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State of Washington sues Facebook and Google over failure to disclose spending (techcrunch.com)
488 points by confiscate 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 205 comments



The numbers reported strike me as very small (I buy digital political ads for work). Especially 1.1mm in 2016 for FB statewide strikes me as tiny!

Looking at official candidate committees for Senate+Congress only in '16 is close-ish to 30mm raised (1). Plus PACs, 501c3/4s, any Presidential spend on top, I would guess double that at least. Even if 50mm total spend that would be only 2% spent on FB which seems really low, based on a low spend estimate.

I wonder where they got these numbers...

[1] https://www.opensecrets.org/races/election?cycle=2016&id=WA


Doesn't matter; every penny must be accounted for when it comes to political spending. Failure to account is literally the corruption which is rotting the foundation of our democracy.

I'm personally applauding Washington for taking this bold move, as both Facebook and Google have Seattle-area offices which they will likely not want to close. Washington and Oregon tend to act alike, and both Facebook and Google have not just offices in Oregon, but datacenters too, with the Prineville and The Dalles facilities respectively.

Edit: You want pseudonymous/anonymous/corporate speech in politics? Form a PAC and donate to it. That's what PACs are for. Might as well stand for "Pseudonyms, Anons, and Corporations", am I right?


Anonymous speech (for individuals) is also central to a functioning republic democracy.


But relatedly, money being treated as speech is antithetical to a functioning republic democracy.


Citizens United discussions are a bit of a flamewar trap.

So if you're reading this, instead of down voting everyone on the other side or yelling about democracy in a reply, I'd just urge you to leave this site of random pseudo anonymous opinions, and maybe go somewhere else to learn a little about the case instead.

Radiolab's More Perfect does a great job of providing the backstory:

https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/citizens-united/

The oral arguments on Oyez have even more back and forth if you like, including I think even a few arguments and turns Radiolab missed.

I think you can leave that episode with either opinion about the finding. But either way you'll leave that episode smarter, which seems like a hackery sort of value.

Quick, before it all devolves further, fly you fools!


The Radiolab episode is good, I agree, but they take some grand leaps of faith to accomplish covering ‘both sides’.

I think the problem is that this isn’t a philosophical question. It’s an ethical one. But, the only way to be ‘fair and balanced’ is to purport it as philosophical.


What an odd indictment of republic democracies.


Money is not speech, and courts do not treat it as such. The most famous recent case, Citizens United didn't even flirt with the notion. (Despite much commentary to the contrary, apparently from people who didn't read the decision.)

Money does, however, enable speech, and restrictions on things which enable us to exercise fundamental rights is at least potentially a restriction on that right. That's the framework the Supreme Court used.

If you disagree, consider: Pick a right you quite like (gun ownership, abortion, speech, voting in an election, etc.). Clearly a law banning that activity outright, or severely restricting it ("you can't obtain an abortion", "you can only speak in favour of Trump", "you can't own a handgun", "you can only vote for the Democratic candidate") would be absurdly illegal. It follows that a law preventing you from spending money on that right ("you cannot pay for an abortion", "you cannot spend money on criticising Trump", "you can't purchase a handgun", "you can't spend money travelling to the polls unless voting for a Democrat") would also be illegal (if severe enough at least).

The scope in which government can make your ability to exercise fundamental rights more difficult is non-zero, but sharply proscribed (witness the long string of court decisions striking down red state abortion laws).

It's possible that the restriction at stake in Citizens United was so minor that it should have been permissible, but I take your argument to be that it was anything but minor. In which case, the restriction probably was unconstitutional. In the US system, speech is protected, and (like it or not!) political speech is the most protected form. Any law which meaningfully impacts any real person's ability to speak about politics is presumptively unconstitutional, by design. And the more meaningful the restriction, the more that applies.


That's an interesting frame. And I think it works out given a pretty fair playing ground.

The whole point of free speech is to prevent single origin messages. To promote more ideas and perspectives. And prevent people from shutting up opposite views.

But the constitution isn't perfect. Its hard to make sure your hard rules will work for all context.

I think in this case, there's a fear that now that money is getting more and more disproportionate and concentrated into a single origin. The power to speak will follow into that same disproportionate single origin.

Maybe free speech still enables all to speak, but the uneven distribution of money causes some to speak much louder. So the question is, could this be detrimental to democracy? Is it possible it hurts our political ability to focus on what trully matters to most and to come up with the best ideas on how to effectively get it?

I don't know, its hard to say. Maybe we need some simulations. But if it were true, then clearly something should be done to address this loophole. Forcing transparency into who spent the money is one possible solution. Maybe you could cap out money each one can spend to speak. There's probably other ways also.


Money forces people to listen which is inherently very different from speech.

And there are plenty of laws limiting speech for example in schools. So, outright limiting say TV advertising would be completely constitutional and have the side effect of limiting exactly the types of speech you're talking about without constitutional issues.


I hope this isn't considered devolving the thread but that episode of Radiolab mentioned above certainly made it seem, to me, the issue was about censoring movie makers.

If you're on the left you more likely than not like Michael Moore movies. They are often very political. Should they be banned? That was the topic that came up in Radiolab.

Citizens United, inspired by Michael Moore's movies, decided they wanted to do the same thing. Someone decided Citizens United didn't have the same rights to release movies with a political message as Michael Moore and the studios that funded and distributed his movies. The Supreme Court I think saw the problem. Where does it end? Is Transformers political speech? Is Sense8 political speech? Is Milk?

I don't know how to solve the issue of getting money out of politics but I can at least see the argument that deciding which movies are political and which are not is not as easy as it sounds. Maybe Michael Moore's movie should have been prevented from release within N months before the election? I think that was the actual law used to prevent Citizen's United's movie coming out even though Moore's came out within the same type of time frame before an election.


So how do you get your message out without spending money? Do you only consider it freedom of speech if no one has a chance of hearing you? Spending money is how people with novel ideas expose it to more people and can hope to compete against established ideas that don’t need to be marketed.


Stopping the treatment of money as speech doesn't ban money, it just means it has to be spent transparently.


Actually that’s exactly what it would do. Citizens United was about the government banning a film because it was illegal campaign spending.


No, banning money would make campaign spending illegal for any reason.


So you’re fine with the government telling you it’s illegal to distribute a movie?


What do my feelings have to do with what the current law says?


Presumably, you’re telling me what you think the law ought to be. As far as the law is currently concerned, spending is protected as speech.


I did mean "used to be", you're right. I was saying that pre Citizens United money was not banned, it was regulated. There is a huge difference.


Personal face to face communication does not cost money. So, the only thing being banned is paying other people to do something for you which does not seem like speech to me.

