Category Archives: Campaign finance

Neil Gorsuch and the First Amendment: Questions the Senate Judiciary Committee should ask

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Gorsuch meets with Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Clay Calvert, University of Florida

Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for United States Supreme Court justice nominee Neil Gorsuch are underway. The Conversation

It’s time to consider some key questions about First Amendment speech rights the senators should ask during the constitutionally mandated advice-and-consent process.

These hearings often are contentious. That was the case for Justice Clarence Thomas in the early 1990s. And they surely won’t be a cake walk this time, given Democratic anger over Republican inaction on Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016.

The First Amendment questions I’d pose to Gorsuch are critical because the man who nominated him, President Donald J. Trump, bashes the press as “the enemy of the people” yet proclaims no one loves the First Amendment more than he.

An obvious question for Judge Gorsuch is his view of the court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. That five-to-four decision divided sharply along perceived partisan lines. It affected the speech rights of corporations and unions in funding political ads shortly before elections. Committee Democrats no doubt will grill Gorsuch about Citizens United.

As the director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida, I would like to suggest at least three other timely and vital questions he should be asked about speech rights – but that I doubt he will face.

Capturing cops on camera in public

The first question I’d pose to Gorsuch involves an issue the Supreme Court has never tackled – does the First Amendment protect a person’s right to record police officers doing their jobs in public places?

It’s a vital question in light of incidents such as the April 2015 shooting in the back of unarmed African-American Walter Scott by white police officer Michael Slager in South Carolina. A video of it was captured on a smartphone by barber Feidin Santana while walking to work. It was key evidence in Slager’s murder trial – which ended with a hung jury.

Without guidance from the Supreme Court about recording cops in public venues, lower courts have had to sort it out for themselves.

Just last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concluded in Turner v. Driver that “First Amendment principles, controlling authority, and persuasive precedent demonstrate that a First Amendment right to record the police does exist, subject only to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.” That’s a positive step in terms of creating a constitutional right to record cops within the Fifth Circuit, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. But just what constitutes a “reasonable” restriction is extremely vague and problematic, especially because judges usually defer to officers’ judgments.

Worse still, some courts haven’t even recognized any First Amendment right to record police.

In the case of Fields v. City of Philadelphia, now under review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, a federal judge ruled there is no First Amendment right to film police in public spaces unless the person recording does so with the intent of challenging or criticizing police actions. In brief, there is no First Amendment right to neutrally record police as a bystander or journalist in Philadelphia.

Gorsuch thus should be asked: “Do citizens have a First Amendment right to record police doing their jobs in public places and, if there is such a right, what – if any – are the specific limits on that right?”

The right to protest in public places

Trump’s presidency ushers in a new era of confrontational political activism. Protests against Trump and rallies for him are common, with some ending in arrests. Berkeley, California – home of the 1960s free speech movement – saw 10 arrests this month when pro- and anti-Trump individuals clashed.

Gorsuch should be questioned about the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and the limits on that right affecting political demonstrations on public streets, sidewalks and parks. The Supreme Court privileges such “quintessential public forums” for picketing and protests, and it carefully reviews any restrictions imposed there on speech and assembly. Would Gorsuch follow that tradition of protection?

Disturbingly, The New York Times reported earlier this month that lawmakers in more than 15 states are considering bills that would curb, to varying degrees, the right to protest. Some measures, such as Florida Senate Bill 1096, do so by requiring a special event permit be obtained before any protest on a street, thus stifling spontaneous demonstrations that might occur after a controversial executive order or a startling jury verdict.

Requiring the government to grant a permit before one can protest constitutes a prior restraint on speech. Prior restraints, the Supreme Court has repeatedly found, are presumptively unconstitutional.

Gorsuch thus should be asked: “What, if any, limits are there on the First Amendment right to engage in political speech in public spaces, including streets, sidewalks and parks?”

The right to offend

Finally, I’d ask Gorsuch for his views about the First Amendment right to offend. It’s an important topic today for three reasons.

First, protesters may use offensive language to capture attention and show the passion behind their views. The Supreme Court traditionally protects offensive political speech, as it famously did in 1971 in Cohen v. California. There it ruled in favor of Paul Robert Cohen’s First Amendment right to wear a jacket with the words “F— the Draft” in a Los Angeles courthouse hallway.

Second, some believe there’s a pall of political correctness in society, particularly in higher education. Some students may be deterred from using certain language or expressing particular viewpoints for fear they will offend others and thus be punished.

