When Pakistan’s military spokesman held a press conference earlier this month on emerging threats, Matiullah Jan, a journalist who has written critically of the judiciary and the military, was surprised to see his own picture flash on the screen. The spokesman, Gen. Asif Ghafoor, said Jan and a handful of other journalists and bloggers were anti-state and anti-military. Those are serious allegations in Pakistan, where the military has ruled, directly or indirectly, for most of the country’s history, and where rights groups say it is waging an unprecedented campaign of intimidation ahead of next month’s elections. “He wasn’t specific,” Jan said of the press conference. “But he tried to paint everyone on the so-called slide prepared by intelligence reports with a broad brush as being anti-state and anti-army.
Russia’s only major independent pollster, the Levada Center, said on Tuesday it had stopped publishing polls about the forthcoming presidential election because it feared the authorities might shut it down for perceived meddling. The move, which the Kremlin later endorsed as a necessary step to comply with the law, will reduce open source information about public sentiment ahead of the March 18 election which polls suggest incumbent Vladimir Putin, who is backed by state TV and the ruling party, will comfortably win. Levada is regarded as one of Russia’s three main pollsters and the only one not to be close to the authorities. But it was officially designated ‘a foreign agent’ in 2016 because of its funding, a move it and others said was designed to hobble it.
Lost amid the debate over whether Facebook can be trusted to police itself to stop Russian and other foreign interference in future U.S. elections or whether new legislation is necessary to accomplish this task is a potential insuperable roadblock to effective regulation: the conservative justices on the United States Supreme Court and their views of the First Amendment. Facebook, facing tremendous political pressure to reveal how Russia tried to influence the outcome of the 2016 election campaign through targeted Facebook advertising, recently revealed that entities backed by the Russian government purchased up to $150,000 in advertising aimed at promoting Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. Then, last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced voluntary steps the company said it would take to assure greater transparency in political ads.
Get ready for the latest defense for Donald Trump Jr.’s actions: He had a First Amendment right to collude with the Russians to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. This defense, which has been advanced by noted First Amendment expert Eugene Volokh and others, posits that he cannot be charged under campaign finance laws for soliciting a foreign contribution because seeking and providing such information would be protected political speech, or at least protected for an American to receive. It’s a dangerous argument which fails to recognize the compelling interest promoted by Congress’s ban on foreign contributions: specifically guarding American self-government against foreign intrusion. Let’s first start with the statute Trump Jr. may have violated. Federal law makes it a potential crime for any person to “solicit” (that is, expressly or impliedly ask for) the contribution of “anything of value” from a foreign citizen. While we do not know enough to say that Trump Jr. should be charged with violating this statute, emails released by Trump Jr. himself on Tuesday (as the New York Times was about to report on them) provide more than enough detail to merit an investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.
When he was Serbia’s information minister in the late 1990s, Aleksandar Vucic censored journalists, forced media critics out of business and served as chief propagandist for the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian strongman reviled for the atrocities that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. Today Mr. Vucic is the prime minister of Serbia, having been elected in 2014 as a reformer on promises to lead Serbia into a democratic future and membership in the European Union. He has renounced the extreme nationalist views of his past. Western leaders rely on him as a partner to maintain calm within the Serbian minorities in Kosovo and Bosnia, to support their migration policies and to keep sufficient distance from Russia — even though Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, has professed his support for Mr. Vucic.
A section of B.C.’s Election Act that restricts advertising is being challenged this morning in the Supreme Court of Canada. The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association is challenging the law, arguing it restricts freedom of expression in this province, and that it should include an exception for third parties spending less than $500 on election advertising. Section 239 of B.C.’s Election Act says election advertising sponsors must register with the chief electoral officer. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is an intervener in the case. Lawyer Laura Track said the association is concerned the law is too broad.