Further, there are many options out there which don't involve spending money to spread a message. Write a book and you can be paid to spread your message. If don't have the time a YouTube commentator can also get paid as can bloggers etc.

Granted saying ideas that can't spread virally can't spread at all may not be great. But, it does offer some forms of protection and IMO is more in spirit with the core idea of Democracy.


Protection against persuasion?


Propaganda works on different principles than persuasion. Repeat stuff enough and just about anything starts to sound reasonable.

This is used by just about everyone, "Save the Whales!" and "Think of the Children!" are calls to action without support. They boil down to "Do this!" as a slogan and it works.

Propaganda can also frame issues, saying "Job Creators!" ignores the demand side of the equation. Without revenue companies will fire people, but the people doing the firing are still defined as "Job Creators!" Use automation and replace 1/2 the workforce with robots and their "Creating high paying jobs in automation!" It's not about changing people's minds it's about changing how people think.

Trickle down at least pretends to have an argument. This is closer to a religious. "We must appease the people on high that make everything work, (with tax breaks or whatever)"


> So how do you get your message out without spending money?

You use the fact people who won't listen unless you spend money won't hear your message.

> Spending money is how people with novel ideas expose it to more people and can hope to compete against established ideas that don’t need to be marketed.

It's also how you mix and dilute your idea into an ocean of meritless crap that nobody would care about unless someone spent money to have the likes of Facebook and Google shout it at them.

It particularly cements the idea that the only way to get novel (usually you'd aim for "good") ideas heard is by paying money to Facebook, Google or that other big media conglomerate (where their money buys "nation-wide local" "news").

Problem is, people with the good novel ideas are usually not the parties with a lot of money (because both are statistically rare).

And that means that the parties with a lot of money will decide which people get heard at all. Regardless whether they have good ideas, novel ideas, or even remotely plausible ideas.


What if people are not upset about spending money on the activity of lobbying, or getting your message out, or spending money traveling to D.C. ?

They could be upset about paying money directly or indirectly to the poiticians.

i.e. perhaps it is fine spending money trying to lecture politicians, but not giving the money to politicians and policymakers.


That’s already heavily restricted. You can only give a few thousand to each candidate per election cycle. The problem is that then you have arms-length third-party organizations (Super PACs) that, by virtue of not coordinating with the candidate they support, are able to spend unlimited amounts of money. And the candidates know who donates to those, so once in office, they know who to reward, just as if the donations were made directly to them.

Honestly, I think the best system is to just allow unlimited donations directly to candidates, with full disclosure.

Money isn’t actually that much of a problem in my opinion. Look at how much Jeb spent in the primaries, only to get savaged by Trump, who spent barely anything.

The general control of politics by the “rich and powerful” isn’t because they spend money on campaigns, it’s because the social class represented by them, the top 20% (college-educated professionals, typically working in large urban areas), controls culture, media, ideas, and expertise. Regulatory capture doesn’t happen because of corruption, but because the people with the expertise tend to be the ones who work in the industry being regulated.


I'm going to need a citation that 20% of the US population are college-educated professionals. Any way you want to slice it: of voting-age, registered, or that actually went to vote.

I'm actually curious what is the real percentage, but it's got to be way less than 20%. You surround yourself with people like you, but there's a lot of people and the world is big.


> I'm going to need a citation that 20% of the US population are college-educated professionals. Any way you want to slice it: of voting-age, registered, or that actually went to vote.

Per the US Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey, at least 27.24% of the voting-age (18+) population has at least a Bachelor's degree. That’s based on the number from the Over 25 population meeting that description divided by the whole over-18 population; for some reason they only report a count of over-25 with at least a bachelor's degree. [0]

Turnout increases significantly with education [1], so the share of the actually voting population with such a degree must be even higher.

So, you were right to suspect 20% was way off—just in the wrong direction.

[0] (Description page) https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/voting-a...

(Data table) https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/demo/tables/voting/...

[1] http://www.electproject.org/home/voter-turnout/demographics


Lots of people with bachelors degrees don’t have professional jobs.


Have you lobbied? Testified? Written to any of your representatives?

Does't cost much. Is pretty effective.

Huge sums of money is really only needed for GOTV and propaganda.


“Propaganda” is just a pejorative way of describing attempts to persuade people of something you don’t like.

Please explain how the actions you list have any chance of successfully promoting anything but already popular ideas.

And would it be okay for Fox News or CNN to engage in propaganda, and spend billions of dollars on it, as long as it’s under the guise of journalism? Are judges going to start ruling on what is propaganda and what is news?


So you haven't lobbied?

I encourage you to head to your closest legislative body (city hall, county council, state legislature), just to see what they're doing. (In person.) If something's on the agenda that piques your interest, sign-in to speak.

Then keep doing it.

There's got to be something under discussion that warms your belly. Once you find it:

Call any of your reps (city, county, state, federal) and ask for a 5 min appointment. Show up with a one pager summary of your position. Show up, say "Hi!", thank them for their service (even if you don't mean it), hand them your paper, tell them why your issue is important to you. See what happens.

Or just figure out when your locals are doing public meetings, town halls, events. Just show up, see what other people are working on. For example, my state reps have a joint monthly beer & hotdog event. Maybe 20-50 people show up (depending on the weather) and talk about whatever. I love just eavesdropping, seeing what people are working on.

Then take it to the next level. Find your allies. Get them to support your position. For instance, you could have your local party (whatever flavor) pass resolutions, which you then bring to your reps, to demonstrate support for your position.

Policy work is a tough marathon. But anyone can do it. Just hang out, note who gets things done, copy their methods. Camp Wellstone has a road show for activist training, which is fantastic. Many many other orgs do the same.

Good luck.


That’s all great, but if your ideas are anathema to what the major political forces want, then it’s not going to work. Sometimes you have to take your case to the people.


Dude. I feel like you need a bro hug more than advice. Don't despair.

My friends work on and have milestone achievements on marijuana legalization, marriage equality, campaign financing, DREAM ACT, family leave, increasing the minimum wage, etc, etc.

The biggest impact any of us can have is on the local level. The cliche is that states are incubators of democracy. Well, cities are the incubators of states.

While the federal government is AWOL, it's left a huge vacuum, which many states, counties, cities have chosen to fill.

The opportunities have never been more insurmountable (h/t Yogi Bera).


Oh, the irony of defending Google and Facebook's right to protect anonymity!


> Anonymous speech (for individuals) is also central to a functioning republic democracy.

How about you worry about the low-hanging fruit first: the 50/50 problem.

You might as well NOT have a democracy if the outcome of elections is artificially/politically restricted to be as close to 50/50 as possible.

