Daily Media Links 8/28

August 28, 2019   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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Roll Call: Could take FEC a while to regain a quorum, but don’t expect a ‘Wild West’

By Kate Ackley

“First of all, clear violations of the law could get the attention of the Justice Department,” said Rick Hasen, professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine. “I don’t think it’s quite the Wild West that some people have described.”

The FEC will continue to collect and post online campaign finance records for congressional and presidential campaigns, the agency’s deputy press officer Christian Hilland confirmed in an email. Its staff of 300-some employees will also continue to collect complaints, which a reconstituted commission could take action on in the coming months or years…

“This could be a very long wait for the FEC to regain a quorum,” [Michael] Toner said, adding that filling the agency did not seem to be a priority for congressional Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, or for the Trump administration…

A senior Senate GOP aide said that despite an apparent lack of movement on the matter, there is an ongoing effort to fill all six FEC commissioner seats. “To do that though, Senator Schumer and Senate Democrats must replace the two longtime Democratic holdovers,” said the aide, referring to FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, who has been on the panel since 2002, and Steven Walther, who has been on it since 2006…

Though it’s up to the Senate to confirm commissioners to the FEC, the House Administration Committee has jurisdiction over campaign finance matters. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the California Democrat who chairs that panel, said in a statement Tuesday that she planned to probe deeper into the FEC’s dysfunction at an oversight hearing in the coming weeks…

[Fred] Wertheimer noted that Democrats’ sweeping campaign finance and ethics bill known as HR 1, which passed the House but lies dormant in the Senate, included provisions to overhaul the FEC. The agency’s paralysis could boost the argument in favor of such measures, he said.

Online Speech Platforms 

Axios: Facebook sharpens political ad rules ahead of 2020

By Sara Fischer

Facebook is tightening its rules to make sure that groups running political or issue ads are legitimate and aren’t gaming the system…

Facebook will require advertisers to supply more information about their organization, like their U.S. street address, phone number, business email and a business website matching the email, before Facebook reviews and approves their political advertising disclaimer. That information will become part of Facebook’s public ad library.

In addition, advertisers must provide a Tax ID number, Federal Election Commission (FEC) ID number, or a government website domain that matches an email ending in .gov or .mil, if they want to be labeled as a “Confirmed Organization.”

Smaller businesses without those credentials can also choose to provide an organization with a verifiable phone number, business email, mail-deliverable address, and a business website with a domain that matches the email or the legal name and and a personal ID of an individual who is buying ads…

Facebook will also update its list of acceptable social issues that advertisers can message about, bringing the U.S. list in line with issue lists in countries that have recently held elections…

Facebook has become one of the most important marketing vehicles used in U.S. elections, but there are no laws that govern how online advertising should be bought or tracked…

Even though there are no legal requirements around online political advertising in the U.S., political ads on TV are regulated. 

Truth on the Market: 7 Things Netflix’s ‘The Great Hack’ Gets Wrong About the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal

By Alec Stapp

The takeaway from the documentary is that Cambridge Analytica hacked Facebook and subsequently undermined two democratic processes: the Brexit referendum and the 2016 US presidential election. The reason this narrative has stuck in the public consciousness is that it serves everyone’s self-interest (except, of course, Facebook’s).

It lets voters off the hook for what seem, to many, to be drastic mistakes (i.e., electing a reality TV star president and undoing the European project). If we were all manipulated into making the “wrong” decision, then the consequences can’t be our fault!

This narrative also serves Cambridge Analytica, to a point. For a time, the political consultant liked being able to tell prospective clients that it was the mastermind behind two stunning political upsets. Lastly, journalists like the story because they compete with Facebook in the advertising market and view the tech giant as an existential threat.

There is no evidence for the film’s implicit assumption that, but for Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data to target voters, Trump wouldn’t have been elected and the UK wouldn’t have voted to leave the EU. Despite its tone and ominous presentation style, The Great Hack fails to muster any support for its extreme claims. The truth is much more mundane: the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal was neither a “hack” nor was it “great” in historical importance.

Reuters: Researchers studying Facebook’s impact on democracy threaten to quit

By Katie Paul

A group of philanthropies working with Facebook Inc to study the social network’s impact on democracy threatened on Tuesday to quit, saying the company had failed to make data available to researchers as pledged.

