Daily Media Links 8/2

August 2, 2019   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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Congress

CNSNews: Schumer Calls for Amending First Amendment to Limit Political Speech

By Terence P. Jeffrey

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.-N.Y., has determined there is too much political speech in the United States coming from sources he cannot abide. So, he stood in front of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, along with Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D.-Ill., to announce he is backing Democratic New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall’s proposal to amend the First Amendment…

There are speakers whose speech they want to abridge. The Bill of Rights – as correctly interpreted by the Supreme Court – stands in their way. So, they are seeking to change it…

Their Democracy for All Amendment, as they call it, deploys 106 words to amend the 10 words in the First Amendment that protect freedom of speech.

The final 22 words of their proposed amendment assure corporations that own news outlets that Schumer and Udall are not coming for them. They say: “Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.”

There is no similar language to clarify that the amendment does not give Congress or the states the power to abridge “freedom of speech” for entities other than the “press” – because that is precisely the amendment’s purpose.

The first section of the Udall-Schumer amendment, for example, gives Congress and the states the power to “set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.”

In plain English: The government can limit how much you speak about an election.

National Review: Against the Republican Daddy State

By David French

On Tuesday, Senator Josh Hawley introduced his second proposed regulation of social media in as many months. In June, he introduced a bill to regulate political speech on large social-media platforms. In July, he followed it up with the “SMART Act,” a bill designed to curb allegedly addictive features contained in popular applications such as Twitter, Snapchat, and YouTube…

Welcome to the Republican Daddy state. It responds to a social challenge with a blunt instrument that hurts responsible users of popular applications – which is to say, the overwhelming majority of all users – while not providing any concrete evidence that it will cure the extraordinarily complicated underlying problem it’s attempting to address…

I’m getting a strange sense of déjà vu. Remember the height of the Clinton administration, when the V-chip was going to help American parents shield their children from the depravity of television? In the years after we saw unconstitutional bans on the sale of violent video games to minors.

Time and again, the theme is the same. Here is this new form of entertainment that some people don’t use responsibly, and so concerned citizens turn to the government and ask, “Can’t you save us from ourselves?” …

Also, let’s not overstate the government’s competence at even understanding the true nature of online dysfunction. Youth tech engagement in particular evolves at lightning speed. For many families, incidents on, say, Groupme or Google Docs have been far more challenging to their child’s mental health than anything that’s happened on Instagram or Snapchat. Unless we’re going to staff up Senate offices with insecure middle schoolers, government offices will always lag substantially behind the pace of online change.

If government does decide to help Americans be “reasonable” online, it will play whack-a-mole, reacting constantly to the dizzying new developments in online interaction, creating a labyrinth of red tape all the while.

FEC

New York Post: De Blasio campaign finance move violated federal rules, watchdog claims

By Nolan Hicks

“This complaint is based upon information and belief, supported by media reports and public filings, that de Blasio and de Blasio 2020 has accepted excessive contributions from de Blasio’s state PAC and used funds not subject to federal law for his presidential campaign,” the group Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust wrote in its complaint to the Federal Elections Commission.

The group pointed to reporting from The Post and other news organizations on de Blasio’s campaign finance maneuvers as evidence for the complaint, which was submitted Thursday.

“We’re confident we followed the rules,” said de Blasio campaign spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie.

Struggling for cash, Hizzoner made the unorthodox move of leaning on his state political action committee to pay for plane tickets, advertising and rent during the early days of his presidential campaign – totaling nearly $53,000, The Post revealed.

News nonprofit The City also exposed de Blaiso billed $68,000 in polling for his campaign to the state PAC, NY Fairness, forcing his presidential campaign to amend its filings with the Federal Elections Commission.

Independent Groups

Bloomberg Government: Shadow of Dark Money Grows as 2020 Groups Shun Donor Disclosure

By Kenneth P. Doyle

Priorities USA, which collected almost $200 million to help Hillary Clinton in 2016, says it wants to spend that much or more to help the next Democratic nominee defeat President Donald Trump.