You know the saying, "democracy is not perfect but it's still better than all the alternatives"?

50/50 is a failure mode of democracy.

All of the ways that democracy is better than the alternatives fall apart unless you fix this first: It's the largest possible minority that is unhappy with the outcome (50%). And it's the easiest to corrupt and manipulate behind the scenes: Any corrupt influence can easily tip the scales one way or another, creating a huge incentive for having this alternate battle field that doesn't have much to do with the will of the people at all.

You can have your anonymous speech once you get your democracy back on track. Talk about throwing the horse before the bus. You can't dispose of a round baby when you have a square kitchen sink.


i see nothing noble about enabling anonymous fronts for billionares to push stuff like fake grassroots movements.


How about forcing lists of donors to, say, a labor activist being used to create 'no hire' lists?

What about anyone funding a tenancy advocacy organisation being added to a 'do not rent to this person' list?

What about people funding pro-choice organisations being added to 'unchristian lists' so christian employers check if their beliefs coincide.

The potential abuses of forcing disclosure for all donations are considerable.


I very much agree, and this is not even a "hypothetical." This kind of stuff happens all the time. A high profile one that people here might remember is Brendan Eich and the Prop 8 stuff.


I do not know the law around this but it seems reasonable to distinguish between a ten dollar individual donation and a ten million dollar individual donation. Doing so would address much (perhaps all?) of the legitimate concerns you raise.


> Doesn't matter; every penny must be accounted for when it comes to political spending. Failure to account is literally the corruption which is rotting the foundation of our democracy.

I can see that laws should be followed. But from a moral point of view your outrage seems overblown.

(Eg first-past-the-post is much more damaging to your democracy than a penny here or there.)


And here in thinking that this is a free speech issue. It seems to me that this law is unconstitutional. I don't have an issue with having to track tv ads, as they air over a public spectrum. But as on other media shouldn't be restricted. I wonder if this issue will come down to that?


Internet is also publicly available. Even if you'd argue that home connection costs $$$, internet is available for free in libraries. It's as public as TV, which is frequently paid too.


The internet is definitely not public. Its a mass cooperation of private organizations.

The airwaves are actually viewed as a collectively owned resource that is managed by the government. You own a slice of spectrum in a somewhat real way. You dont own any part if the internet except your home networking equipment.


Campaigns already have to report expenditures. But I can understand how some voters want to see where the $ goes, since expenditures only get reported outbound (only 1 step). E.g. pay your consultant 100k, consultant does ___ with the money.


We're seeing a very similar thing pan out in the UK. Political donations over a small value have to be reported, and there are severe limitations on political advertising (no TV adverts outside the "party political broadcast" framework).

But. Northern Ireland, due to its history of political violence, does not require the origin of donations to be reported. Therefore someone "laundered" a >£500k donation through the DUP to the Brexit Leave campaign.

This also ties into the ongoing "fake news"/Facebook/Cambridge Analytica inquiry; how much stuff was posted to Facebook on behalf of whom that should have been considered advertising, and how was it paid for? Dominic Cummings is currently refusing to answer questions to a parliamentary committee, on the grounds that he's already being investigated by the police and the ICO.


Have you had any ads pulled from either platform recently?


Pulled like banned or reduced budgets? No. If anything there are some small campaigns we normally wouldn't work for (to small) that are against deadlines but didn't get their FB paperwork done (new rules for political ad buying)


> At least some of the many payments making up these results are not properly documented, and from the looks of it, this could amount to willful negligence. If a company is operating in a state and taking millions for political ads, it really can’t be unaware of that state’s disclosure laws.

Seems to be overstating the case just a tad. Less than a million, in total, for Google at least. That's two or three engineer-years. It's substantially below the noise threshold.

I mean, Google should comply, yes. No question. But I don't really see any evidence that the failure to comply was willful. It looks like instead the requests of the two gentlemen cited in the suit simply didn't make it to the right people.


OTOH, if Google did not willfully fail to follow the law, does that mean they are simply incompetent? Local TV stations find a way to pay attention enough to comply, but Google can't?


I'm thinking willful incompetence.


Is that a legal concept?



Yes, that makes sense to me. Local businesses are much more likely to know the local laws. Google is everywhere, covering thousands of local places. It'd be hard to know all the different regulation.


> Google is everywhere, covering thousands of local places. It'd be hard to know all the different regulation.

And that's why you hire an army of compliance officers, which is what Google already has. There is no excuse.


So what? They’re still responsible for complying with the law.


Following the law isn't black and white. I'm sure each of us as individuals broke the several times today without even knowing it.


Yea, but each of us aren't multibillion dollar corporations significantly influencing governments.


"Some people speed" is not an excuse for violating arbitrary laws, including speed limits.

Google is still responsible for their actions, just like you and me.


Google is also an order of magnitude bigger than a local TV station. They have no excuse.


On the other hand, a local TV station only needs to know and comply with the election laws of their own city. Google needs to know and comply with the local laws of every city in the world.


This isn’t even remotely compelling. Companies have to comply with local laws. “We’re too big to follow the rules” is no excuse.

If you need an example (which you should not) I worked for a small (~100 employee) phone company and we complied with all tax laws nationwide at a federal, state, county and municipality level. That’s a lot of regulation. It was a lot of work. We did it. What’s Google’s excuse?


Yes it is an excuse. Having to comply with all these regional laws to run an ad service has a chilling effect on speech. A small or large one, depending on compliance costs.


A chilling effect on running an ad service, maybe. Following the law is a cost of doing business.


A specific sales tax on newspapers is also cost of doing business. But it is unconstitutional. Making the law really complicated so that it's expensive to follow is the same thing. How can I make an online community and sell ads profitable (like some people I know that ran profitable forums) if I have to vet ads and follow laws of fifty states? The result of such laws being enforced is, these online communities cease to exist, and people aren't able to talk to each other.


The same law Google is accused of not following also applies to newspapers. Are you saying the law is unconstitutional? Is it still ethical for Google to not comply with a law because they believe it is unconstitutional? If this is the case why has Google not offered this defense? Is this a viable defense for breaking other laws?

It looks to me like Google knew what they were doing, knew what the penalties could be and decided it was worth it.


This is the whole point of outsourcing your ads to a company like Google, since they do it at scale they are able to do the due diligence of making sure the ads follow the law. That's one of the things you are paying them for.


I think you're understating this potential breach in law. This isn't a local law of some city in the world - it is a state law in the country these companies were founded in.

And it isn't some odd law that the company would easily forget about - FB and Google both get their revenue from advertising, and political advertising disclosure laws are pretty common. While Washington might have some stricter rules, I'd expect the companies to have a division working on compliance.