The funders said in a statement that Facebook had granted the 83 scholars selected for the project access to “only a portion of what they were told they could expect,” which made it impossible for some to carry out their research. They have given Facebook until Sept. 30 to provide the data.

Their concerns focus on the absence of data that would show which web pages were shared on Facebook as far back as January 2017.

The company had yet to say when the data would be made available, the funders added.

Facebook said in a statement that it remained committed to the project and would “continue to provide access to data and tooling to all grant recipients – current and future.”

The announcement comes only a few months after Facebook launched the research program, which opened the company’s propriety data to independent scholars for the first time.

Data access was meant to be heavily controlled, with special precautions to protect user privacy.

NBC News: Facebook bans ads from The Epoch Times after huge pro-Trump buy

By Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins

Facebook has banned The Epoch Times, a conservative news outlet that spent more money on pro-Trump Facebook advertisements than any group other than the Trump campaign, from any future advertising on the platform.

The decision follows an NBC News report that The Epoch Times had shifted its spending on Facebook in the last month, seemingly in an effort to obfuscate its connection to some $2 million worth of ads that promoted the president and conspiracy theories about his political enemies.

“Over the past year we removed accounts associated with the Epoch Times for violating our ad policies, including trying to get around our review systems,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We acted on additional accounts today and they are no longer able to advertise with us.”

Facebook’s decision came as a result of a review prompted by questions from NBC News. The spokesperson explained that ads must include disclaimers that accurately represent the name of the ad’s sponsors.

The Epoch Times’ new method of pushing the pro-Trump conspiracy ads on Facebook, which appeared under page names such as “Honest Paper” and “Pure American Journalism,” allowed the organization to hide its multimillion-dollar spending on dark-money ads, in effect bypassing Facebook’s political advertising transparency rules…

A recent NBC News investigation revealed how The Epoch Times had evolved from a nonprofit newspaper that carried a Chinese-American religious movement’s anti-communism message into a conservative online news behemoth that embraced President Donald Trump and conspiracy content.

The Media 

Wall Street Journal: NBC News Smears a Competitor

By Stephen Gregory

The Epoch Times is a nonpartisan, independent media company that publishes a daily newspaper and website. Our motto is “Truth and Tradition.” Last week NBC News and its sister network MSNBC launched a series of irresponsible and misleading attacks on us.

The network led with the claim that we have spent “more than any organization outside of the Trump campaign itself” in the past six months on “pro-Trump advertisements.” NBC refers to ads promoting our print subscriptions-typically short, lively videos that feature recent articles. Because we’ve taken the lead in reporting on Spygate-the efforts by Obama administration officials and holdovers to take down the Trump campaign and presidency-these ads often feature articles reporting on President Trump. That doesn’t make them ads for Mr. Trump, and many of our ads have nothing to do with him…

The Chinese state newspaper Global Times immediately highlighted the NBC report, crowing that it was an attack on Falun Gong. Thus NBC’s efforts to take a swipe at us are being used in China to justify the persecution of a religious group.

The Epoch Times is also a top target of the Chinese Communist Party. For 19 years we have published groundbreaking reports on the party’s record, including human-rights abuses. Our staff in China were arrested and imprisoned in the fall of 2000.

Why would NBC target us? It claims the Epoch Times is “a key component of the president’s re-election campaign.” That’s false…

Like many advertisers, we’ve struggled with Facebook ‘s opaque and arbitrary standards for what it calls political advertising. The Epoch Times’s ads described our reporting and every one of these ads was approved by Facebook before publishing. Last week the site banned our advertising altogether. “Facebook’s decision came as a result of a review prompted by questions from NBC News,” the network reported.

Daily Beast: Fox News Stars Push Back as Trump Demands Loyalty: We Don’t ‘Work for You’

By Justin Baragona

“Just watched @FoxNews heavily promoting the Democrats through their DNC Communications Director, spewing out whatever she wanted with zero pushback by anchor, @SandraSmithFox,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “Terrible considering that Fox couldn’t even land a debate, the Dems give them NOTHING! @CNN & @MSNBC are all in for the Open Border Socialists (or beyond).”

Besides blasting the America’s Newsroom co-anchor, Trump went after a few other Fox News stars who he has recently singled out for not carrying his water on-air.

