Daily Media Links 9/8: Feds’ tactics in Johnson-Swallow case are part of what’s ‘destroying the American civil justice system,’ judge says, FEC Might Act on Russia-Linked Facebook Political Ads: Official, and more…

The Courts

The Hill: Trump unveils seventh wave of nominees to fill judicial vacancies

By Lydia Wheeler

President Trump on Thursday announced his seventh wave of judicial nominees as he works to fill more than 100 vacancies on courts across the U.S.

Among the batch of 16 nominees, Trump selected his own deputy assistant and deputy counsel, Gregory Katsas, to serve as a circuit judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the nation’s second-most-powerful court…

Trump also tapped Matthew Petersen, a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, to be a district judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Salt Lake Tribune: Feds’ tactics in Johnson-Swallow case are part of what’s ‘destroying the American civil justice system,’ judge says

By Tom Harvey

A federal judge on Wednesday unloaded on the Federal Election Commission over its pursuit of a lawsuit against imprisoned St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson and former Utah Attorney General John Swallow involving allegations of illegal campaign contributions.

The FEC alleges in a lawsuit that Johnson, at Swallow’s urging, used straw donors to contribute $170,000 in illegal contributions to the campaigns of U.S. Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Harry Reid, D-Nev., along with then-Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff in the 2009-2010 election season.

Johnson admitted to the practice in an interview with federal and state agents after he says he was promised that the information would not be shared and would not be used against him.

At the end of a hearing Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson said he was concerned that by demanding reams of evidence, the FEC was pursuing the case in a manner that far exceeded its importance.

“Now you want to lift up every stone and look under it,” Benson said. “Discovery [in the pursuit of evidence] is destroying the American civil justice system.” 

Bloomberg BNA: Campaign Money Court Battle Hangs Over N.M. Governor Race

By Kenneth P. Doyle

Two current U.S. House members-Reps. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.)-are vying for the Governor’s Mansion. Pearce has more than $1 million in a congressional campaign account registered with the Federal Election Commission, but state authorities say he can use only $11,000 of that total for the race.

Lawyers for Pearce are pressing for an injunction from the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, arguing that state restrictions on his use of federal campaign money violate the U.S. Constitution…

The office of New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, told Pearce’s campaign attorney, William Canfield, in an advisory letter sent in July that Pearce could use no more than $11,000 from his federal campaign account for the state campaign. The letter said transfers from a federal account are restricted by state contribution limits of $5,500 for the 2018 primary election and $5,500 for the general election…

The request for a preliminary injunction said Oliver’s position on use of federal campaign funds “is contrary to both the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.” 

New York Times: Opening Arguments in Menendez Trial Focus on the Meaning of Friendship

By Nick Corasaniti

Critical to the prosecution’s case will be linking the timing of Dr. Melgen’s gifts with actions taken by Mr. Menendez promoting his interests. Mr. Koski repeatedly told jurors to pay attention to “the timing, communication and the escalation of action with the escalation of money.”

He walked jurors through the timing of a donation by Dr. Melgen and communications between Mr. Menendez and officials at the Department of State. It began, he said, with an email on April 30, 2012, from Mr. Menendez’s chief of staff to Dr. Melgen asking for $60,000. On May 16, the doctor made a donation to groups supporting Mr. Menendez, the same day that Mr. Menendez met with an assistant secretary of state to discuss port security in the Dominican Republic, an area in which Dr. Melgen had a financial interest…

Mr. Koski also noted repeatedly that Dr. Melgen was not a constituent of Mr. Menendez, telling jurors that Mr. Menendez’s website said, “If you are not a New Jersey resident, I will refer your inquiry to your home state senators.”…

But Mr. Lowell argued that senators are “national legislators” who have interests and obligations outside their state. 

FEC

Washington Post: Did Facebook ads traced to a Russian company violate U.S. election law?