Russia: Putin Shuts Down Last Russian Independent Pollster In Anticipation of Russian and US Elections | Forbes
Vladimir Putin has based his claim to legitimacy on his high favorability ratings, the anchor of which has been the “independent” Levada Center, headed by the prominent Russian sociologist, Lev Gudkov. Among Levada’s claim to impartiality is its ties with foreign academic heavy weights from top universities and think tanks. The Kremlin has other polling organizations, such as VTSIOM, but they are viewed as doing the bidding of the Russian government. A Levada finding of high Putin ratings is worth its weight in gold to Putin and his regime. He has decided to throw this asset to the wolves. On September 6, Putin’s Ministry of Justice classified the Levada Center a “foreign agent,” citing its foreign ties with Columbia, George Washington, and Columbia Universities and with polling organizations such as Gallup, MORI, and Ipsos. Levada stands accused of working in the interests of these foreign entities. Although the “foreign agent” label does not automatically shut down Levada, the September 6 issue of Kommersant cites Gudkov as stating “the work of our organization has been in fact stopped.” The content of the article, however, has mysteriously disappeared, meaning that the Kremlin does not want this news circulating. Moscow speaks (Govorit Moskva) confirms that Levada is appealing the foreign-agent classification and has ceased its polling work. In shutting down Levada, Putin can no longer claim high ratings confirmed by respected independent pollsters. His favorability ratings form the core of his regime. Putin could pay a high price for this move, but he has decided the benefits outweigh the costs.
With less than two weeks to go before parliamentary elections, and the ratings of the ruling United Russia party dropping fast, the Kremlin has apparently decided to shoot the messenger. The Levada Center, Russia’s only independent public opinion agency, was forced to stop work this week, a move that critics of the Kremlin read as an effort to block public perceptions that the ruling party’s popularity is plunging – even though nobody is directly disputing the highly respected organization’s findings. The Kremlin has pledged that voting on Sept. 18 will be open and transparent, so as not to lead to the kind of mass protests that erupted following allegedly fraud-tainted elections five years ago.
Thailand: Prime Minister bans discussion of Thailand draft constitution ahead of referendum | Washington Times
Thailand’s new constitution was supposed to bring at least the appearance of legitimacy and normalcy for the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. But with a month to go before a national referendum, critics and human rights activists say a law essentially banning any real discussion of the document is just the latest sign that little is likely to change two* years after Mr. Prayuth seized power in a military coup. Thailand’s Constitutional Court last week upheld a law that metes out 10 years in prison to anyone who voices an opinion — pro or con — about the government-backed draft constitution or campaigns for or against it before a nationwide Aug. 7 referendum. Monitoring of the vote by opposition groups, the United Nations or international rights activists is also blocked.
Voting Blogs: Again Before the Supreme Court: Can There Be “Issues Speech” During Campaigns? | More Soft Money Hard Law
The Supreme Court will soon decide whether to take up a major case about disclosure and this has received little attention—far less than it should. At issue is the clarification of how far government authority extends in requiring the disclosure of the financing of “issues speech”–speech or just information about candidates’ positions that does not involve engaging in advocacy of their election or defeat. There are reasons why the case might have been overlooked: it involves a small organization in a small state, and the activity concerns state and local, not federal (much less presidential), candidates. Perhaps, also, because it is “just” about disclosure, this case might be supposed to pose little danger of harm to anyone’s rights or legitimate expectations. This is serious business. As the states move along with their own reform programs, and as litigation proceeds under different standards applied by different circuits and diminishing consistency in the treatment of federal and state or local-level enactment, disclosure doctrine is losing its coherence, and key constitutional distinctions once taken for granted are being rapidly eroded. One disturbing result: the “big” and sophisticated spenders at the federal level are more protected than the “little guy” at the levels below.
Twin bills in the Alabama House and Senate would severely limit the First Amendment and the spirit of Citizens United, by limiting funds raised or spent on campaigns and issues. SB356 and HB404 Sponsored respectively by Sen. Arthur Orr and Rep. Mike Jones would, “regulate the disclosure, raising, and spending of money to influence elections and governmental actions.” Alabama’s own Shaun McCutcheon, a hero to many in the State and nation, fought the FEC over campaign giving and won in the 2014 US Supreme Court ruling “McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission,” believes full disclosure is right, but to limit how much money can be raised or spent is unacceptable.