This time, however, Priorities is being funded mostly by undisclosed donations. More than three-quarters of the $23.4 million it raised in the first half of year was collected by a nonprofit arm, organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, according to a statement from the group. The nonprofit isn’t required to report donors to the public. The group didn’t have a nonprofit arm in 2016.

America First, the main campaign spending group supporting Trump, is off to a slower fundraising start than the Democrats’ group and is also relying heavily on undisclosed contributions.

A statement from group said America First’s total funding of $17.8 million, so far this year, has been evenly divided between disclosed contributions to a super political actiion committee, America First Action, and undisclosed contributions to the nonprofit America First Policies…

Sen. Tom Udall(D-N.M.) defended his party’s reliance on dark money, for now. “Until we are successful in enacting the change we need, suggestions that we should unilaterally disarm are unserious,” he said an an emailed statement.

Center for Responsive Politics: Some 2020 Democrats are getting help from big money super PACs, even if they don’t want it

By Karl Evers-Hillstrom

Three well-funded super PACs have emerged to back their preferred Democratic presidential hopefuls, with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper the beneficiaries…

Inslee has said he welcomed support from the super PAC, given that his campaign is focused on aggressively combating climate change.

“They want to defeat climate change, and this is something I’ve been very passionate about for decades,” Inslee told the Associated Press. “So, no, I won’t be condemning any organization that’s trying to defeat climate change.”

But the group’s ads, which aired during the July Democratic debates, operated much like those from a typical single-candidate super PAC, directly attacking Inslee’s primary opponents for not making climate change a top priority.

The pro-Booker Dream United, a super PAC founded by one of Booker’s Stanford classmates, has reported spending only $9,960 supporting Booker so far. But with a $1.1 million fundraising haul from just three donors, the group has plenty of money to play with…

Booker echoed many of his fellow 2020 Democrats when he told supporters he would reject support from super PACs. But Dream United’s founder, civil rights lawyer Steve Phillips, said he would recruit donors to support Booker’s bid anyway…

[T]he pro-Hickenlooper super PAC appears to have at least some connection with the campaign. The New York Times reported that Hickenlooper’s campaign manager was originally involved with Shared Purpose…

Shared Purpose hasn’t made independent expenditures so far and wasn’t revealed until it filed with the Federal Election Committee Wednesday.

Vice: People Are Hungry for Shroom Legalization, and the Money to Fund It Is Growing

By Alex Norcia

It was a nail-biter finish three months ago, when Denver residents narrowly voted to decriminalize psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms. But Kevin Matthews isn’t finished yet.

The former campaign manager for the Denver Psilocybin Initiative (DPI) is now in the process of building out a new nonprofit called the Society for Psychedelic Outreach, Reform, and Education-or, yes, SPORE…

The people behind groups like SPORE want to bolster what is a mostly nonexistent lobbying arm on the psilocybin and hallucinogenic front. According to Matthews, his shop will be applying for 501(c)(3) status to make it easier to fundraise as a charity. (In this way, it won’t be too dissimilar to MAPS, or the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a nonprofit largely focused on research.) But if successful, Matthews will later apply for 501(c)(4) status afterward. The biggest difference is that the latter allows for something resembling lobbying under the mantle of “social welfare” advocacy, if not explicit political activity, as well as unlimited donations. 501(c)(4) status also allows donations to be anonymous. This is traditionally criticized by campaign finance reformers skeptical of “dark money,” but could come in handy with a still-taboo substance like shrooms.

“I think in many ways, if you’re familiar with NORML [the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws], they’re both a 501(c)(3) and a 501(c)(4), and they lobby at the state and federal level, for cannabis laws, and they are also involved in education, research, and services,” Matthews said.

Corporate Speech

Fast Company: How companies can get politically active without breaking the law

By Tyler Hagenbuch

With the 2020 election underway, brands are harnessing opportunities to reach customers and engage employees by having a political voice-and they’re doing it legally.

The new trend started on August 16, 2017. Two of President Trump’s business advisory councils abruptly disbanded following public remarks by the President addressing the 2017 protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. Two weeks later, hundreds of business leaders signed an open letter to President Trump and Congress to voice their concern about the administration’s policy toward DACA recipients. Fast-forward one year to the 2018 midterm elections, and the unprecedented-and nearly unthinkable-happened when Patagonia used its corporate brand and financial resources to endorse two candidates for the U.S. Senate.

