesses.”
This incident highlights the inherent risks in publicizing personal information in connection to support for causes and candidates. Below is a collection of notable reporting and commentary on this dangerous misuse of campaign finance data…
By Elizabeth Nolan Brown
[T]he entire Senate Democratic Caucus introduced a constitutional amendment to undo Citizens United…
[O]ne of those senators put the spotlight on the crusade. “Citizens United has damaged our democracy and allowed corporate money to flood our politics,” claimed the California senator and presidential candidate Kamala Harris on Twitter… “We can’t allow this to continue-which is why my colleagues and I introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn this terrible Supreme Court decision,” she added.
Harris and company are continuing Hillary Clinton’s crusade. Back in 2016, Clinton suggested “that the real problem with that decision is that it did not permit the legal barring of a documentary critical of her,” as Reason’s Brian Doherty wrote. Clinton complained the critical film should have been banned around election time (under a 2002 law disallowing corporations and labor unions from making “electioneering communication” in the days or months leading up to an election) “because the legal entity behind it was organized as a corporation.”
That gets to a crucial point about “corporations”: They’re not all massive behemoths or big money spenders. Small and sometimes single-person businesses, nonprofit groups, activist organizations, trade associations, labor unions, and all sorts of entities that liberals like are organized as corporations, and as such benefit from the right to be public about political matters without powerful elites shutting them down.
Democrats pretend that ending Citizens United is about restoring transparency and fairness to political speech. But what sort of transparency and fairness prohibits vast swaths of its organized advocacy and community groups from talking about candidates and campaign issues at the very time when they’re most important? Behind the rhetoric about “dark money” and “corporate influence,” what this “reform” would do is to strip speech rights from all sorts of citizens-and let politicians hoard power over political narratives themselves.
By Margaret Harding McGill and Daniel Lippman
The White House is circulating drafts of a proposed executive order that would address allegations of anti-conservative bias by social media companies, according to a White House official and two other people familiar with the matter – a month after President Donald Trump pledged to explore “all regulatory and legislative solutions” on the issue.
None of the three would describe the contents of the order, which one person cautioned has already taken many different forms and remains in flux. But its existence, and the deliberations surrounding it, are evidence that the administration is taking a serious look at wielding the federal government’s power against Silicon Valley…
Just this week, Trump warned that he is “watching Google very closely,” citing the case of an engineer who has claimed the company fired him for his conservative views.
But the White House effort may be complicated by skepticism in some agencies involved in the discussions about tech policy. The Republicans at the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission have said publicly that they don’t see a role for their agencies in policing companies’ online content. The FCC and FTC have joined the Justice and Commerce departments in discussions about the potential bias crackdown…
During an FTC oversight hearing in the Senate last year, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) argued that a tech company could be considered “actively deceptive” if it appears to be a neutral public platform and then engages in censorship. But Republican Commissioner Noah Phillips said the FTC’s antitrust and consumer protection authorities are “not authorities to police the First Amendment itself.”
By Brian Fung
The draft order, a summary of which was obtained by CNN, calls for the FCC to develop new regulations clarifying how and when the law protects social media websites when they decide to remove or suppress content on their platforms. Although still in its early stages and subject to change, the Trump administration’s draft order also calls for the Federal Trade Commission to take those new policies into account when it investigates or files lawsuits against misbehaving companies…
According to the summary seen by CNN, the draft executive order currently carries the title “Protecting Americans from Online Censorship.” It claims that the White House has received more than 15,000 anecdotal complaints of social media platforms censoring American political discourse, the summary indicates. The Trump administration, in the draft order, will offer to share the complaints it’s received with the FTC…
The FTC will also be asked to open a public complaint docket, according to the summary, and to work with the FCC to develop a report investigating how tech companies curate their platforms and whether they do so in neutral ways. Companies whose monthly user base accounts for one-eighth of the U.S. population or more could find themselves facing scrutiny, the summary said, including but not limited to Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat.
The Trump administration’s proposal seeks to significantly narrow the protections afforded to companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act…
Under the draft proposal, the FCC will be asked to find that social media sites do not qualify for the good-faith immunity if they remove or suppress content without notifying the user who posted the material, or if the decision is proven to be evidence of anticompetitive, unfair or deceptive practices.
By Roberta Rampton and Elizabeth Culliford
White House officials and big social media companies met on Friday to talk about how to curb extremism online…
President Donald Trump laid blame on the internet and social media for providing places “to radicalize disturbed minds” and called on the Justice Department to work with companies “to develop tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike.”
Social media companies have come under increasing scrutiny since a white supremacist broadcast deadly attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, online. But law enforcement experts say identifying and stopping extremists online is easier said than done, given free speech protections and censorship concerns.
The White House declined to comment on who took part or led Friday’s closed-door meeting. Trump did not attend, having traveled to New York on Friday…
“The conversation focused on how technology can be leveraged to identify potential threats, to provide help to individuals exhibiting potentially violent behavior and to combat domestic terror,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement.
“We urge internet and social media companies to continue their efforts in addressing violent extremism and helping individuals at risk, and to do so without compromising free speech,” Deere said.
The Washington Post reported Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit were invited to the meeting. The companies declined comment.
Their lobby group, the Internet Association, said the meeting was productive and that the companies talked about how they fight extremism online…
Ahead of his trip, Trump told reporters that social media companies would be coming to the White House on Friday, but focused his comments on complaints that online platforms suppress conservative voices.
