Author: publicpolicylegal

Some Media Stories Don’t Need Much Explaining

Some Media Stories Don’t Need Much Explaining

“The politician with the largest campaign account in Houston and Harris County — excluding self-funded mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee  has $3.6 million on hand. That exceeds the combined sums of Houston’s incumbent mayor and the Harris County judge, and all but ensures this official would be better-funded than any challenger. He has little use for it, however, because he has been dead for three years.”

From the Houston Chronicle, h/t Political Activity Law.

Despite much complaining over the fact that this makes the dead politician’s campaign account, managed by his widow, potentially a powerful player in Texas politics, there is no indication of malfeasance or failure to comply with state laws.

Why did the Supreme Court not review the campaign contributions cases?

Why did the Supreme Court not review the campaign contributions cases?

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States announced that it would not review Lair v. Mangan, No. 18-149, a challenge to Montana’s limits on campaign contributions.

Lair was brought by Jim Bopp, who has brought several important constitutional challenges to campaign law restrictions, so it was generally thought that Lair stood a better-than-usual chance of being accepted for review. The Public Policy Legal Institute filed a friend of the court brief asking the Court to review the case, as had several other attorneys who participate in the First Tuesday Lunch Group.

As usual, however, the Supreme Court did not explain why it was denying review, and no justices issued dissents to the denial. Earlier, the Court had denied review in a very similar constitutional challenge to campaign contribution limits enacted by Austin, Texas. Zimmerman v. City of Austin, No. 18-93. The Court did not explain why it denied review in that case either. So we can only speculate.

Actually, a consensus view has already formed: law professor Rick Hasen, who vigorously opposed the Petitions in Lair and Zimmerman, said: “I take this to mean that the Court does not want to wade into these controversial waters right now, not that the Court agrees with the 9th Circuit’s more permissive tests for such regulations.”

Though it doesn’t happen often, this time I agree with Rick’s analysis. The Court is being quiet in the wake of the tumultuous confirmation hearings on Justice Kavanaugh, so the timing wasn’t right to take up something highly controversial.

There are other cases in the contribution limits challenges pipeline, including one out of New York and another from Alaska, that likely will come before the Court later.

“Less Than You Think,” Fake News on Facebook in the 2016 Election

“Less Than You Think,” Fake News on Facebook in the 2016 Election

How important was “fake news,” including false social media postings, in the 2016 national elections, and who was sharing the posts? A newly-released study from Princeton and NYU professors indicates that “sharing this content was a relatively rare activity.”

The vast majority of Facebook users in our data did not share any articles from fake news domains in 2016 at all (Fig. 1), and this is not because people generally do not share links. … Sharing of stories from fake news domains is a much rarer event than sharing links overall.

The authors and many observers have focused on the study’s principal conclusion: that older readers shared “fake news” the most. Yet, despite scare quotes about how older people sent more than seven times as many fake news stories as the youngest people, the study shows that 90% of survey respondents didn’t share even one fake news story and only 8.5% shared one. Nevertheless, the authors opine that older people are less likely to have the experience with digital media to distinguish fact from truth. Niraj Chokji, a writer for the New York Times, even speculated that “Another possible explanation is that memory deteriorates with age, potentially undermining the tools people use to discern fact from fiction.” No word on whether the researchers considered the possibility that age also provides a longer experiential line against which to measure claims.

Ageism aside, there is an even greater problem with this focus on age: the researchers did not have access to what the persons who forwarded these articles actually said about the articles — positive, negative or otherwise. Perhaps older people were more prone to send comments like “what a crazy thing to say” about these fake news stories?

Even though it poses some good questions, the study’s authors seem to lean toward demonstrating some need for “interventions” to “reduce the spread of misinformation by those most vulnerable to deceptive content.”

I worry when well-meaning researchers suggest mechanisms to evaluate and moderate the spread of “misinformation.”


Classic Citizen Advocacy Produces a Win-Win in Washington State

Classic Citizen Advocacy Produces a Win-Win in Washington State

If you read some major media outlets, you may hear an endless chorus of complaints about how the little person will always lose to powerful moneyed interests. “America is not a democracy,” thunders Yascha Mounk, in the Atlantic magazine. “The levers of power are not controlled by the people,” says the professor whose website touts himself as “one of the world’s leading experts on the crisis of liberal democracy and the rise of populism.” Except that, done right, citizen advocacy is alive and well in America.

For example: A classic case of citizen advocacy produced a solution to a common exercise in today’s communities: what to do when a property developer wants to use land in a way that the surrounding community doesn’t like? In Issaquah, Washington, east of Seattle, three residents with no political experience went head-to-head against a local property developer with deep roots in their community. The result? The community has a new park, the developer “has no animus” and walked away with a satisfactory amount of money, and lots of Americans have a new understanding of the power of advocacy to affect public policy.

Their tools? As the Seattle Times says: “an army of supporters, a nearly endless string of meetings, and an 84-foot scroll of signatures.”

A glass half-full/half-empty problem, with the definition depending on perspective? Perhaps. But it’s just as likely that the problem, as defined by Prof. Mounk and others, is that their favored solutions are not, in fact, as popular or as legitimate as they think. Not that they are worse or better, but that their proponents choose force, including the use of government power to limit and mandate actions, rather the classic American forms of persuasion and education.

In other words, advocacy. Classic. It works. Still.