> It's substantially below the noise threshold

It would appear the amount of money appears to be relatively unimportant.

Don't forget the whole brewhaha over the measily $47k [1] of Facebook ads purchased by Russian agents.

The new base-model SUV that changed the world.

[1] https://techcrunch.com/2017/11/01/russian-facebook-ad-spend/


> Less than a million, in total, for Google at least. That's two or three engineer-years.

Your estimates are not based on average salary anywhere that I'm familiar with.


Not salary, employee costs. But yeah, 250k$ salaries for engineers are uncommon even at Google.


>It looks like instead the requests of the two gentlemen cited in the suit simply didn't make it to the right people.

I read the legal complaint against Google. If hand delivering a letter to the physical office is not good enough then fire the receptionist and lock the doors.

I'm sick of pretending like not knowing the right way to contact a company that hide from the public is the fault of the person attempting to contact the company.


With gdpr, I came to realize that (for better or worse) the internet is transitioning from a place outside of the law to a place subject to the union of all laws.


The Internet transitioned from a place that felt very 'underground' in the 80s/90s to this advertiser/data driven retain-every-piece-of-user-data world. It has moved from something that was sort of decentralized to something that is very centralized, particularly in the hands of large companies, so now we need laws to constrain those companies.


While that may be true in theory, in practice your last sentence should say "constrain all companies".


This sort of issue has cropped up since there started being commercial activity on the internet. If you try to start a company like ebay, you'll learn that means complying with every relevant local, national, and international law, for any item it's possible to sell, and updating the rules every times they change.


What do you mean ? Ebay isn't even subject to normal sales tax in Australia yet (will happen this July).

I mean it's changing, but these multinational companies have "bypassed" (ignored and gotten away with) normal sale laws for various reasons in so many ways.


It's true that they've bypassed some taxes in some locales, but they still have ended up with a giant list of rules about the sale of sports memorabilia, weapons, human bodyparts, and so on. Their help actually links to some international laws if you take a peek.


For a company a large part of being subject to laws is to hire lawyers to help you navigate them.

Similar to physical laws and hiring engineers.


Not in this case. 99% of what you find on ebay should be subject to import compliance rules, import tax, and sales tax for the place where the buyer lives. Same for Amazon. They are slowly giving in on 1 of those 3.

Ebay and Amazon have always claimed that any transaction happening on their systems was akin to selling your grasmower to your neighbor. Because, as far as they knew, that was what's happening. They only introduce buyer and seller and have nothing to do with what happens next.

Perhaps this was a semi-reasonable assumption before ebay got into accepting payments (and created several billion dollar companies with that act). For Amazon, I don't understand how this was ever accepted, but I'd bet a great deal of money Jeff Bezos somehow had assurances this interpretation was going to stick. It would have been very, very painful otherwise.

I'm pretty sure no lawyer in 1995 (or now) would have advised you in writing that this is a reasonable approach to take.


Out of curiosity, how does political ad spending work in the US?

It seems that TFA hints at the fact that political ad funding is public and requires proper recordkeeping. Does that mean that when someone sees "This message paid by friends of Mr. Foo", one can write to the TV/radio/website and request more information about "friends of Mr. Foo?"


Kinda sorta. Political campaigns and some large organizations are required to report their spending and donations, and, as a separate thing, advertisements may be required to identify themselves.

The State of Washington, though, as well as the City of Seattle, have somewhat unusual laws that requires substantially more. They have a law on the books aimed at TV channels and newspapers requiring that all political ad spending be disclosed in full by the companies that sold the advertising. Like, totally. And the records basically need to be available for immediate public inspection. So in theory you should be able to walk into a newspapers office and ask to see the big book of political advertising purchases and see exactly who spent how much and exactly what they bought.

What does that mean for companies like Facebook? It's hard to say! I live in Seattle and there's been a fun bit of ongoing drama when a reporter for our local paper, "The Stranger," thought to try it out and simply walked into the Facebook and Google offices and asked to see the books. It's been a fun bit of local political news drama for a while now, and it's just escalated a bit.

Here's a link to all of the recent pieces by the original investigator of all this: https://www.thestranger.com/authors/12168/eli-sanders

Here's Seattle's law: https://library.municode.com/WA/seattle/codes/municipal_code...

The important bit that everybody's gonna fight over what it means is this: "Each commercial advertiser that has accepted or provided political advertising during the election campaign shall maintain open for public inspection...The exact nature and extent of the advertising services rendered."


How does an ad seller know whether an ad buy is "political"? Requiring the seller to keep records seems reasonable, but requiring the seller to make records, does not. That is, an ad seller ought not be expected to know which incoming buys are political. That ought to be the responsibility of the buyer/"creatives" to declare.


Because the buyers are all registered political entities: candidates' campaigns, political action committees, etc. It's illegal for a "regular person" to go buy political ads and not register with the state.


That sounds like an outrageous First Amendment violation.


No one is stopping that person from buying anything; they just have to register first.


So if you don't register, your free speech is abridged. The first amendment doesn't say you have to register before you are given free speech.


I don't know what to tell you, other than that the Public Disclosure Commission and the Fair Campaign Practices Act have been Washington state law since the early 1970s.


I don't know what to tell you either, but the authors of the First Amendment had some pretty strong ideas on the subject about 200 years before that. They didn't seem quite as ambivalent on the subject as most people here. I wonder why?


Is a law prohibiting me from secretly giving an elected official a briefcase full of one million dollars constitutional? If so, why is it not the same if there's a law that says I can't secretly provide $1,000,000 in services to the same elected official in the form of political advertising?

The authors of the U.S. Constitution had some pretty strong ideas on the idea of bribery; in fact, it's explicitly listed in Article 2, Section 4 as an impeachable offense. The public has a right to know when its politicians and government officials are receiving money (or goods and services) from outside entities.


You also can't hand out legal or medical advice without being registered. Is that a violation of free speech?


You can't? There's literally a subreddit called "legaladvice". Someone should tell them.

You can't claim to be an attorney or a doctor if you're not one, but as far as I know that's the limit of any restrictions.


Does it?

- it’s barely outrageous - doesn’t seem to be about the first amendment - nor is it much of a violation


Something about "making no law abridging the freedom of the press."

What other forms of speech would you, personally, like to see require government registration?


How about: any claim to be a medical professional, law enforcement officer, or attorney?

(I’m sure there’s more, but those come immediately to mind.)


That would fall under the category of fraud, which is not considered protected speech.

Political speech, on the other hand, is exactly what the framers of the Constitution had in mind. You cannot have a participatory democratic republic without it, any more than you can defend one without arms.