These moves represent an unexpected, but perhaps inevitable, foray into politics by corporate America. Once seen as too divisive for the C-suite’s comfort, social and political intervention may be unavoidable as the high-stakes 2020 election approaches. Studies show that an overwhelming majority of millennial workers expect their employers to take a stand on social issues…

Those companies looking to attract customers and engage employees at the next level have a choice: they can view campaign finance law as a barrier to political intervention, or they can recognize the law as one tool in the company’s overall tool kit for business success. There is little chance of avoiding the wave of change descending on brands, which face increasing demands to reflect the views of their stakeholders-and not just their shareholders. Today, the few companies already able to wield political intervention as a sword are seen as innovative, risk-taking trendsetters. By the time the 2020 election is over, those companies still hiding behind campaign finance law as a shield may well find themselves with approval ratings similar to those of the candidates who are packing up their offices and heading home from Washington.

Fundraising 

Wall Street Journal: Candidates Rush for Small Donors

By Chad Day, Danny Dougherty, and Maureen Linke

With the Democratic primary focused on attracting grass-roots donations, the ActBlue data, filed with the Federal Election Commission late Wednesday, is providing the first detailed look at the universe of donors who, in small increments, are adding up to big money for the crowded field of candidates.

The data aren’t a complete picture of those giving to Democratic campaigns because donors who give small amounts directly to candidates, bypassing ActBlue, aren’t included. But it captures the vast majority of such donors who gave in the first half of 2019, providing a revealing look at who they are, where they live and when they gave.

Overall, people who have given $200 or less in total to a specific presidential candidate through ActBlue accounted for at least $90 million through June 30, according to the Journal’s analysis of more than 14 million contributions. That dollar amount is nearly 85% of all small-dollar money brought in by the Democratic presidential campaigns in the first half of 2019 and more than 43% of all money given to the candidates over the same time, according to federal filings.

The data hammer home how ActBlue has become the bedrock of Democratic fundraising, driven by the platform’s one-stop shop approach that allows donors to easily give to multiple candidates. Republicans are now trying to replicate that success with their own payment conduit called WinRed, which President Trump’s campaign and other top GOP groups have endorsed.

Center for Responsive Politics: Campaigns say they’ll match political contributions. It’s not clear how they would do that.

By Jessica Piper

Matching – when campaigns tell donors that their contributions will be equaled or multiplied by an unknown source – has emerged as a relatively common fundraising tool among groups across the political spectrum in recent years…

Limited-time matching gives ideological supporters extra incentive to donate to a campaign they care about. But legal experts say it is hard to see how donation matching could happen given campaign contribution limits. And there are no accountability mechanisms to determine whether campaigns actually follow through with their promises.

“I think these promised matches are largely a marketing ploy from direct mail fundraising,” said Michael Kang, a law professor at Northwestern whose expertise includes campaign finance. “They stir up contrived urgency.” …

The potential for matching donations is restricted by campaign contribution limits…

“If the match is a real thing, it has to come from other donors and would be limited and disclosed as well,” Kang said. “There’s no unlimited pool of money from which a 3 or 4-to-1 match can come.” …

“I suppose you could get a group of 10 people to match, say, $50,000,” said Brett Kappel, an attorney with the law firm Akerman who focuses on campaign finance and political law. “But I’ve never seen it happen.” …

Alternatively, candidates could legally match donors’ political contributions using personal funds…

Matched donations would not appear differently from other contributions in filings with the FEC, according to Corey Gladstone, media strategist at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog organization.

“Without additional details voluntarily disclosed by the campaign, it is difficult to verify whether campaigns are following through on their promises to match donations just based on FEC reports,” Gladstone said.

Daily Beast: Kris Kobach Uses Border Wall Group to Fund Senate Bid, Likely Illegally

By Lachlan Markay

Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is using a nonprofit group he advises to raise money for his U.S. Senate campaign, and legal experts say one recent fundraising push likely ran afoul of federal campaign finance laws.