By Jim Treacher
Courtesy of Houston radio host Michael Berry:
The mother to a friend of the show was one of the 44-private citizens who donated to the Trump campaign and had her name and employer tweeted out by Joaquin Castro. This is one of the vile voicemails she received.
“Hi! I see that you’ve donated the most allowable by federal law to Donald Trump. I think you’re a scumbag and I f***ing despise everything you stand for. I plan on calling you and filling up your voicemail with a bunch of bulls***, so enjoy that. I will make sure to post this number and extension all over the Internet…” …
He doxxed her to intimidate her, and now he’s getting what he wanted.
By Graham Piro
MSNBC contributor and executive editor of Above the Law Elie Mystal called on Thursday night for “pitchforks and torches” outside the house of billionaire Stephen Ross who has become the subject of controversy for his support of President Donald Trump…
“Totally. There have been peaceful protests outside Mitch McConnell’s house,” MSNBC host Chris Hayes responded.
Hayes appears to be referring to recent protests where one protester shouted that she hopes someone “just stab the mother f***er in the heart, please.” McConnell’s campaign Twitter account was locked out for posting the video of the protest due to the video displaying “real-world, violent threats made against Mitch McConnell.”
“I imagine there will be peaceful protests outside this which is, again it’s all speech, right, peaceful protest, the right to assembly under the First Amendment, that is the way that – because your point here is how does civil society deal with what we’re seeing?” Hayes continued.
“The peaceful means by which civil society responds is through more speech and more protected activity and pressure,” Hayes added later.
By Elizabeth Nolan Brown
There’s a lot of weird and bad information these days about the federal law known as Section 230. The New York Times even put out an op-ed trying to fight the common myth that social media companies are “platforms” that lose legal protections provided by Section 230 if they start making editorial decisions like “publishers.” (In reality, the law makes no distinction and requires no such neutrality.) Nonetheless, the Times has started spreading its own extremely misguided analysis of the law. So misguided that the paper was forced to issue a correction, after running a headline on the front page of Tuesday’s business section claiming that Section 230 legalized hate speech and was why “hate speech on the internet is a never-ending problem.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Times writer Daisuke Wakabayashi tweeted “Disclosure: We are correcting this story and headline because it incorrectly suggests that Section 230 protects hate speech. The first amendment already does that.”
Tech lawyers and others have been deservedly dragging the paper: [several tweets pictured]
But correcting blatantly wrong (and suspiciously bad faith) tech analysis is like playing whack-a-mole these days. Today, The Wall Street Journal lets Dennis Prager do his own misrepresentations of Section 230: [Julian Sanchez tweet]
Meanwhile, 8chan is the latest tech company to have its creator summoned to testify before Congress.
By Sharon LaFraniere
[Gregory B. Craig], 74, is charged with deceiving Justice Department officials who sought to determine whether he should have registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, commonly known as FARA, for work that earned his law firm more than $4.6 million.
His trial, which starts Monday and is expected to last about two weeks, is widely viewed as a litmus test of the Justice Department’s growing effort to hold more foreign lobbyists criminally responsible for conduct the agency once treated as mere administrative infractions. Although Mr. Craig is charged with lying to federal law enforcement officials – not for failing to register as a foreign agent – defense lawyers said his indictment signified a sea change in the Justice Department toward those who failed to disclose their foreign lobbying work.
“The fact that there is a Greg Craig trial shows how much the atmosphere has changed,” said Matthew T. Sanderson, a defense lawyer who specializes in foreign lobbying cases at the law firm of Caplin and Drysdale. “The Justice Department is going after some high-profile scalps.” …
Critics claim that the statute is as vague as it is broad, a problem already evident in the case against Mr. Craig, a former White House counsel under President Barack Obama. Days before his trial was to begin, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed one of two counts of false statements against Mr. Craig, saying the language of the FARA statute was too ambiguous to justify it.
By Rob Davis
The last time Oregon voters were asked whether campaign donations should be limited, a prominent liberal group was among the most vocally opposed: The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon…
Thirteen years later, with a similar measure on campaign donations heading to voters next year at the behest of the Oregon Legislature and Gov. Kate Brown, the ACLU has dropped its absolute opposition to contribution limits…
The group explained its change in a recent brief supporting Multnomah County’s campaign donation limits…
The ACLU was a staunch opponent in 2006. Back then, a citizens’ initiative asked Oregon voters to amend the constitution to make limits legal. A 1997 state Supreme Court ruling struck down limits as a violation of Oregon’s constitutional free speech protections. The initiative, Measure 46, aimed to change that, along with a companion initiative that set some of the nation’s tightest limits.
The ACLU sued, trying to keep Measure 46 off the ballot…
When the lawsuit failed, the ACLU urged Oregonians to vote no. “Protect your freedom of speech,” the group said in its ballot argument…
[Katherine McDowell, a board member with ACLU of Oregon,] said the ACLU still believes the Oregon Supreme Court got it right in 1997 when it protected campaign donations as an expression of free speech. But that needs to be balanced, she said, with the state constitution’s protections of free and fair elections…
In the final days of the 2019 session, Oregon lawmakers agreed to send a measure to the ballot asking Oregonians whether to allow caps on campaign spending and donations…
The ACLU hasn’t taken a position for or against the measure. McDowell said the group believed the constitution already permitted limits — if interpreted correctly. “You don’t need to amend the constitution to get to that result,” she said.