Disagree? Great, there's a process in place for amending the Constitution. We should either follow the process or follow the document. Those are the only legitimate options.


Good point. See the Federalist Papers, by Publius.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pseudonyms_used_in_the...


Eli Sanders, the journalist who sparked these lawsuits, wrote a great article with far more details here: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2018/06/04/26941316/faceboo...


How many of the funders breached federal or state mandated limits on spending? I ask, because in the "brexit" circumstances it becomes clear the "leave" campaign eggregiously breached the declared public advertising spending limits through use of indirect/third-party funding channels who did placement in social media.


This isn't strictly illegal in the U.S. due to the Citizens United decision. Because of free speech blah blah blah I can spend an unlimited amount of money for a cause or canidate as long as I don't coordinate with that campaign.


And apparently the definition of "coordinate" is quite flexible. E.g.: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/here-are-the-secret-...

In practice, I'm not sure sufficiently rich people face any practical limits in influencing elections.


They don’t because of the first amendment. A person is allowed to influence the election as much as they can. There is no difference between HBO broadcasting Bill Maher into millions of home and Bill Maher paying for YouTube ads.

You can’t even differentiate between people and corporations. Because otherwise the government could tell the New York Times to stop writing articles against trump. After all they are a for profit corporation.

It’s a tough spot.


This is a very specific and recent interpretation of the first amendment. Your theory that no nuance is possible does not match how the constitution is applied in general, or even how that amendment is dealt with specifically, both historically and currently. For example, defamation is still illegal, even if you do it to influence an election. Campaign finance limits have been weakened, but still exist and are enforced. It also doesn't wipe out other speech crimes, like fraud, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice, even if they're part of a campaign.

It's not a particularly tough spot except from the perspective of very strong textual literalism.


I completely disagree. Placing a flat limit of $1000 per person per tax year, and only allowing actual people to contribute should not have any negative effects on free speech.


They aren't contributing to the compaign - Citizens United was about spending money on your own advertising. You are allowed to buy whatever airtime you want to say whatever you want.

If you happen to want to say something nice about one candidate or mean about another in the airtime you bought it's hard to argue that's not covered by free speech rights.

You can argue that this has perverse effects - but the courts have consistently held that free speech has wide latitude even when it has negative effects. Exceptions are extremely limited and the harm has to be immediate and direct.


Citizens United made and sold a documentary. There's no difference between that and HBO, spending limits are ultimately an attack on independent media and new media.


If you equate money spent on political advertising with votes (which I believe has strong empirical support), then failure to regulate inevitably devolves democracy into plutocracy.

Assuming that's not desired, the question then becomes how best to balance free speech with equalizing commercial political speech.


And according to the Supreme Court, many times over, the very purpose of the first amendment is to protect speech, and the most important form of speech to protect is political speech.

Yes, there are downsides to unfettered speech, but freedom means having to let other people do things I don't like, and in exchange, I can do things they don't like.

If the problem is that money can buy unlimited federal power, then you can limit the federal powers available for purchase without curtailing the freedom of the citizenry to engage in political speech as they choose.


> If the problem is that money can buy unlimited federal power, then you can limit the federal powers available for purchase without curtailing the freedom of the citizenry to engage in political speech as they choose.

This is an excellent point.


Actually it isn't.

(a) The money has an outsized power to argue for an increase in available powers as I said upthread since I couldn't reply here.

(b) Democracies seem to work better and more stably when votes make a difference. If there's a full house of people wanting to shift in a certain direction the democratic principle is that the shift in that direction should happen. Otherwise democracy becomes a sham and its institutions shed trust. This creates precisely the atmosphere for antidemocratic or unliberal people to gain power. If you can vote for someone who supports your views but they can't implement them while they're operating in the system, why not vote for someone who supports your views and is willing to ignore the system to get it. And what will all checks and balances do in that environment!

If you like liberal government (in the traditional sense not the partisan sense), the most effective way to get it is to encourage liberal preferences in the electorate.


Your response assumes that without the federal government doing something, nobody will do it, but that misses the fact that we have 50 state governments and DC perfectly capable of regulating themselves.

Past that, local elections already matter more in one's day to day life than federal elections, and those votes will have even more value as the role of the states grow.


It doesn't assume that - it assumes that if it's bad when the federal government gets involved with something, it's equally bad when the state government gets involved.

For instance, this thread is about a state pursuing large tech companies on what can be described as free speech violations.

But I've never seen anyone argue that it's okay for a state government to ban free speech, but it's not okay for the federal government.


> it assumes that if it's bad when the federal government gets involved with something, it's equally bad when the state government gets involved

Which in my opinion is a broadly false assumption, and ignores the very point of a federal republic, which is federalism. People in different states have different cultures, different norms, different geographies, different natural resources, different pastimes, different porn habits, different cuisines, etc.

State legislatures are closer to their voting populace than federal legislatures, and thus, people's interests can be more directly reflected by voting more locally.

I agree that a state trampling on your rights is functionally no better than if a federal government does so, but you have more recourse against a state government doing so, more opportunities for remedy, and more ways in which to steer the ship right where those violations are regular.


But then you're need a person who believes in women's rights to believe they stop at some arbitrary line on a map -- because American states are more like American counties than European states -- and also that anyone who believes in pro life to believe that fetal rights stop at some arbitrary line on a map. To the extent that there is competition and variety in laws there are also pressures and powers to make them homogeneous again.

As for having better oversight of state governments compared to federal governments, I think the US, Canada and Australia (i.e. all the major English-speaking federations and therefore the extent of my knowledge) have had significant problems with corruption at a state level but not so significant problems with corruption at a federal level.

Federal systems have important roles especially when -- unlike in the US -- the state borders reproduce cultural or settlement boundaries. But empirically this role is not a protection of rights. If the federal government needs more members of congress to function right, you can't say "oh we've got state governments" -- you've just gotta increase the size of congress. (FWIW, some states like California also need to take this lesson.) And if you need to protect rights, the only place to do that is in the public sphere and the community mind. Every other option might be easier but they're also much more short sighted.


> But then you're need a person who believes in women's rights to believe they stop at some arbitrary line on a map

Not so. I'm not advocating the elimination of the federal government, nor am I advocating for a reduction in the role of the courts. The 14th amendment exists, incorporates the inalienable rights in the constitution against the states, and I believe that is just and true.

That said, yes, there are logical, rational disputes on what rights allow one to do or not do, and yes, those rights are treated differently within arbitrary geographical boundaries. This is true today. There are people in jail right now for marijuana possession because they got caught with it in the wrong state, but that pales in comparison to the number of people who were jailed for marijuana because its illegality was imposed upon them by federal decree. Similarly so with immigration, gun rights, and a variety of other topics.