By Matea Gold

In recent years, there have been calls by advocates to revisit the Internet regulation, an idea that has drawn fierce resistance from conservatives. (On Thursday, Ellen Weintraub, a Democratic appointee to the FEC, proposed again that the agency to update its rules on Internet communications disclaimers.)…

Whether the Russian company broke the law by running ads on Facebook comes down to two big questions: What was in the content of the ads, and did a U.S. campaign assist the company in placing the ads…

Along with Thursday’s Common Cause complaint, there is already a pending FEC complaint about possibly illegal Russian spending in the election that was filed in December by the watchdog groups Campaign for Accountability and Free Speech for People. Facebook’s revelations could be wrapped into the commission’s ongoing review of the existing complaint, which remains confidential until it is resolved.

“What’s important about the FEC investigation is that despite all of the FEC’s well-known problems, it is an independent bipartisan commission and it is not subject to interference by President Trump,” said Ron Fein, legal director at Free Speech for People. “This could be its finest hour.”   

Bloomberg BNA: FEC Might Act on Russia-Linked Facebook Political Ads: Official

By Kenneth P. Doyle

The revelation that Russian sources financed political ads on Facebook in the 2016 presidential campaign could prompt enforcement action by the Federal Election Commission, agency Vice Chairwoman Caroline Hunter said.

“It’s something we can and should deal with in the enforcement process,” Hunter said Sept. 7, noting that federal campaign finance rules bar the use of foreign campaign money to influence U.S. elections. She said she couldn’t comment further on details of the Facebook matter because anything that might come before the FEC as an enforcement case is covered by strict confidentiality rules.

The details of the Facebook matter could be crucial, however, Hunter suggested. She said FEC rules exempt “pure issue speech” from coverage under campaign finance law…

Hunter made her remarks during a panel discussion at a Washington conference on corporate political activities sponsored by the Practising Law Institute. She defended the stance of the Republican commissioners on the FEC who have resisted taking tough enforcement action or supporting new campaign finance rules. Hunter said she and her GOP colleagues are concerned about protecting First Amendment rights to participate in the political process. 

Washington Examiner: FEC Democrat: Facebook’s Russia ads are ‘proof’ disclaimer rules need an update

By Diana Stancy Correll

Ellen Weintraub, a Democratic commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, is calling on the independent government agency to address Internet communication disclaimers at an open meeting next week, following the revelation that Facebook sold ads to Russian-linked accounts during the 2016 campaign.

“It is imperative that we update the Federal Election Commission’s regulations to ensure that the American people know who is paying for the internet political communications they see,” Weintraub said in a letter Thursday to the chairman of the FEC, Steven Walther.

“Given the revelations of the past few days regarding the secret purchase of thousands of internet political ads by foreign actors during the 2016 presidential election, there can no longer reasonably be any doubt that we need to revise and modernize our internet disclaimer regulations,” Weintraub added. “The need for us to act grows more compelling every day.”

Weintraub said she would invite leaders and experts from technology companies including Facebook, Twitter, and Google to attend the meeting and to assist the FEC in determining the best Internet disclaimer rules moving forward.    

Free Speech

Reason: Are Facebook Ads Part of the Russia-Trump Conspiracy Theory?

By Ed Krayewski

In a country founded on the idea of free and open speech, how concerned should we be that foreign companies make ad buys on Facebook? The “marketplace of ideas” is robust enough to handle it. Ideas succeed and fail on their merits. Advertisements can get ideas in front of people, but they can’t get those people to accept or act on those ideas.

To begin with, $100,000 in Facebook ads is not a lot of ads (the company had more than $9 billion in ad revenue in the last fiscal quarter alone). For the most part, Facebook ads are pretty ineffective.

Even if the Russian company had purchased 10 or even 100 times as many ads, it’s no big deal. There is little evidence political ads sway voters. The idea that a relatively small ad buy on a relatively ineffective platform interfered with the presidential election is ludicrous.

Free speech works because any idea is absorbed and subjected to the pressures of a marketplace. More voices only make the marketplace richer and give free participants in that marketplace more information with which to make decisions.

The most unseemly part of the Trump-Russia conspiracy-mongering has been the contorting of free speech in a free country to appear shadowy, devious, sophisticated, and overly influential.   

