Posts Tagged ‘campaign regulation’

H.R. 1, political omnibus bill, passes House

H.R. 1, the political regulation omnibus bill, contains “provisions that unconstitutionally infringe the freedoms of speech and association,” and which “will have the effect of harming our public discourse by silencing necessary voices that would otherwise speak out about the public issues of the day.” That’s not just my opinion; it’s the view of the American Civil Liberties Union, expressed in this March 1 letter (more). For example, the bill would apply speech-chilling new restrictions to issue ads that mention individual lawmakers.

The House of Representatives nonetheless voted on Friday along party lines to pass the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD). For now, it has no prospect of passage in the Senate.

The issues raised in the ACLU letter aside, H.R. 1 contains many other provisions that likely are unconstitutional, unwise, or both. On gerrymandering, for example, an issue on which the Constitution does grant Congress a power to prescribe standards which I’ve argued it should consider using more vigorously, the bill takes the heavy-handed approach of requiring all states to create a commission of a certain format. That would likely run into the Supreme Court’s doctrine against federal “commandeering” of state government resources.

More criticism: Brad Smith on the bill’s restrictions on discussion and coordination of expenditures on speech; Ilya Shapiro and Nathan Harvey (“If ever adopted, [HR1] would give power to one slice of Washington’s elite at the expense of American democracy’s carefully crafted checks and balances”); David A. French (“At its essence, the bill federalizes control over elections to an unprecedented scale, expands government power over political speech, mandates increased disclosures of private citizens’ personal information (down to name and address), places conditions on citizen contact with legislators that inhibits citizens’ freedom of expression, and then places enforcement of most of these measures in the hands of a revamped Federal Election Commission that is far more responsive to presidential influence.”) And: Cato Daily Podcast with Caleb Brown and Luke Wachob.

Court: Maryland law regulating newspapers and social media flunks First Amendment

Last year following the Russian Facebook scandal the Maryland legislature passed a bill regulating newspapers (!) and other online ad platforms. Gov. Larry Hogan refused to sign it, citing First Amendment concerns. Now a federal court has agreed and blocked the law’s enforcement as an unconstitutional infringement on the freedom of the press.

I write about the case at Cato. “Social media trickery is bad. Chipping away at First Amendment liberties to stop it is worse.”

Judge strikes down abuse-prone Colorado campaign finance law

A federal judge in June struck down Colorado’s distinctive law (earlier) under which any private person could file charges of campaign-finance violations. “That is unconstitutional, the court held, because there is ‘nothing reasonable about outsourcing the enforcement of laws with teeth of monetary penalties to anyone who believes that those laws have been violated.'” The Institute for Justice had represented “Strasburg resident Tammy Holland, [who] challenged the system after she was twice sued by members of her local school board for running newspaper ads urging voters to educate themselves about school-board candidates. Even though Holland was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, the lawsuits dragged on for months and cost thousands of dollars in legal fees.” [Institute for Justice press release] Following the ruling, the state quickly moved to institute a new process under which complaints will be vetted, and are subject to closer time limits. [Jesse Paul, Denver Post]

Attorney and Denver Post columnist Mario Nicolais writes that at first he thought Colorado’s privately driven system worked well, until it developed into a vehicle for volume filings settled for cash:

…several groups began filing campaign finance complaints solely to line their own pockets and intimidate political opponents. These groups comb through campaign finance filings looking for any small errors and then exploit the complaint system for their own gain. The director for one of these groups, Matt Arnold, coined his work “political guerilla legal warfare (a.k.a. Lawfare).” …

… Because of the byzantine procedure through which Colorado’s campaign finance penalties compound and accrue on a daily basis, the potential fines threatened by the group regularly reached into the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even when the only errors involved a couple [of] omitted $3.00 transactions. Consequently, the group knew it could demand payments for $4,500 or $10,000. When defendants didn’t pay, the group threatened that “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”

More: Corey Hutchins, Colorado Independent 2016.

What Not To Wear, Minnesota polling place edition

In its decision yesterday in Minnesota Voters Alliance v Mansky, the Supreme Court ruled that a Minnesota law banning political apparel at polls ran afoul of the First Amendment. The ruling was 7-2, a classic line-up in which the conservatives, Ginsburg, and Kagan joined in a strong free speech stand while Sotomayor and Breyer were more deferential toward speech restrictions. Cato had urged in a brief that the law be overturned.