Third, the Supreme Court is set to rule in the coming months in a case called Lee v. Tam. It centers on the power of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to deny an Asian-American band called The Slants trademark registration over that name because it allegedly disparages Asians. The court heard oral argument in the case in January.

I’d thus ask Gorsuch: “When does offensive expression – in particular, offensive speech on political and social issues – lose protection under the First Amendment?”

Gorsuch already has submitted written answers to the Judiciary Committee on some issues, but not on the questions raised here. These topics – filming cops in public, protesting on streets and sidewalks, and using offensive language – seem especially relevant in a turbulent Trump era.

Clay Calvert, Brechner Eminent Scholar in Mass Communication, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Press Freedom Accountability Survey

 

By Carol Benedict

On Saturday, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) voiced concern over President Donald Trump lashing out at press reporters, agencies and bureaus that reported news not to his liking,  “at one point declaring it “the enemy of the American People!”, According to a report. McCain further stated on NBC News in an interview set to air Sunday, that was “how dictators get started.”

After witnessing 8 years of press coverage claiming that 2nd Amendment rights were being threatened under the Obama Administration, we saw gun and ammo sales skyrocket across the nation. After passing the first sensible gun law in decades following the horrific tragedy of Sandy Hook, the Trump Administration has already stripped that back, allowing those gains to be lost after the majority of Americans approved of those particular regulations.

We wonder where those same people are now, to defend the 1st Amendment rights that have not only been decried by a President who has sworn to uphold the Constitution to which those Rights are part and parcel.

All of which leads to the subject of this post. On Thursday, the Trump campaign put up something called the “Mainstream Media Accountability Survey,”  with questions that looked as if they were left over from the runup to the election. Evidently, they didn’t like the results of that one, for they put up a new one on Friday, appearing on both the Donald Trump and main RNC websites.  The spin given by the Trump organization was that “liberals had skewed the responses.”

The original survey’s source code didn’t have any collection mechanism for the survey’s answers, according to some IT pros we know. Instead, it worked as an email collection/fundraising gimmick; after you completed the survey, you had to enter your email. Once you did this, you were redirected to a donation page. The email collecting and donation page sections did have the appropriate source code needed to populate a database with that info; the survey itself didn’t. And, the fundraising’s legal; Trump filed paperwork for his 2020 run five hours after his inauguration. Hence, this comes under campaign financing laws; in other words, superPACs and unlimited anonymous donating to said entities.

In response to his second survey, we have created this survey to compare question-for-question, asking the American people from every walk of life their views on the 1st Amendment and a free press in America. We are guessing you will easily recognize which survey is which.

This survey is not collecting responses. It is intended for educational purposes.

Press Accountability polls

Do you believe that the press has reported fairly on the new Trump Administration?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you believe that the mainstream media has reported unfairly on our movement?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you trust the free press to report fairly on the Trump Adminitration?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you trust MSNBC to report fairly on Trump's presidency?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you trust the Trump Administration to report accurately on its own actions?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you trust CNN to report fairly on Trump's presidency?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you believe the free press is part of the accountability necessary in a democracy?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you trust Fox News to report fairly on Trump's presidency?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you believe the 1st Amendment's wording that "abridging" the freedom of the press means that the press must not be associated with any political party, hold bias, or report unverified information?
Yes
No
No opinion
On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job of representing Republicans? (Select as many that apply.)
Immigration
Economics
Pro-life values
Religion
Individual liberty
Conservatism
Foreign policy
Second Amendment rights
What source do you primarily get your news from?
Television/Cable news
Print or online news publications
Online journals/blogs
Other (please specify):
Which television source do you primarily get your news from?
Fox News
CNN
MSNBC
Local news
How do you know if the source you use is credible?Do you use a source not listed above?


Do you trust the press to report accurately on the activities of the Congress?
Yes
No
No opinion
Which online source do you use the most?


