National Review Online misinformed about an amendment that would reinstate the ability of Congress to regulate campaign finance and counter Citizens United -- the infamous Supreme Court decision that opened the door for the super-rich and corporations to drown out average Americans in the political debate with unlimited sums of money.
On September 8, the Senate voted to debate the proposed constitutional amendment, which would re-establish campaign finance laws that the conservative justices of the Supreme Court struck down in Citizens United in 2010. That decision overturned part of the McCain-Feingold Act -- much-needed bipartisan campaign finance reforms instituted to prevent corruption of the political process and level the playing field between small donors and the wealthy -- and effectively eliminated limits for independent corporate spending in federal elections. Specifically, Citizens United radically rewrote First Amendment precedent and expanded the legal concept of "corporate personhood," with the court ultimately deciding that the political spending by corporations was constitutionally equivalent to the free speech of actual human voters. The conservative justices chipped away at campaign finance limits even further this year in McCutcheon v. FEC, which abolished direct contribution limits that worked to control the corrupting influence of multimillion-dollar donations.
Although the proposed amendment is intended to restore the First Amendment to its pre-Citizens United interpretation, right-wing media are already denouncing the Senate's attempts to stem the explosion of unregulated high-dollar donations with wild exaggerations. In a September 9 editorial, NRO complained that Democrats were planning to "repeal the First Amendment" by proposing the Citizens United amendment -- which the editorial board called "an attack on basic human rights, the Constitution, and democracy itself" -- and suggested the move would "censor newspapers and television reports." From the editors:
Senate Democrats are on the precipice of voting to repeal the First Amendment.
That extraordinary fact is a result of the increasingly authoritarian efforts of Democrats, notably Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, to suppress criticism of themselves and the government, and to suffocate any political discourse that they cannot control.
The Supreme Court in recent years has twice struck down Democratic efforts to legally suppress inconvenient speech, citing the free-speech protections of the First Amendment in both cases. Senator Reid's solution is to nullify the first item on the Bill of Rights.
The Democrats are not calling this a repeal of the First Amendment, though that is precisely what it is. Instead, they are describing the proposed constitutional amendment as a campaign-finance measure. But it would invest Congress with blanket authority to censor newspapers and television reports, ban books and films, and imprison people for expressing their opinions. So long as two criteria are met -- the spending of money and intending to influence an election -- the First Amendment would no longer apply.
The amendment that Democrats are putting forward is an attack on basic human rights, the Constitution, and democracy itself. If those who would criticize the government must first secure the government's permission to do so, they are not free people.
The New York Times did not follow the advice of its public editor, who has argued the paper should report that the type of voter fraud that strict voter ID laws are supposed to prevent is virtually nonexistent. In the two-year period between her current and past request that the paper add "the truth" to "he said, she said" coverage on voter ID and voter fraud, the Times reported the evidence on in-person voter impersonation in only 15 of 28 articles.
National Review Online is repeating the claims of conservative groups who compared voter registrations in Maryland and Virginia and flagged potential instances of "double voting" -- voters with the same name and birthdate who may have voted in both states. This method of election integrity has been discredited due to its high rate of false positives and significant risk of voter disenfranchisement.
Right-wing media are parroting local Republican officials and criticizing voter registration drives in Ferguson, Missouri, the site of intense protests after the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. Voting rights advocates argue that registering the electorate is crucial for the community to hold their government accountable, but right-wing media condemn these efforts as "liberal activism."
Myths about voter ID are reemerging in the wake of a federal judge's ruling against the government in North Carolina, a voting rights case right-wing media characterized as a "huge loss" for the Obama Administration, despite the fact that the decision is preliminary and the government has prevailed in similar cases in other states.
In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, a provision that required states with a history of suppressing the minority vote to pre-clear changes to their election laws with the Department of Justice or a federal court. Almost immediately after the decision in Shelby County, states that had been subject to the preclearance requirement, like North Carolina, began passing and implementing strict voter ID laws, an expensive fix to a problem that is essentially non-existent. Nevertheless, unnecessarily restrictive and redundant voter ID laws have become a favorite policy proposal for conservatives and right-wing media.
A recent order denying DOJ's request for a preliminary injunction against North Carolina's new voter ID requirements -- part of the "country's worst voter suppression law" -- has now given right-wing media a fresh opportunity to dredge up old misinformation about the legal struggle over these measures. Frequent National Review Online contributor Hans von Spakovsky, a vocal proponent for oppressive voter ID laws and questionable election procedures, called it "a huge loss" for Attorney General Eric Holder and the DOJ, and claimed that the judge "simply shreds the arguments by the DOJ" in the opinion:
Judicial Watch filed an expert report in the case through an amicus brief that showed that in the May 2014 primary election, black turnout was up an astounding 29.5 percent compared with the last midterm primary election in May 2010. White turnout was up only 13.7 percent. As Judicial Watch said, these results were "devastating to the plaintiffs' cases because they contradict all of their experts' basis for asserting harm."