A federal appeals court in Cincinnati Wednesday may have delivered the death knell to a 42-year Ohio election law which prohibited candidates or independent political organizations from lying in their campaigns. In a unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2014 decision by U.S. District Judge Timothy Black that the law violated political free speech guaranteed by the Constitution. In its 12-page ruling, the court of appeals concluded “Ohio’s political false-statements laws target speech at the core of First Amendment protections — political speech.”
If you enter the voting booth this November and, as a proud voter, you snap a selfie with your ballot and share it on Facebook, you could be committing a felony. Indiana’s “ballot selfie law,” which was created by state lawmakers to prevent voter fraud, made it illegal to take such photos. Whether that law will remain in place in the upcoming municipal elections is now up to a federal judge to decide. The issue of ballot selfies reached the federal court in August when the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit that says the new law, which took effect in July, is unconstitutional because it violates free speech rights. The ACLU of Indiana is asking U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker to issue an order that would prevent state officials from enforcing the law next month — and until the lawsuit reaches a resolution.
The Supreme Court said Thursday it will decide an important question on the rights of the nation’s 22 million public employees: How far do free-speech rights go in protecting a public employee who is demoted or fired over his or her perceived political affiliations? In the past, the court has said public employees have 1st Amendment rights, including the right to speak out on public issues. But lower courts are split on whether these employees are always protected from political retaliation. The justices agreed to hear an appeal from a New Jersey police detective who was demoted to walking a beat after he was seen putting into his car a large campaign sign that supported a candidate who was trying to oust the mayor of Paterson.
When Republicans and Democrats in New Hampshire cast their presidential primary votes in February, expect some to post photos with their completed ballots to Facebook and Twitter. They’ll be celebrating a newly recognized liberty in the Granite State: the right to post a “ballot selfie.” That’s because New Hampshire lawmakers last year attempted to take that right away, passing a law barring a voter from “taking a digital image or photograph of his or her marked ballot and distributing or sharing the image via social media or by any other means.” They attached a $1,000 fine to the violation. But a federal judge last month struck down the law.
Minnesota: Secretary of State Simon sides with court: no need for ‘ballot selfie’ ban | Pioneer Press
It’s a distinctly 21st Century spin on an age-old practice: excited voters mark up their ballot on Election Day — then pull out a smartphone to take and a picture of their exercise in democracy and post it to social media. These so-called “ballot selfies” are also at the nexus of a legal debate as some states try to curtail the practice but a federal judge defends it. “It’s a fascinating debate,” said Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, the state’s election supervisor. “You really better have a good reason before you clamp down on political speech.” Under Minnesota law, ballot selfies are legal — though showing a ballot to someone else in the polling place is not. If a Minnesota voter shows their ballot to someone else in the polling place, the ballot is supposed to be invalidated. The voter can receive a new ballot unless the ballot display is judged to be “clearly intentional.”
Massachusetts: Supreme Judicial Court rules ‘invalid’ 1946 law on false statements in elections | MassLive
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday ruled a state statute governing electoral publications is “invalid,” ordering dismissal of a criminal complaint against the treasurer of Jobs First Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee. The super PAC had targeted Rep. Brian Mannal, a Barnstable Democrat running for re-election, claiming in a mailer that Mannal “is putting criminals and his own interest above our families.”
A federal judge on Monday rejected Citizens United’s effort to block New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman from demanding that the conservative group disclose more information about its major donors. U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein in Manhattan refused to impose a preliminary injunction that would stop Schneiderman from requiring charities to disclose names, addresses and total contributions of big donors in order to solicit funds in the state. Citizens United argued that Schneiderman’s interpretation of a 2006 state regulation on donor disclosures violated its First Amendment free speech and association rights, and invaded the privacy of donors who wished to remain anonymous.
A federal appeals court said Delaware may enforce a state election law requiring advocacy groups that run political advertising to reveal their donors. Thursday’s 3-0 decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia reversed a lower court ruling that had favored Delaware Strong Families, a conservative-leaning group that publishes “voter guides” ahead of elections. The group objected to a 2013 state law requiring third-party advertisers to reveal their donors’ identities if they spend more than $500 in an election cycle on ads that refer to specific candidates, even if they do not recommend how to vote.