Do you trust the press to report accurately on the activities of the Courts?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you trust the mainstream media to tell the truth about the Republican Party’s positions and actions?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, and Kellyanne Conway, do due diligence fact checking before discussing stories the free press can not verify as actually having happened?
Yes
No
No opinion
Do you believe that the mainstream media does not do their due diligence fact-checking before publishing stories on the Trump administration?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

What do you believe the executive order regarding people from Muslim countries was targeted to do?
Prevent Muslims from entering the US
Prevent terrorists from entering the US
Punish businesses that associate with or hire Muslims
Punish students and families of American Muslims
Other (please specify):
Do you believe that the media unfairly reported on President Trump’s executive order temporarily restricting people entering our country from nations compromised by radical Islamic terrorism?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe the Court was justified in taking action and temporarily banning the order from being enforced?
Yes
No
No Opinion
Were you aware that a poll was released revealing that a majority of Americans actually supported President Trump's temporary restriction executive order?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe that radical terrorists acting in this country are primarily not from the seven countries named in the executive order?
Yes
No
No Opinion
Do you believe that political correctness has created biased news coverage on both illegal immigration and radical Islamic terrorism?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe that President Trump has substantial powers that can not be questioned?
Yes
No
No Opinion
Do you believe that contrary to what the media says, raising taxes does not create jobs?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe that people of non-Christian faiths have been unfairly characterized by the Trump Adminstration?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:
Do you believe that people of faith have been unfairly characterized by the media?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe that the 1st Amendment is as equally fundamental and important as the 2nd Amendment?
Yes
No
No Opinion
Do you believe that the media wrongly attributes gun violence to Second Amendment rights?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you support this Administration's and Congress's decisions to abolish the Endangered Species Act, The Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency and other Departments?
Yes
No
Other (Please specify):
Do you believe that the media has been far too quick to spread false stories about our movement?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe the press should pursue reports of Russian interference in US politics before, during and since the 2016 election?
Yes
No
Other (please specify):
Do you believe that the media uses slurs rather than facts to attack conservative stances on issues like border control, religious liberties, and ObamaCare?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe the US Intelligence community has a responsibility to the American people to investigate and vett officials within the Administration?
Yes
No
Other (Please specify):
Do you believe that the media purposely tries to divide Republicans against each other in order to help elect Democrats?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe the President was elected by the people, and therefore is accountable to them, or that the President can act without accountability after taking office?
Operate with accountability to the people
Operate without accountability to the people
Other (Explain):
Do you believe that the media creates false feuds within our Party in order to make us seem divided?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Are you concerned about the international community and the potential for nuclear war more of less since President Trump took office?
More concerned
Less concerned
Was never concerned
Concern did not change
Do you believe that the mainstream media has been too eager to jump to conclusions about rumored stories?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you support the Administration's intention to build a wall across the border with Mexico and continue escalation of deportations of illegal immigrants without further review of the executive orders?
Yes
No
Review is needed similar to a review of the travel ban
Other (Please specify):
Do you believe that if Republicans were obstructing Obama like Democrats are doing to President Trump, the mainstream media would attack Republicans?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you support the Administration being quietly run by top advisor Steve Bannon and family members of President Trump?
Yes
No
Other (Please specify):
Do you agree with the President’s decision to break with tradition by giving lesser known reporters and bloggers the chance to ask the White House Press Secretary questions?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe President Trump should have launched his 2020 Presidential Campaign with only 3 weeks in office?
Yes
No, it is too soon
No, he won't last 1 term
No opinion
Do you agree with President Trump’s media strategy to cut through the media’s noise and deliver our message straight to the people?
Yes
No
No opinion
Other, please specify:

Do you believe the American taxpayer should be footing the bill for the First Lady's separate lodging in New York, the White House weekends in Mar-a-Lago Club and the business trips of Ivanka Trump?
Yes
No
Other (please explain):
Do you believe that our Party should spend more time and resources holding the mainstream media accountable?
Yes
No
No opinion

About the Author:
Carol Benedict is an indépendant researcher and human rights activist. She is also an independent Journalist and a professional member of the US Press Association.

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House GOP Quietly Moves to Kill Commission Charged With Securing Elections

House Committee also voted to abolish public financing for presidential elections

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 2-7-2017

Tuesday’s votes by GOP committee members, as The Nation’s Ari Berman put it, are “more proof of how the GOP’s real agenda is to make it harder to vote.” (Photo: Keith Ivey/cc/flickr)

Amid national outrage over possible foreign interference in the 2016 election and President Donald Trump’s own lies about so-called voter fraud, House Republicans on Tuesday quietly advanced two bills that “could profoundly impact the way we administer and finance national elections,” watchdogs are warning.