[T]his is a significant blow to DOJ and other opponents of commonsense election reforms.
That is particularly true when one remembers that this is DOJ's second big loss in the Carolinas. South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson beat DOJ in 2012 when a federal court threw out a claim that South Carolina's voter-ID law was discriminatory. That law is in place today -- and there is a high probability that North Carolina's voter-ID requirement will also be in place in 2016 for the next presidential election.
A new report has debunked the primary voter fraud argument right-wing media have used for years to promote unnecessarily strict voter identification laws, which alienate eligible voters and often have the effect of suppressing the vote in minority and heavily-Democratic jurisdictions.
These kinds of voter ID laws, which require voters to present certain forms of ID at polling locations when attempting to vote, disproportionately affect people of color and can cost states millions of dollars to implement. But right-wing media have continued to promote them, especially since 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that prevented suppression efforts in states with a history of racially-motivated voting laws. As Ezra Klein noted on the August 6 edition of MSNBC's All In, right-wing media have consistently raised the specter of in-person "voter fraud" to justify their support for these redundant and highly restrictive voter ID laws.
But as election law experts repeatedly point out, the specific type of fraud that voter ID can prevent -- voter impersonation -- is extremely uncommon.
National Review Online contributors John Fund and Hans von Spakovksy have been at the forefront of right-wing media's push for burdensome voter ID laws, calling Texas's law "a good thing," despite the fact that voters reported being turned away from the polls. Both Fund and von Spakovsky have advocated for further gutting what's left of the Voting Rights Act, making it nearly impossible for citizens who have been prevented from voting due to needlessly cumbersome election laws to legally challenge these oppressive regulations. Fund has also downplayed how difficult it can be for citizens -- particularly people of color, women, and low-income voters -- to obtain the right kind of identification needed to vote. In response to a Pennsylvania state court case that found the state's voter ID law unconstitutional, Fund called evidence that thousands of voters lacked the proper ID nothing more than an "inflated estimate."
While evidence of widespread voter fraud has yet to surface, right-wing media figures have nevertheless insisted that "there are plenty of instances" of voter fraud and that there is "concrete evidence ... of massive voter fraud." But according to a new study by Loyola University law professor Justin Levitt, the in-person voter fraud that strict voter ID prevents is still nearly non-existent. Levitt's study, which "track[ed] any specific, credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix" found just 31 instances of this potential voter fraud between 2000 and 2014. According to Levitt, "more than 1 billion ballots were cast in that period."
Election fraud happens. But ID laws are not aimed at the fraud you'll actually hear about. Most current ID laws (Wisconsin is a rare exception) aren't designed to stop fraud with absentee ballots (indeed, laws requiring ID at the polls push more people into the absentee system, where there are plenty of real dangers). Or vote buying. Or coercion. Or fake registration forms. Or voting from the wrong address. Or ballot box stuffing by officials in on the scam. In the 243-page document that Mississippi State Sen. Chris McDaniel filed on Monday with evidence of allegedly illegal votes in the Mississippi Republican primary, there were no allegations of the kind of fraud that ID can stop.
Instead, requirements to show ID at the polls are designed for pretty much one thing: people showing up at the polls pretending to be somebody else in order to each cast one incremental fake ballot. This is a slow, clunky way to steal an election. Which is why it rarely happens.
From the August 6 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
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From the June 25 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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Conservative talk radio hosts lashed out at Mississippi Republican Sen. Thad Cochran for beating his tea party primary challenger, Chris McDaniel, with the help of votes from blacks and Democrats.
The Washington Post debunked a right-wing conspiracy theory promoted by Fox News tying the crash of former IRS official Lois Lerner's computer to a letter the IRS received from the House Ways and Means committee 10 days earlier. The Post pointed out that the letter addressed a different subject than the controversy linked to Lerner.
From the June 20 edition of Fox News' Special Report:
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Fox News helped Republican Gov. Scott Walker (WI) rehabilitate his image following newly released details on a criminal investigation into potential coordination between Walker's recall campaign and outside spending groups, dismissing allegations of wrongdoing as merely attempts "to trash him."
Documents unsealed on June 19 offered details on an extensive investigation into whether the Walker campaign was involved in a "criminal scheme" to illegally coordinate campaign activities with outside spending groups during his 2011 and 2012 recall elections.
Walker took to Fox & Friends the following day for a softball interview to respond to the allegations.
Walker repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, emphasizing that the investigation was halted by a federal judge. Co-host Steve Doocy agreed, speculating "These are documents that, for a case that does not exist anymore, it's not going anywhere, and they're just opening it up -- it looks like they're just trying to trash you." When Walker responded that the allegations detailed in the documents are nothing more than attacks by political opponents and the media, Doocy went on:
DOOCY: So the show's over, but they're trying to trash you. Are they trying to do to you what they did to Chris Christie in New Jersey?
Scott Walker, answering the charges. Not that there are any charges, just people trying to trash him.