The law isn't settled on every subject, and there are often reasonable interpretations by well-meaning people in either direction. Having the federal government set policy clearly doesn't solve for every edge case, and I maintain that if you are caught up in a "bad place" by an interpretation of rights that disfavors you, it's a lot easier to relocate from say, California to Arizona (or vice versa) than to have to abandon America because it disfavors your rights.

If, for example, states were allowed to implement current TSA procedures as they preferred, you would likely have states competing on rubrics of security, while others competed on efficiency, or perhaps traveler friendliness. Now, instead of alienating travelers from abroad from visiting America, perhaps they are only alienated from flying into certain states.

As for the corruption angle, again, I'm not proposing we abolish the federal government, merely reduce its workload so that it can function better as a watchdog over the states to prevent and squash corruption. Having better representation locally and federally is of course a good thing, and especially so as it better empowers the adversarial system to hone in on those things that we all do agree upon, and protect those rights from being infringed upon.

Lastly, I'm not suggesting that it's a silver bullet, and that any of my ideas "solve" America, but I do think they improve upon the checks and balances that we're used to having, and allow for more freedom within American borders than we currently have, and more insulation from the legal interpretations of presidents as they are elected, and I think that's a net good.


How would you see greater recourse and more opportunity for remedy at the state level?


You have better representation. Federally, my Senator represents ~3 million constituents, while my House representative represents ~800k. At the state level, those numbers shrink from 3 million to 120,000, and from 800k to 40k.

If you live in a state that really believes in state representation, like New Hampshire or Vermont, then your representative likely only has 3 or 4 thousand constituents.

This means I can pop into their office and lodge complaints or show support in person, am more likely to talk to them in town halls, and I'm competing with fewer letters or phone calls for access. I've spoken in person to my state representatives many times on a variety of issues, but I've never gotten better than a (very much delayed) form letter from my federal representatives.

Past that, in many municipalities, your judges and DAs are often elected, meaning you have influence over the course and nature of their platforms. If you want to see criminal justice reform, less qualified immunity for police officers, etc., you have far more capacity for influence over state and local legislatures than you do at a federal level.


That's true and fair.

I suppose my counterpoint would come from the outsized effect "national level" money can have when it randomly falls on local elections (e.g. $50M on the GA-6 [1] for a special term that only ran until this year).

It seems like there's a certain "supported by people outside of our community" distaste to mega-funding, but I'm not going to kid myself and imagine it's irrelevant either.

I think I'd agree with you more if there were greater voter turnout.

But then, my ideal democracy is a minimal, voter-defense-esque test to register to vote + voting days as holidays + tax rebate for voting. Essentially, everything you could do to increase turnout of informed voters.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia%27s_6th_congressiona...


To be fair, the "national level" money would likely have to be split 50 ways anyway, as any national level events worth lobbying for would likely affect all the states, to varying degrees of reception.

Past that, voter engagement is a tricky thing. It's easy to know what things we want to vote for, but it's hard to know whether or not those things are economically feasible unless we're economists. Trump's tax cuts, for example, had experts saying that through economic growth would pay for itself, while other experts have said there's no way that's possible. Similarly so with Bernie Sanders' health care proposals. See the recent pension crisis affecting Detroit, and may still cause strife in municipalities all over. Employee pensions are exactly the sort of thing I might vote for, only to find out 30 years down the road that it literally destroyed my town's government.

It's harder and harder to be informed without being a multi-doctorate + JD, and we keep voting ourselves favors from the public largesse without knowing if they'll work or not. Tax too little, and infrastructure and services fall off. Tax too much, you experience capital flight, and infrastructure and services fall off.

The wisdom of the masses isn't always, or even usually wise.


We're of the same mind on a lot of things. ;)

Watching recent history, I have a sneaking suspicion these same issues are why democratic nation-building has been such a failure.

Expecting a country to transition from 0 to democracy in one generation is probably impossible. Especially when it becomes apparent that even elder democracies are mostly held together by the strength of their institutions in times of strain.

Democracy works if everyone is educated, but as you pointed out, encounters substantial issues when (a) the problems at hand are too complex to be understood or (b) the knowledgeable vote (on both+ sides) is drowned out by an easily-swayed vote (e.g. for passion-arousing issues like free trade or immigration).

If I were attempting to build a democracy, I'd instead attempt to compress ~1000 years of European history into ~100 years of gradual government transformation. But probably start with a monarchy...


There's a reason that governments created by the imperial English tend to last well after it's been divested as a colony. They put in a government that really, only the government needs to know the mechanics of.


Furthermore, it is not well-defined which speech is "political" speech, and which is not. What cause is it possible to advocate for that is not political in some way? If the business of politics and government is passing and implementing laws, then nearly any issue is or can be political in nature. If I advocate for regulating or not regulating the Internet, software, app stores, data privacy (a la GDPR), or basically anything else, then that can be construed as political.


If we're already in the business of protecting speech, then why does it matter whether a given speech is political enough to warrant protection?


When they made that decision, multiple members of the court assumed there were proper disclosure regulations in place. There weren't.

"If the problem is that money can buy unlimited federal power, then you can limit the federal powers available for purchase without curtailing the freedom of the citizenry to engage in political speech as they choose."

And where do you think that power is going to go? It's not going to disapear into the ether.


> If the problem is that money can buy unlimited federal power, then you can limit the federal powers available for purchase without curtailing the freedom of the citizenry to engage in political speech as they choose.

I may be missing something obvious, but how do you suggest this could be done?


There are a lot of ways. For one, an adversarial congress is a feature, not a bug. We've seen already that as congress has become more polarized, lobbyist dollars have moved from federal to state in droves.

Limit the scope and power of the Interstate Commerce Clause. Most modern interpretations are based on Wickard v. Fillburn's "Well, if everybody did it, it might affect interstate commerce" interpretation, which I find flawed, and which gives the federal government outsized power over the states. It is through ICC power, for example, that the federal government was putting state-legal dispensary workers in federal prison, for example.

States need to reclaim their 10th amendment rights. We've seen an uptick in that recently, with many states adopting gay marriage in defiance of DOMA, or allowing marijuana usage in defiance of federal law, or more recently with Vermont (or maybe CT?) allowing prescription drugs to be purchased from out of country.

Disallow regulatory bodies from having effective power to make laws. Laws should be made by Congress, and so long as agencies are beholden to the executive, and they can make rules that have law-making power, congress has abrogated its duty, and gives far too much power to <insert president's name here>.