The GOP-dominated Committee on House Administration voted along party lines to approve the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) Termination Act (HR 634), which would abolish the only “federal agency charged with upgrading our voting systems” and “helping to protect our elections from hacking,” as Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at NYU School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, put it. Continue reading

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Trump Seeks to Take Wrecking Ball to Division Between Church and State

Draft executive order ‘reads like the administration was challenged to see how many violations of the Bill of Rights can be contained in one policy change’

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 2-2-2017

A 2016 poll found two-thirds of Americans say churches and other houses of worship should not come out in favor of one candidate over another during political elections—but President Donald Trump wants to “destroy” the amendment that keeps it that way. (Photo: Peter Miller/flickr/cc)

President Donald Trump appears intent on demolishing the wall between church and state, telling an audience on Thursday that he will “totally destroy” an amendment that bars religious tax-exempt organizations from engaging in political activity—while his administration reportedly circulates a far-reaching draft executive order on “religious freedom” that effectively legalizes discrimination.

Trump told attendees at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday that he “will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.” Continue reading

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‘Dangerous’ and ‘Dumb’: Trump Signs Executive Order Torching Regulations

“It will fundamentally change our government’s role from one of protecting the public to protecting corporate profits”

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 1-30-2017

A demonstrator in Washington, D.C. holds a sign on Jan. 27, 2017. (Photo: Lorie Shaull/flickr/cc)

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Monday that aims to slash regulations—an action, advocacy groups say, that puts lives at risk.

The order—the latest of a flurry since he took office—states that “for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination,” fulfilling a campaign promise he made.

“For fiscal year 2017, which is in progress, the heads of all agencies are directed that the total incremental cost of all new regulations, including repealed regulations, to be finalized this year shall be no greater than zero,” it adds. Continue reading

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Undermining Democracy, Corporations Pouring Millions into Local Ballot Fights

Public Citizen finds total corporate spending on just eight local measures has topped $139 million

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-29-2016

According to Public Citizen, the corporate-backed campaigns have an average of 10-to-1 financial advantage over their mostly grassroots opponents(Photo: Jason Hargrove/cc/flickr)

According to Public Citizen, the corporate-backed campaigns have an average of 10-to-1 financial advantage over their mostly grassroots opponents(Photo: Jason Hargrove/cc/flickr)

This election cycle, corporate donors are not just beefing up the war chests of their most-favored politicians. According to a new study, industry is flexing its Supreme Court- approved political power to dominate local democracy, as well.

In the study, Big Business Ballot Bullies (pdf), Public Citizen examined eight state-level ballot initiatives and referenda that have seen an outsized amount of political spending. According to the research, published Wednesday, the corporate-backed campaigns have an average of 10-to-1 financial advantage over their mostly grassroots opponents, with total corporate spending in those races topping $139 million. Continue reading

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Media Worried Too Many Americans Will Question Legitimacy of 2016 Election

By Nick Bernabe. Published 8-22-2016 by The Anti-Media

Photo by Ben Combee from Austin, TX, USA (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Ben Combee from Austin, TX, USA (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

2016 is the year many, many Americans began to question whether or not our elections, and to a lesser extent, our democracy (insert “it’s a constitutional republic, big difference!” here) are rigged. As I’ve argued many times in the past year, there is plenty of evidence suggesting these skeptical Americans are, indeed, onto something with their suspicions.

But the corporate media has come out in defense of America’s “democracy” — and political elites are defending the system, too. In the wake of Trump’s recent rhetoric regarding the “rigged” system, the ruling class of the United States is peddling the fiction that somehow Trump’s irresponsible sensationalism is solely to blame for the newfound feelings of illegitimacy plaguing our elections. Continue reading

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What If We Could No Longer Celebrate Freedom on the 4th of July?

By Claire Bernish. Published 7-4-2016 by The Anti-Media

Photo via Pinterest

Photo via Pinterest

United States — What if people, sickened by tyrannical control, threw off the shackles of bloated governance in favor of leading themselves? What if the erosion of fundamental freedoms — guaranteed not by a document, but by being human — were actually intolerable as so much grumbling intimated? What if government intrusion into people’s bedrooms, communications, sovereign corporeal decisions — of vice, health, and more — means of subsistence, financial choices, business, education, and innumerable other aspects, were utterly unacceptable?