It is true that the nearly two-year-old investigation is currently halted, and that no charges have yet been filed. But what Fox and Walker fail to admit is that the issue appears far from over. As Vox explained:
State law requires that any such nonprofits spending on election ads do so independently, without any coordination with Walker or his aides. Prosecutors are arguing that they didn't do so -- that, instead, Walker and two of his campaign consultants participated in a "criminal scheme" to "utilize and direct" the nonprofits' behavior. The investigation is being conducted under Wisconsin's unique John Doe law, which allows for many of the proceedings to be kept secret. The district attorney of Milwaukee, a Democrat, initiated the probe, but several other county prosecutors joined in, and a special prosecutor has since been appointed.
Importantly, no charges have been filed against anyone, and none appear imminent. Most of the legal wrangling so far has focused instead on whether prosecutors had probable cause to raid and subpoena documents from the consultants and nonprofit groups they believe to be involved.
It's an investigation being led by both Democrats and Republicans across five counties. In January and May 2014, a state judge and federal district court judge, respectively, ruled that prosecutors issued subpoenas without probable case during the investigation, but the state judge later stayed his own order, and the matter is currently pending before a federal appellate panel, which released the new documents at the prosecutors' request.
Fox News adoringly highlighted the story of a 92-year-old Texas woman after she started "raising a stink" about her struggle to vote under the state's new draconian voter ID law, treating her story as an isolated case and ignoring thousands of Americans disenfranchised by similar laws.
A stringent new voter ID law enacted June of 2013 in Texas obstructed the ability of 92-year-old resident Ruby Barber to cast a ballot. From the New York Daily News:
Ruby Barber, a senior citizen in the small town of Bellmead, Texas, had been unable to vote because she could not find her nearly century-old birth certificate that she'd need to obtain a voter ID under a new state law.
"I'm sure (my birth) was never reported because I was born in a farmhouse with a coal oil lamp," Barber, 92, told the Waco (Texas) Tribune. "Didn't have a doctor, just a neighbor woman come in and (delivered) me."
The host of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Martha MacCallum and reporter Casey Stegall offered glowing support for Barber and her struggle to vote, praising her plucky persistence to get back her right to vote. But Fox treated Barber's case as an isolated one -- a hiccup in an otherwise necessary policy to combat voter fraud.
The reality is that Barber represents a much larger group of Americans disenfranchised by Texas' new voter ID law where - up to 800,000 Texas voters, according to the League of Women Voters of Texas.
Fox host Steve Doocy couldn't think of one Republican "who wants to take away the right to vote," despite the frenzy of GOP-led states passing voting restriction laws and the acknowledgement of a Republican politician that the efforts are aimed to win elections.
On May 21, Fox & Friends jumped on former DNC chairman Howard Dean for reportedly stating at a campaign event in Colorado that Republicans are "not American" because they "think it's OK to win by taking away the right to vote." To co-host Steve Doocy, Dean's remarks amounted to a "new low," because no Republican "wants to take away the right to vote":
DOOCY: Excuse me, Dr. Howard Dean. Name one Republican who wants to take away the right to vote. There are Republicans who view that, you know, you should be qualified to have the vote. Only those who are registered and legitimately can vote, those are the ones who should vote. But take away the right to vote? I don't know anybody who's up to that standard.
A long-time supporter of Dinesh D'Souza, Megyn Kelly hosted the right-wing media darling after he pleaded guilty to campaign finance fraud to resuscitate the myth that his indictment was political payback.
D'Souza, who rose to right-wing media darling status after producing an anti-Barack Obama film rife with lies and outlandish claims, was indicted by federal prosecutors in January, charged with violating campaign finance laws by "arranging excessive campaign contributions to a candidate for the U.S. Senate," and allegedly reimbursing "people who he had directed to contribute $20,000" to the unnamed candidate.
After D'Souza's initial indictment, Fox host Megyn Kelly provided D'Souza a platform to push the myth that his indictment was political retribution. Kelly said the charges raised "red flags for some because D'Souza, who has pleaded not guilty, is behind the box office hit 2016: Obama's America, a film that is very critical of the president." D'Souza responded that he couldn't speak about the case specifically, but that he knows "for a fact" that Obama was personally unnerved by his film and said, "I am a public critic of the president, and I do recognize this has made me, to some degree, vulnerable to some forms of counter-attack."
Then, on May 20 D'Souza pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws and making false statements, and will be sentenced in September, facing up to two years in prison.
And still, Megyn Kelly continued to champion D'Souza, hosting him that evening to keep alive the myth that D'Souza's indictment was political retribution. Kelly asked D'Souza whether his guilty plea was what the Obama administration "wanted all along," and highlighted people who claimed that the prosecution was political, asking "is this about Dinesh D'Souza or is this about upholding campaign finance laws?" During the interview, Kelly again hid the fact that Fox News had aggressively pushed the myth that D'Souza's indictment was political payback for his criticism of Obama: