Daily Media Links 8/17

August 17, 2021   •  By Nathan Maxwell   •  
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Ed. Note: Tiffany Donnelly, our Media Manager and editor of the Media Update, is currently on maternity leave. Until she returns at the end of next month, the Update will follow a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday schedule. Communications Fellow Nathan Maxwell and Policy Analyst Alex Baiocco will be handling the Update in Tiffany’s absence. Please feel free to send article suggestions to nmaxwell@ifs.org or abaiocco@ifs.org.

In the News

Pacific Legal Foundation: California’s unequal treatment of canvassers is a First Amendment violation

By Ben Cross

In 2019, California enacted Assembly Bill 5 (“AB 5”), which codified a new legal test to classify California workers tilted heavily against independent contracting. [Political] canvassers, who were typically independent contractors under the old legal test, would now be “employees”—if anyone could afford to hire them. But AB 5 exempts numerous work categories, including “direct sales salespersons”… Essentially, commercial canvassers. Also exempt are workers who deliver literature that meets California’s definition of a “newspaper”—broad enough to cover the Los Angeles Times, but not a voter guide…

At bottom, AB 5’s preference for consumer products and certain newspapers is a content-based restriction on speech, which is almost always unconstitutional. The Institute for Free Speech has also filed a federal lawsuit against California, on behalf of a local nonprofit, a related political committee, and a group that provides canvassing services. Our complaint in the case, Mobilize the Message, LLC v. Bonta, notes, “the right to knock on doors on behalf of candidates, or gather signatures to qualify ballot measures, does not require a legislative favor. It already enjoys the First Amendment’s protection, which forbids content-based speech discrimination against political campaigns.”

National Review: Ted Lieu’s Stanford Donations Likely Legal but May Raise Ethical Questions, Campaign Finance Expert Says

By Ryan Mills

California Congressman Ted Lieu is facing questions about at least $50,000 in campaign donations he made in 2017 and 2018 to Stanford University, where his son is now a student…

In an interview with National Review, former FEC chairman Bradley Smith said it’s unlikely that Lieu has crossed any legal line with his donations to his alma mater. Campaign finance law prohibits using campaign funds for personal use, Smith said, but the money can be used for any other lawful purpose, including donations to universities and other charitable organizations…

“Unless you really had a clear agreement – I will give you this and you will guarantee me he’s going to get in – I don’t think it does it,” said Smith, who is the founder and now chairman of the Institute for Free Speech in Washington D.C. “And I don’t think you’re likely to have that clear agreement just because of the time lag. … You can’t count on the same admissions officers, provost, president. All of those things can change in that time.”…

“He might have well known, thought, intended that this would help grease the skids for junior down the road, if junior decides he wants to go to Stanford. I don’t think that makes it illegal,” said Smith…

“There’s a lot of things that may raise ethical questions, that may be legit issues to raise and ask voters if they care about these issues, but that doesn’t make them all illegal,” he said.


Common Dreams: Sheldon Whitehouse Asks Jan. 6 Commission to Probe Links Between Dark Money Groups and Capitol Attack

By Brett Wilkins

Linking the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol with a protracted effort by secretive right-wing groups and wealthy GOP contributors, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on Friday called for investigating dark money organizations and influential donors who allegedly organized and funded the deadly attack in a failed bid to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election…

“The attack on the Capitol on January 6 was the culmination of a monthslong disinformation campaign designed to allow President [Donald] Trump to remain in office,” Whitehouse (D-R.I.) wrote in a letter (pdf) to Sen. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, also known as the commission.

“Public reporting indicates that this campaign was organized and funded by dark money organizations and powerful donors, and aided and abetted by members of Congress and the Trump administration,” he continued.

Whitehouse urged the commission to “examine the funders and organizers whose efforts may have laid the groundwork for the violence that day.”

Biden Administration

Wall Street Journal: Homeland Security Considers Outside Firms to Analyze Social Media After Jan. 6 Failure

By Rachael Levy

The Department of Homeland Security is considering hiring private companies to analyze public social media for warning signs of extremist violence, spurring debate within the agency over how to monitor for such threats while protecting Americans’ civil liberties…

DHS officials have stressed concerns about protecting civil liberties in discussions with dozens of research centers and government contractors, people familiar with the talks say. The department wouldn’t hire companies to monitor individuals, they say, but would seek high-level data that indicate potential targets for violence and identify foreign influence campaigns from countries such as China or Russia. The information would be anonymized, the people say…

Still, civil-liberties advocates worry that such data—even anonymized—could lead to government overreach. DHS, in intelligence reports, has previously identified as suspicious views including “opposition to gun control and immigration, anger about the 2020 election results or the use of force by police, or a belief in certain conspiracy theories,” said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, deputy director for the Brennan Center’s national-security program.


Roll Call: Why ‘no corporate PAC money’ pledges are important

By Tiffany Muller

Washington is rigged to bend to corporate influence, which is why it’s so hard to make progress on a myriad of important issues…

We started End Citizens United to fight back against this broken system and the corrosive impact that massive unlimited corporate and dark money spending has on our democracy.

One of the steps we took was to encourage members of Congress to reject corporate PAC money. Unlike other PACs, corporate PACs are controlled by corporations and often benefit from direct, unlimited and undisclosed corporate money to underwrite them. Corporations use their PACs to buy access and influence in Washington…

While rejecting corporate PAC money is only one step and corporations still have other ways to pollute the political system, candidates who take the “no corporate PAC” pledge are leading the charge on cracking down on the corrupting influence of money in politics. They are not only bringing the issue to the forefront but also taking on other problems in the system by pushing for legislation, like the For the People Act, or a constitutional amendment to end unlimited spending.

Free Speech

RT (“Worlds Apart” Show): Expression regression? Jonathan Zimmerman, author of ‘Free Speech: And Why You Should Give a Damn’

Hosted by Oksana Boyko

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This opening phrase from the gospel of John is often cited by atheists to stress the significance of language in the evolution of the human species. But despite – or perhaps because of – the power of the word, humans have always tried to regulate it. Is censorship inevitable, especially when it comes to political speech? To discuss that, Oksana Boyko is joined by Jonathan Zimmerman, professor of history of education at the University of Pennsylvania and author of ‘Free Speech: And Why You Should Give a Damn’.

Online Speech Platforms

Wall Street Journal: Big Tech Acts Like Big Brother

By Nicole Malliotakis

[YouTube] last week blocked a 45-minute video of my news conference announcing a lawsuit challenging Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “vaccine passport” as an invasion of New Yorkers’ privacy and an unreasonable mandate on small businesses…

YouTube removed the video, citing an alleged violation, never explained, of its “medical misinformation policy.” The video was censored for two days. After I appealed YouTube’s decision twice, the video reappeared and I was notified that after “taking another look,” YouTube had changed its mind…

Big Tech seems focused on acting as an extension of big government, quashing content from those who oppose their liberal ideology. President Biden has criticized social-media platforms, notably Facebook, for allowing the spread of “misinformation.” Press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration is “in regular touch with social media platforms” to flag “problematic” posts…

It’s time for Congress to rein them in and reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to require transparency for content-enforcement decisions and disclosure of appeals processes—and to remove liability protections for companies who censor constitutionally protected speech.

Washington Post: Rumble, a YouTube rival popular with conservatives, will pay creators who ‘challenge the status quo’

By Drew Harwell

A fast-growing YouTube rival popular with conservative influencers has a new strategy to expand its online audience: Paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to well-known media personalities it says work to “challenge the status quo.”

The Toronto-based upstart Rumble said Thursday that it has struck deals with former U.S. congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, the journalist firebrand Glenn Greenwald and others who had committed to posting their videos first to the site.

Rumble has emerged over the last year as one of the most prominent video sites for right-wing viewers and provocateurs, and it is seeking to bolster its image as a new online home for those who claim they’ve been censored by Big Tech.

The States

Anchorage Daily News: Alaska’s campaign finance laws have been gutted

By Sharman Haley

In the case Thompson v. Hebdon, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down three provisions of Alaska law that imposed reasonable and evenhanded limits on expenditures to influence state and local elections in Alaska…

Fair and uncorrupted elections are fundamental to our democracy; reasonable and evenhanded limits on money spent to influence elections are necessary to ensure fairness and mitigate corruption. But the U.S. Supreme Court has decreed that the constitutional standard for limiting campaign expenditures is a higher bar: preventing direct “quid pro quo” corruption…

As a result of decades of judicial engineering, we the people are constitutionally prohibited from enacting reasonable and fair limitations on the scope of campaign contributions. Our only possible solution for this judicial coup d’etat is to pass a constitutional amendment that will override the courts and clearly establish that we do have the power to enact reasonable and evenhanded limits on the amount of money that can be expended to influence our elections.

Nathan Maxwell

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