What if even the revolutionary roots, the foundation, of the nation were soaked in the blood of countless individuals and peoples — a likely sign no tangible freedom would last beyond lip service? Continue reading

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Landmark Survey Finds Special Interests are Pouring Money into Local Elections

Secret spending on the local level rose from 24 percent in 2006 to 71 percent in 2014

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 6-26-2016

Photo: Brennan Center

Photo: Brennan Center for Justice

While the outsized influence that Big Money is having on federal elections is well-documented, the local impact of the Supreme Court’s 2011 Citizens United ruling has not been fully realized—until now.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law on Sunday published a landmark report (pdf) documenting how secret donations have corroded democracy at the state level, where it is “arguably most damaging.” Continue reading

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Leave your Conscience and Morals at the door

Campaign fundraising is as dirty a game as politics itself. Anyone and everyone can be bought and sold for the right price. It starts with the insistent fundraising calls.

By Gretschman for Occupy World Writes

Call center agent. By FiveOne51 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Call center agent. By FiveOne51 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Last night at 8:30 PM the house phone rang. Yes, some of us still have those old fashioned contrivances in our domiciles. The caller wished to speak with my father who has been dead for over 3 years. My wife asked who was calling. The caller identified himself as a solicitor for the Republican Party of Minnesota. Since we have both asked the Republican party solicitors many times to remove this name and phone number from their call lists because they are asking for a DEAD person, my wife asked for the solicitors’ supervisor to be put on the line. I took the phone, and after about two minutes “Josh” came on the line.

I asked “Josh” if he was a volunteer, or if he was paid to solicit for the Republican party. He said that he was indeed paid, and he was sorry to have troubled us, he would remove the diseased’s name and phone number from their records and that the Republican Party of Florida would not call us again. I asked him WHY the Republican Party of FLORIDA would be contacting people in Minnesota to solicit funds. I asked him WHERE he was calling from.

At this point “Josh” admitted that he had misunderstood where his solicitor was calling, he thought it was Florida, when in fact it was Minnesota, because they were soliciting funds for Stewart C. Mills III to wage a campaign against incumbent Rick Nolan in the 8th District of Minnesota. Mills ended up losing to Nolan in 2014.

“Josh” said that he was employed by a call center for the Republican Party based in Mankato Minnesota.  Once “Josh” assured me yet again that his call center would not call our number again, I thanked him for that courtesy and my wife and I started researching what we would find out to be some startling truths about political fund raising -American style.

We first located the call center in Mankato, Minnesota. it is one of many businesses located in a multi-use building in the college town of Mankato. We did enough research to find out that the business “FLS Connect” has four call centers. One in St Cloud, Minnesota, one in Phoenix, Arizona, one in Springfield, Missouri and the one that we had contact with in Mankato. FLS Connect’s co-founder Jeff Larson, is a Karl Rove protege.

Being a call center solicitor for FLS Connect is a good job if you want to make ten dollars an hour and you have a criminal record as a felon. if you aren’t so good at persuading people to part with their money, you can become a “supervisor” who handles the actual credit card transactions of the money solicited by the people doing the solicitation. item of note though -“supervisors” at this company only receive nine dollars an hour. Our research into what current and former employees said about their workplaces was very eye-opening. One of the people reviewing the business said that it was a “great” job as long as you left your ‘conscience and morals’ at the door when you came to work. Another onetime employee stated that they were instructed not to let the person being solicited from off the line until a donation is made. The average length of employment at this business was less that two months.

The next thing we researched was why the scion of the Mills Fleet Farm chain of stores would need to have the Republican Party solicit donations on his behalf. During his 2014 race against Nolan, he said, “I will be playing a role in my campaign financially.” The Mills family recently sold out their family business to the tune of 1.2 billion dollars to the a “leading global investment firm, KKR, [who] manages investments across multiple asset classes including private equity, energy, infrastructure, real estate, credit and hedge funds.” It would seem that a political candidate might not need money from the constituents in his or her district with a ‘family ‘bank account that runs into ten figures. Running for political office must be more satisfying, or at least less painful when you lose if it is other peoples’ money that you are campaigning with.

The last point that we researched did not yield any answers. Why would the solicitors try to solicit money for a political candidate from the 8th district of Minnesota from potential donors who do NOT live in that district?

The sad part of this is that this style of solicitation is not just limited to one political party or certain political offices. Thanks to the SCOTUS “Citizens United” decision, the ever increasing amount of money required to keep up with the candidate on the other side of the ballot will cause this type of heavy handed solicitation by paid solicitors to become even more commonplace. Charities are required by law to provide information to donors about how much of their donations ACTUALLY go to said charity after expenses. I wonder what we would find out about political donations if the same standards were applied to politics.

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