For the majority, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that while the aim of Minnesota’s law was constitutionally acceptable (keeping peaceful order and preventing electioneering at the polls) the details of its drafting were not. “A rule whose fair enforcement requires an election judge to maintain a mental index of the platforms and positions of every candidate and party on the ballot is not reasonable.” So the proposition is not that states can’t regulate the wearing of campaign paraphernalia into the polling place, but that Minnesota needs to come up with rules that are more readily enforced in an even-handed way. More: Eugene Volokh; Trevor Burrus; Andrew Grossman on Twitter (“decision is exceedingly narrow and will only hit the most outlier state laws. Still, a nice win for expressive rights.”)

Free speech roundup

  • Video now online of Nadine Strossen at Cato speaking on her new book Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship. And John Samples kicks off series of blog posts about book [first, second]
  • Press vs. President: “the more tightly regulated media landscape of the early 1970s” played directly into Nixon’s hands [Matt Welch]
  • Romance writer’s bid to stop authors from using word ‘cocky’ fails in court [Alison Flood/Guardian, earlier]
  • “New law forces Google to suspend political ads in Washington state” [Timothy Lee, ArsTechnica]
  • “The Minnesota criminal harassment statute is equally dubious, applying when a person sends two or more tweets ‘with the intent to abuse, disturb, or cause distress.’ Really…?” [Venkat Balasubramani, Technology and Marketing Law Blog] “Crime in D.C. to Negligently Cause ‘Significant Mental Suffering’ by Saying Two Non-Political Things About Someone” [Eugene Volokh] “NY State Legislators Unanimously Pass A Cyberbullying Bill That Can’t Be Bothered To Define Cyberbullying” [Tim Cushing, TechDirt; Eric Turkowitz]
  • Blame failings of copyright law, not scholarly neglect, for long inattention to Zora Neale Hurston manuscript [Ted Genoways, Washington Post/Valley News]

Free speech roundup

  • Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky: SCOTUS considers state ban on political apparel at polling places [Ilya Shapiro, Cato]
  • Under American law governments cannot sue persons for defamation, and “slander of title” won’t do as substitute ploy for lawyer representing city of Sibley, Iowa [Jacob Sullum]
  • “Someone Trying to Vanish My Post About Someone Trying to Vanish Another Post” [Eugene Volokh]
  • “Free Speech and the Administrative State”, George Mason/Scalia Law Center for the Study of the Administrative State conference with videos;
  • “Influencer Marketing Remains in FTC’s Crosshairs” [M. Sean Royall, Richard H. Cunningham, and Andrew B. Blumberg, WLF]
  • Worth recalling: it was legal academia’s Critical Race movement that helped reinvigorate Left support for censorship and speech repression [Alan Dershowitz]

Second Circuit: Schneiderman can unmask private group’s donors

At least since 1958’s NAACP v. Alabama, it has been thought settled that state demands for the disclosure of private organizations’ membership and donor lists poses very real risks of First Amendment infringement to which courts must be sensitive. Recent years, however, have seen concerted efforts to strip anonymity from donors to at least some non-profit groups with a policy emphasis. One danger — or feature, from the standpoint of some groups doing the campaigning — is that if target groups can be made to divulge such information, their supporters can be exposed to pressure, shaming, and public and private retaliation.

Kamala Harris, then Attorney General of California and now Senator from that state, did not fare well in court in such a campaign while in state office, but New York’s left-leaning Attorney General Eric Schneiderman seems to be enjoying better luck in a similar push. A Second Circuit panel has ruled in favor of his demands for the donor lists of Citizens United, the conservative group whose role in a landmark First Amendment case at the Supreme Court has made it, along with that case, “the Emmanuel Goldstein of the American left.” It will not be surprising if the Supreme Court is soon asked to reaffirm the protections of NAACP v. Alabama. [Trevor Burrus and Reilly Stephens, Cato, and thanks for mention; see also my April 2016 Cato piece]

“Colorado: Where Anyone Can Squelch Political Speech”

“Colorado’s byzantine system of campaign and political finance regulations not only [turns] a blind eye to First Amendment concerns, but actively incentivizes politically motivated, retaliatory litigation. Colorado is unique in being the only state to effectively outsource enforcement of its campaign finance regulations by allowing ‘any person who believes’ that campaign finance laws are being violated” to initiate litigation by filing a complaint. Now a court is considering an outside group’s motion to seal the records of one such case. Opening up such proceedings to public scrutiny could work to counteract abuse by documenting the law’s chilling effect and its use to squelch the speech of opponents, as in the case at issue, in which a local citizen found herself denounced to authorities after buying a newspaper ad commenting on a slate of candidates in a school board election. [Trevor Burrus and Meggan DeWitt on Cato objection, jointly with Reason Foundation, in Holland v. Williams]