Presidential candidate Scott Walker won a major legal victory Thursday when Wisconsin’s Supreme Court ended a secret investigation into whether the Republican’s gubernatorial campaign illegally coordinated with conservative groups during the 2012 recall election. No one has been charged in the so-called John Doe probe, Wisconsin’s version of a grand jury investigation in which information is tightly controlled, but questions about the investigation have dogged Walker for months. Barring an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the ruling makes Walker’s campaign that much smoother as he courts voters in early primary states.
Key Assembly Republicans renewed their call Friday for overhauling the state’s elections and ethics board after The Wall Street Journal reported the agency had been in touch with the Internal Revenue Service as it investigated conservative groups. “Nothing should be more important than free speech and it’s outrageous that there’s a coordinated effort to undermine this basic constitutional right,” said a joint statement issued by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson). “Now that the state budget is complete, it’s time to double down on finalizing the necessary reforms for the (Government Accountability Board) so the bill can be ready for consideration this fall. Those reforms will include a means to change the way the GAB operates. The agency leadership needs to be accountable to the GAB board and the board needs to be accountable to the Legislature and the citizens of Wisconsin.”
A federal court on Tuesday upheld a longstanding prohibition on federal contractors making political contributions, handing a rare win to proponents of stronger campaign finance restrictions in an era of relaxed regulations. The 75-year-old ban applies to individuals, corporations and firms that are negotiating or working under federal contracts. While doing so, they cannot give money to federal candidates, parties or committees. The rule is predicated on the idea that such donations could be a corrupting influence. In his decision, Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, wrote that the contribution ban did not constitute a violation of free speech or the plaintiffs’ equal protection rights “because the concerns that spurred the original bar remain as important today as when the statute was enacted.”
A federal judge on Monday sounded dubious that a New Hampshire ban on posting photos of voter ballots online was a necessary safeguard against fraud in the information age. U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro heard arguments in a lawsuit brought by three people who are under investigation after they posted pictures of their ballots online, including one man who voted for his dead dog because he didn’t like any of the candidates. The American Civil Liberties Union took up their cause, saying the ban was an overreaching restriction on free speech. “I think there is a serious problem with a law that bans the dissemination of truthful, public speech related to a matter of public concern,” said Gilles Bissonnette, the legal director for the ACLU’s New Hampshire chapter. “This is actually a blanket ban on a certain kind of speech.”
Campaign finance reformers have been on a steady losing streak in the courts and Congress. But they may finally have found a champion who can elevate their cause: Pope Francis. “We must achieve a free sort of election campaign, not financed,” the Pope told an Argentine magazine in an interview released this week. “Because many interests come into play in financing of an election campaign and then they ask you to pay back. So, the election campaign should be independent from anyone who may finance it.” To drive his point home, the Pontiff added: “Perhaps public financing would allow for me, the citizen, to know that I’m financing each candidate with a given amount of money.” The Pope’s remarks come in the midst of corruption scandals in his native Argentina. But American advocates of curbing the influence of big money in politics were eager to seize on his message. “We have just gained a great new ally with a worldwide voice for public financing campaigns,” said Fred Wertheimer, founder of Democracy 21. “We greatly appreciate his words and wisdom on this subject.” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi similarly embraced the Pope’s “call for an end to the contaminating influence of money in our democracy.”
National: Supreme Court considers whether judges can directly ask for campaign donations | The Washington Post
The Supreme Court’s latest test of whether campaign contribution restrictions violate free-speech rights split the justices into familiar liberal and conservative camps. And skeptical questions from Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who probably holds the pivotal vote, did not bode well for Florida and 29 other states that forbid judicial candidates from directly soliciting campaign contributions. Such restrictions are needed, the states contend, because judges are not like other politicians. The public expects judges to be impartial, the states argue, and that perception is compromised when candidates directly ask for money. But Barry Richard, representing the Florida Bar Association, received sharp questioning from justices about whether Florida’s regulations are too porous to accomplish those goals. While candidates may not directly solicit contributions, they may organize a committee to ask for money, direct the committee toward potential contributors, see who gave and even send thank-you notes.