Past that, you achieve electoral results the same way you achieve any political end -- voting in the people who espouse your aims, voting out those who don't. You know who to vote for by maintaining your political savvy, from reading both sides of news articles, by holding both sides accountable, even when you happen to like them, and by being eternally vigilant to the laws, the law makers, and exploring the intended and unintended side effects of "good" laws.


"There are a lot of ways. For one, an adversarial congress is a feature, not a bug. We've seen already that as congress has become more polarized, lobbyist dollars have moved from federal to state in droves."

No, that is most certainly a bug. The rise of ALEC in power is in no way, shape, or form a "feature".

"Disallow regulatory bodies from having effective power to make laws."

They already do not have this power. They have the power that Congress delegated to them. And now, you're asking that Congress be the one to take up things like air quality regulations, or food safety regulations. Which, to be honest, has the same effect as saying that you don't want those things regulated at all.


> has the same effect as saying that you don't want those things regulated at all

Not liking how something is done doesn't mean it doesn't need to be done.

I'd be a big fan of DACA, for example, or even more open borders, if that could be passed by Congress. I am not a fan of it having been executed though executive order, especially given that it's now become a game of political chicken.

> They already do not have this power

Regulations are legally binding to those that are regulated. Everyone rightly considers net neutrality to be a law, or at least, it was, until the regulatory agency in charge of it decided it wasn't. I'm saying this shouldn't be in the purview of agencies, because that puts it in the hand of the executive branch, which means that Trump has the power to make law, which is expressly not a function of the executive branch.

I'm happy for those agencies to exist. I'm happy for those agencies to be tasked with research, expert opinions, recommendations as to what the laws should be, and even doing the work to draft and submit bills to minimize the workload on Congress, which is their function. I'm not okay with them unilaterally passing regulations without the express (not tacit) consent of Congress. Those regulations deserve more than a public commentary period, they deserve open debate and floor votes with votes on the record for where our politicians stand.

> No, that is most certainly a bug.

Again, I disagree, and I can only assume you're referencing ALEC out of some preconceived notion that I'm not espousing. Regardless, you'll note that I don't go so far as to suggest that gridlock is a feature, but adversarial procedure is, as it means that the legislation that does get past is only that which is tenable to a broad enough faction of the electorate.


Devolving power to the states doesn't solve the problem, because state governments are also democratically elected.

The central tenet is "If money can be used to buy votes, then how do you have a democracy?"

Nothing you've said above seems to address that, nor anything I can think of, in a world with an absolute right to spend money to promote ones own or preferred speech.


> which I believe has strong empirical support

What is that strong support? We routinely see very well-moneyed campaigns lose. In the very last election in the US the losing candidate outspent the winning one - if you look at Super-PAC spending (which is the one considered most "dark and dangerous", right?) the losing campaign had gathered 3x from the winning one ($189.4M against $59.3M). Somehow turned out having money is not enough. So I'd like to see what you call "strong empirical support".


"We routinely see very well-moneyed campaigns lose."

We see it every so often, but I really don't think we see it often, and we don't see the very well moneyed campaign lose to a campaign run on a shoestring.


What's "often" however? I think it happens often enough to doubt direct link between dollars and votes, at least absent hard data proving it.


The better moneyed campaign wins over 90% of the time. There is no doubt.


I notice a curious lack of any reference to this claim. While looking for it, I would advise to look for those that make specific distinction between "better moneyed campaigns always win" and "more attractive campaigns attract more money". If you find any good research on casual link between money invested (beyond aforementioned minimum) and 90% guaranteed winning, please do share it. Please note the statement "there is no doubt" does not qualify as good research.


As you noted, it's a complicated relationship [1], consequently the only place we'd be likely to see a reliable result is in aggregate.

Correlation is not causation, but congressional campaigns in 2012 that outspent their opponent won 91% of the time [2].

One of the clearer links is to voter turnout. I've read it takes between $5-20 to reliably motivate a voter to vote. Sans this minimum level of funding, your supporters don't go to the polls, and you don't win.

As for the 2016 election you note, general consensus is that the difference in funding was largely erased by media time (itself one of the primary reasons to spend money in the first place!), where Trump's approach held a clear (and cheap) advantage [3].

More broadly speaking, post-Citizens, we're in an era where we actually don't know how much "money with intent of political influence" is being spent. It's legally debatable enough that a group can now say, "This is my personal or commercial speech, so I'm not registering with the FEC."

[1] http://freakonomics.com/2012/01/17/how-much-does-campaign-sp...

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2014/04/04/th...

[3] https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2017/04/election-2016-trump...


> Sans this minimum level of funding, your supporters don't go to the polls, and you don't win.

Ah, of course, you have the minimum funding to get your message out, I do not doubt that for a minute. There's a minimum level beyond which you can not mount a successful campaign. But beyond that level, the link between dollars and votes becomes much less direct and obvious.

> general consensus is that the difference in funding was largely erased by media time

Yeah, of course, Trump used this trick. But the next one might use another trick. The common thread is that there are many ways to conduct the campaign, and dollars alone do not mean victory.

> we're in an era where we actually don't know how much "money with intent of political influence" is being spent.

Not exactly, but organizations with influence on national scale are not exactly invisible, and their ad spending is not secret too. I mean, you can't exactly hide a public electoral ad, right? And knowing how much ads were run (public info) and what is a typical spot price for an ad (public info), and the same for rallies, etc. one can estimate the spending if not entirely accurately, then with enough accuracy to be able to reason about it, I think. Of course, this does not account for things like free airtime given by networks to a popular entertaining personality or other ways to buy exposure for cheap, but this only underlines the point that dollars is not everything.


Granted on your first two comments. But something not guaranteeing success doesn't mean it doesn't make it more likely.

As for advertising dollars, you could absolutely hide a public ad in 2016 by buying through Facebook, not declaring yourself, and targeting a subset of users.

And Citizens even gives you (not great, but some) legal cover if you're caught. "My ad was an artistic work sharing my own viewpoint." Done.

State / city level, but someone else tuned me into this still running, funny-but-not-funny story in Seattle, in which an reporter decided to walk up to Facebook and Google and ask for election transparency documents they were legally obligated to provide under a 1977 city law.

Tl;dr, they didn't keep relevant records, didn't have any idea about the law, and are still scrambling to be compliant.

https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2017/12/04/25606100/were-as...


> Tl;dr, they didn't keep relevant records, didn't have any idea about the law, and are still scrambling to be compliant.