On Thursday, Kobach sent a fundraising appeal to an email list maintained by We Build The Wall, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group currently attempting to build a wall on the southern border using private funds. Kobach is on the group’s advisory board and serves as its general counsel.

“As a donor to WeBuildTheWall, I humbly ask you to support my run for the Senate,” Kobach’s email pleaded. The email provided links to the campaign’s official fundraising page and asked for “a financial contribution of $50, $100, $250, $500, or any amount up to the maximum of $2,800 per individual.”

The solicitation likely violated federal campaign finance laws, according to Paul S. Ryan, the vice president for policy and litigation at the group Common Cause.

“At a minimum, this Kobach for Senate fundraising solicitation email appears to violate the ‘paid for by’ disclaimer requirement” for official campaign communications, Ryan said in an email…

“If the Kobach committee did not pay fair market value for the cost of disseminating this email,” Ryan explained, “then the Kobach committee has arguably committed the more serious campaign finance law violation of receiving a corporate contribution in the form of a coordinated expenditure.” …

“You’ll sometimes see a campaign paying to rent a c4’s list, but that’s clearly not what’s happening here,” said Brendan Fischer, the director of federal reforms at the Campaign Legal Center. “[T]he content of the message describing a We Build the Wall event and the logo at top make clear it is an official communication from the c4 itself.”

Online Speech Platforms 

Wall Street Journal: Fired by Google, a Republican Engineer Hits Back: ‘There’s Been a Lot of Bullying’

By Rob Copeland

Kevin Cernekee was still a “Noogler”-Google’s term for a new employee-when his conservative take on political and social issues raised hackles within the search giant.

After several posts on the company’s freewheeling internal message boards in early 2015 rankled some colleagues, he was given an official warning from human resources about conduct deemed disrespectful and insubordinate. Around that time, a senior manager wrote on the boards that he added Mr. Cernekee to a “written blacklist” of employees he wouldn’t work with.

Mr. Cernekee, 41 years old, spent much of the next three years battling Google over his perceived violations, and pressing his contention that right-leaning employees were being treated unfairly, according to interviews, documents and copies of posts on Google’s internal message boards. In one example from 2017 that he reported to human resources, a manager publicly asked on a board about employees holding views like Mr. Cernekee’s: “Can’t we just fire the poisonous assholes already?”

In June 2018, Mr. Cernekee was fired…

Political bias in the technology world is a headline topic in Washington, D.C., where Republicans on Capitol Hill and the Trump administration are increasingly ramping up heat on Alphabet Inc.’s Google and other tech platforms over perceived bias against conservatives. Google’s global policy chief testified in July to Congress that political leanings don’t factor into the company’s decision making.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) on Thursday afternoon called the allegations of political bias troubling. In a statement after The Wall Street Journal detailed Mr. Cernekee’s claims, Mr. McCarthy said Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai had earlier assured him that all viewpoints were welcome, but “time and again, we see actions that contradict free and open expression.”

The States

New York Times: Manhattan D.A. Subpoenas Trump Organization Over Stormy Daniels Hush Money

By Ben Protess and William K. Rashbaum

State prosecutors in Manhattan subpoenaed President Trump’s family business on Thursday, reviving an investigation into the company’s role in hush-money payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to people briefed on the matter…

The inquiry from the district attorney’s office, which is in early stages, is examining whether any senior executives at the company filed false business records about the hush money, which would be a state crime, the people said…

The Manhattan district attorney’s office on Thursday separately subpoenaed the media company, American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer.

The subpoenas from Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, came only weeks after the Trump Organization had appeared to fend off federal scrutiny of the same payments…

The Trump Organization reimbursed Mr. Cohen for his payment to Ms. Daniels. State prosecutors are examining whether the company – and any of its senior executives – then falsely listed the reimbursement as a legal expense, the people briefed on the matter said…

Even if the new investigation ultimately leads to charges, state law would limit the severity of the punishment. A charge of filing false business records could amount to a misdemeanor. It becomes a felony only if prosecutors can prove that the filing was done to commit or conceal another crime.

It is unclear whether, under the law, the state prosecutors can cite the federal campaign finance violations as the other crime.

Alex Baiocco

Alex Baiocco