Maine could be a clean election bellwether for the nation, if a citizens’ initiative measure is successful this fall. The organization Maine Citizens for Clean Elections is expected on Jan. 21 to turn in a petition with far more than the 61,123 signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot in November. Under the proposal, all Maine House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates would come under the clean elections umbrella. “Maine is a leader in this,” said John Rauh, a New Castle, N.H., Democrat who ran against Judd Gregg for the U.S. Senate in 1992 and is an advocate for clean election financing. “What Maine has done is provide a model that eliminates the barrier of money to attract candidates who want to run for office.” Rauh joined BJ McCollister, MCCE program director, and Anna Kellar, MCCE southern Maine director, at an editorial board meeting with Seacoast Media Group this past Wednesday.
National: Judge candidates’ free-speech rights at issue before the Supreme Court | The Washington Post
Tampa lawyer Lanell Williams-Yulee’s 2010 campaign for Hillsborough County judge was in many ways one she might like to forget. Not only did she lose in a landslide to a longtime incumbent, she was rebuked by the Florida Bar and fined a little more than $1,800. Voters failed to find Williams-Yulee’s candidacy compelling, but the Supreme Court has taken a greater interest. Later this month, the justices will consider whether the action that got the lawyer into trouble — violating Florida’s restriction against directly soliciting contributions to judge campaigns — is instead an unreasonable constraint on Williams-Yulee’s right to free speech. Florida is among the vast majority of states that require the election of at least some judges. (Federal judges, by contrast, are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate to lifetime appointments.) But 30 states prohibit judicial candidates from directly asking for campaign contributions, in most cases leaving that work to a committee the candidate establishes.
Voting Blogs: You Can Lie in Ohio: Federal Court Strikes Down Ohio Law Banning False Political Speech | State of Elections
A federal judge in Cincinnati struck down an Ohio law which criminalizes intentionally lying in campaign ads or statements, on the books for decades in early September on First Amendment grounds. The state filed an appeal in October. The law in question makes it criminal to “[p]ost, publish, circulate, distribute, or otherwise disseminate a false statement concerning a candidate, either knowing the same to be false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not, if the statement is designed to promote the election, nomination, or defeat of the candidate,” and gives the Ohio Election Commission enforcement power. The case arose when former U.S. Representative Steve Driehaus filed a criminal complaint against anti-abortion advocacy group the Susan B. Anthony List for claiming that his support for President Obama’s healthcare plan meant he was in favor of tax-payer funded abortion. Driehaus is in fact pro-life. The Susan B. Anthony List then challenged the law’s constitutionality in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus.
A New Hampshire legislator has sued the state, arguing that a new law banning voters from displaying their marked ballots violates the First Amendment’s guarantees on free speech. The lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court in Concord, N.H., takes aim at an unusual new law passed by the state earlier this year. The law specifically bars voters from taking pictures of their ballots and posting them on Facebook or other social media sites. The law reads:
659.35 Showing or Specially Marking Ballot. I. No voter shall allow his or her ballot to be seen by any person with the intention of letting it be known how he or she is about to vote or how he or she has voted except as provided in RSA 659:20. This prohibition shall include taking a digital image or photograph of his or her marked ballot and distributing or sharing the image via social media or by any other means.
People who willfully violate the law are subject to fines of up to $1000.
You may be proud to cast your votes for particular candidates in Ohio — so proud, in fact, that you decide to take a picture of your ballot and post it on social media before mailing it in. Congratulations, you likely just committed a felony. Under Ohio laws written before anyone ever heard of Facebook and when tweets were associated only with birds, it is illegal to show off how you voted by revealing your completed ballot to someone else. The law says it is a fifth-degree felony for a voter to “allow the elector’s ballot to be seen by another … with the apparent intention of letting it be known how the elector is about to vote.” Another section of law prohibits displaying a marked ballot while in the polling place. “The idea behind it was to keep people from selling their votes,” said Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington. “I think it’s a violation of free speech.”