“Fox hires ‘give Hillary the questions’ @donnabrazile, Juan Williams and low ratings Shep Smith. HOPELESS & CLUELESS! They should go all the way LEFT and I will still find a way to Win – That’s what I do, Win,” he wrote. “Too Bad!”

The president concluded his online tantrum by complaining that Fox News was “letting millions of GREAT people down” and that he needs to “start looking for a new News Outlet” since the one-time “Fair & Balanced” channel “isn’t working for us anymore!”

Almost immediately after the president’s tweets, Fox News senior political analyst and former news anchor Brit Hume sounded off: “Fox News isn’t supposed to work for you,” he wrote….

Fox News contributor and radio host Guy Benson essentially repeated Hume’s remarks: “We don’t work for you,” he stated.

Furthermore, Benson also said that Trump was “working the refs,” agreeing with Axios’ Sara Fischer that Trump was playing to a “fringe culture” of rabid supporters whom the president hopes would help push Fox News to intensify its already largely pro-Trump coverage.

MediaBuzz host Howard Kurtz, a former Daily Beast columnist, also took a mild swing at the president’s criticism, writing, “our job is to cover both sides.”


The Hill: It’s legal to tweet the names of all of Trump’s donors, but it’s probably not a good idea

By Robert G. Boatright

As some commentators pointed out, Castro did nothing illegal. Anyone can look up the names of Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign supporters. It may not have been the wisest move for a politician to send out such a large list…

There is no reason to patronize businesses whose political habits one doesn’t like, however, most of those on Castro’s list were just regular citizens. Despite concerns about the propriety of Castro’s tweet, his actions provide an opportunity to educate the voting public about our campaign contribution disclosure laws.

For nearly half a century, candidates, by law, have been required to disclose to the Federal Election Commission the names, addresses and employers of any individual who gives a total of $200 or more to their campaign.

This threshold was set in order to provide some level of anonymity for donors. A balance needed to be struck between the public’s right to know who is funding campaigns and individuals’ freedom from reprisal. At the time the $200 threshold was set, the Internet did not exist, and generally only journalists or political consultants went to the trouble of looking at lists of contributors. Today, anyone can do it online…

 When I teach courses on campaign finance, I show my students how they can look up the contributions of their professors, their neighbors, or even their parents. 

They tend to be amused by this, but invariably someone will suggest that this information really ought to be private – that we shouldn’t have the ability to spy on our neighbors in this way. Even when they support disclosure in theory, in practice, they tend to find it disturbing…

We could argue that the disclosure threshold should be increased, however, if the court is eager to do away with disclosure rules, this would be an even larger reversal than the Citizens United decision.

If contributors are uncomfortable with having their identities revealed, there is an easy solution – give less.

Candidates and Campaigns 

New York Times: Tom Steyer Is Spending Millions to Get Money Out of Politics

By Shane Goldmacher

Mr. Steyer has spent $12 million on digital and television ads in only six weeks – more than any other Democrat has spent all year – often featuring him speaking straight into the camera…

Whether Mr. Steyer can become something more than the billionaire buying the ads about how “our democracy has been purchased” is an open question…

But his status as a virtual one-man “super PAC” is already upending the carefully laid strategies of Democratic rivals who now must grapple with the fact that they are unlikely to have the airwaves to themselves in Iowa or New Hampshire.

Running as something of a patrician populist, Mr. Steyer brushed aside the dissonance of someone with his résumé – Exeter, Yale, Stanford, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, his own hedge fund – flooding the airwaves with ads that castigate the influence of “the powerful and well-connected.”…

In a fraction of the time, Mr. Steyer has already outspent his opponents online: $1 million on Google and $3.9 million on Facebook, peaking at $215,000 a day on Facebook as he sought the 130,000 donors needed to qualify for the next debate…

In some ways, Mr. Steyer is a liberal occupying the same structural reform space as the progressive leaders in the polls, Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders…

“Virtually everybody else in this race, including those two senators, comes from D.C., is part of the establishment,” Mr. Steyer said. “So if you think the problem is broken government, which is what I think, if you think that the corporations have bought the government, who do you think is going to reform it? Do you think it’s going to be someone from the grass roots, from the outside, who’s done it for 10 years? Or do you think it’s going to be someone from D.C.? It’s a fair question.”

Alex Baiocco

Alex Baiocco