Congress

Variety: Senator Calls for More Information From Facebook, Twitter on Russian Influence on Election

By Ted Johnson

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that Facebook’s revelation that Russian sources bought $100,000 in political ads on the platform may be just the “tip of the iceberg” when it came to attempts by a foreign power to influence American elections…

On Wednesday, Facebook said that it had traced the purchase of about $100,000 worth of ads between 2015 and 2017 by firms linked to Russia, but that the spots were largely aimed at influencing divisive social issues, and not backing or opposing a particular candidate.

Still, Warner said that he wants to hear more from Facebook. “I have got a lot more questions to ask,” he told CNN…

He also said that the Facebook revelation highlights the need for more disclosure when it comes to political advertising on social media.

“We have a First Amendment, we ought to protect it, but [Americans] ought to be able to know if content is being sponsored by foreign governments, and also, we ought to be able to look at that content no matter who is sponsoring it, if it is in a political context,” he said. 

Reuters: Twitter to brief Congress on possible Russia-backed ads: U.S. senator

By Dustin Volz and Jonathan Landay

Twitter Inc is expected to brief U.S. congressional investigators soon on whether Russia used its advertising platform to promote divisive social and political messages during the 2016 election, Senator Mark Warner said on Thursday…

“It was my belief that the Russians were using those sites to interfere in our elections, and the first reaction from Facebook was, ‘No. You’re crazy.'” Warner said at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance conference in Washington.

“I think what we saw yesterday in terms of their brief was the tip of the iceberg,” Warner said.

He also told reporters he expected Twitter to soon brief the Senate Intelligence Committee, one of the panels investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether members of President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow…

Warner said legislation may be required to change how social media platforms can be used for political advertising to bring federal disclosure rules in line with those governing television advertising. 

Candidates and Campaigns

Roll Call: House Challengers Find Fundraising Success Outside Their Districts

By Sean McMinn and Simone Pathé

For nearly a dozen Democratic challengers who have raised at least $50,000 in individual contributions worth at least $200 each during the first half of this year, more than 90 percent of the money raised came from outside their districts, a Roll Call review of Federal Election Commission data found…

Incumbents often have more access to outside money through PACs, which can sometimes be a liability when challengers accuse them of being out of touch with their districts. But at the end of the day, money is money. Incumbents and challengers, alike, can still use the money they’ve raised, wherever it’s from, to get their message out to voters…

But as one candidate already learned this year, too many donations from outside the district can sometimes backfire.

Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff raised nearly $30 million, much of it from small donors, for the special election in the 6th District – the most expensive House race ever.

But Republicans quickly seized on his out-of-state contributions. A major GOP super PAC (whose outside money propped up Republican nominee Karen Handel) shot ads in San Francisco to draw attention to donations the first-time Democratic candidate brought in from California.

The States

Arizona Daily Star: Commissioner Bob Burns can’t force political funding disclosure, utility argues

By Howard Fischer

Attorney Mary O’Grady acknowledged the state Constitution and statutes do give the Arizona Corporation Commission and its members some power to demand documents from publicly held corporations doing business in the state. But she said anything her clients did – and she’s not admitting to anything that Burns has alleged – fits within what’s allowed under state election law…

“Commissioner Burns may not rely on his subpoena power to override the Legislature’s judgment and impose a different disclosure regime that he prefers,” O’Grady told Judge Daniel Kiley in asking him to throw out Burns’ lawsuit seeking to compel her clients to comply with his subpoenas. “It is not, and should not be, Commissioner Burns’ job to investigate alleged violations of the state’s campaign finance law.”…

At the heart of the dispute is $3.2 million Save Our State Now and the Free Enterprise Club put into that 2014 race on behalf of Forese and Little.

APS will neither confirm nor deny it was the source of those dollars. And the groups contend that their status under federal tax law as “social welfare” organizations exempts them under Arizona campaign finance laws from having to disclose their donors…

In asking Kiley to quash the subpoenas, O’Grady contends they have an improper purpose: to undermine the First Amendment rights of APS and Pinnacle West.