I find it fascinating that the implication is the global company has to be aware of and compliant with any city law that any tiny city council (I am not saying Seattle is tiny, but if Seattle can do it, why Rusty Sticks, Flyover State can't?) passed 40 years ago. I seriously wonder how one can do business in such environment? I guess for a Facebook it's just breadcrumbs and they could hire whatever lawyers needed to fend it off and pay whatever fines they might be assigned without even flinching - but imagine you are just a startup and you have to comply with the same web of laws?


(replying here since i can't reply to another comment - even though it already has a child)

> If the problem is that money can buy unlimited federal power, then you can limit the federal powers available for purchase without curtailing the freedom of the citizenry to engage in political speech as they choose.

That's completely not a solution.

But if Jo Squillionaire wants people to have the freedom to contract their labor to a certain company indefinitely in the future, then Jo Squillionaire has the capacity to advertise enough to buy back that right. But I don't necessarily have the capacity to contradict him.

A more effective solution would simply be to limit a person's capacity to accrue wealth. If there's proper income and/or wealth taxes in place people can be rich enough without being too rich.


the harm has to be immediate and direct.

I believe this is what Brandberg v Ohio established as the test of "imminent lawless action"


Would you shut down the Washington Post? Or is Jeff Bezos allowed to buy a newspaper?

Why is Anderson Cooper allowed to spread his opinions with the aid of a multi hundred million dollar distribution system but I can’t buy 2000 dollars of Facebook ads?

Limits on funding speech are limits on speech.


It’s more like Anderson Cooper is allowed to spread the viewpoints of his which overlap with what the corporation he works for will tolerate, which is a very different thing than being able to spread ones own views.

I know that’s a tangent from your main point but couldn’t resist :).


"Limits on funding speech are limits on speech."

I entirely disagree. Everyone has the same amount that they can give. Everyone has exactly the same rights.


Or put another way: everyone's rights are equally infringed.

And if you really wanted to make everyone equal, you'd have to ban celebreties and the media from talking about campaigns. Bill Maher's TV show is worth millions in advertising dollars.


Are you going to stop people from buying $2000 of ad space in their local newspaper and using it to personally endorse a candidate? Or endorse a candidates' stance on a range of issues? Or push hard for the same side of an issue that a candidate is taking?


> a flat limit of $1000 per person per tax year

Limit on what? On speaking about politics? On buying ads? On paying people to write about politics? On hiring consultants to develop advertising strategies? On speaking about anything government cares about? So if NYT spends $1000 per subscriber on politicial writer's salaries in March, it has to be shut down until the next January because it's over the political speech limit?

This of course sounds insane, because you can't put limit on spending money on speech without putting limits on actual speech. Because it's one and the same - publishing speech costs money, and money is the way to get speech published.

Fortunately, US still has freedom of speech, which is not measured in dollar limits.


Hi, let me introduce you to this new thing called the Internet, which lets everybody publish their speech for free. You should try it sometime.

(And clearly they mean a limit on political contributions, which is something that many countries do successfully. Ours used to be one of them. I hope you're not as ignorant on the topic as your hysterical straw man suggests, but if you are I'd suggest a little reading. E.g. this Brookings working group has many perspectives: https://web.archive.org/web/20010406114712/https://www.brook... .)


> which lets everybody publish their speech for free

The fact that you can write stuff on internet forums for free doesn't mean it is free. It means somebody else is paying for it - for example, in exchange for showing you ads (which the advertiser - surprise! - pays for), selling your personal data or sometimes just out of charitable spirit. However, if you need to do a massive communication effort, it is not nearly free. And if you have ever built a campaign site (I have) you know it is nowhere near "free". Your resume shows you participated in multiple internet projects, so I am astonished how you can condescendingly claim it's "free" while knowing full well from your own experience it is nowhere near that. Unless, of course, you want to confine your campaign to /r/irrelevant.


What happens to the big media companies? Time on there is worth way more than $1,000. Are they unable to talk about the elections at all?


It has been repeatedly shown that the Sufficiently Rich face virtually no limits, restrictions, penalties, etc.


Wait, so any citizen of the US can speak about political matters without any limits? And collude in it with other US citizens, potentially forming political organizations, NGOs, parties, and so on, and there's no limit on what they can speak about and how much money they can spend on convincing others to join them? That's a real nightmare!


> Citizens United decision

Ah yes, our era's Dred Scott decision.


Indeed, a terrible and obviously immoral decision by the supreme court to appease. How this has been downvoted so heavily, causes me concern.


There does seem to be an issue around campaign finance. The official Remain campaign, the Lib dems, and European Movement UK were also fined over their referendum spending.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-44080096

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-41649995


What an awkward segue into complaining about brexit. FYI, Google and Facebook are extremely left-wing organizations.


I am using brexit, as an instance of comparison to distortion in funding models for election-like behaviour.

What I think about brexit isn't fit to print. What matters in context, is the abuse of the funding model to distort the inputs to the process. And, that feels (to me) what is at the heart of the complaint from Washingon state about FB and Google.

When people use social media to try and influence public opinion heading to votes of any kind, be they elections, or referendum, or plebescite, I think the money behind that social media should be declared and understood.

Koch Brothers.


Wait, so if I want to publish a political ad online, which can be seen in Washington, I have to publish my address so any wacko can come and threaten myself and my family? I guess somehow it makes sense to people in Washington but certainly doesn't make sense to me.


Disclosure requirements for contributions to federal campaigns are similar.

Most states have voter rolls which are covered by open record laws, will release personal information on all registered voters. Address included.

I'm not sure why this law strikes you as so crazy. Most individuals aren't making independent political ad buys.


> Disclosure requirements for contributions to federal campaigns are similar.

I have to publish my address and who I donated to, for every crazy loon out there to see and for any employer or other person who could hurt me to retaliate if I support a wrong one? That sounds insane.

No wonder people like to contribute to PACs. With requirements like that, it's plain crazy not to use an intermediary.

> Most states have voter rolls which are covered by open record laws

Voter rolls just says the person has right to vote, not who he or she is voting for, right?

> I'm not sure why this law strikes you as so crazy.

Complete lack of privacy in the matter which is proven to expose people to harassment, retaliation, threats and violence.

> Most individuals aren't making independent political ad buys.

Probably because it's much safer to do it through an intermediary, I assume.


Here in New Zealand you have to actually put your name on the ad - "this ad authorized by -----" - even party ads have to have the name of some local party functionary on them

I think that if you have a political opinion that's so unpopular you're embarrassed to put your name on it there's probably something wrong with it.

Mind you here in NZ we don't let our wackos have guns.


> The case likely will not result in significant monetary penalties for the companies in question; even if fines and damages totaled tens of millions it would be a drop in the bucket for the tech giants.

> But deliberately skirting laws governing political spending and public disclosure is rather a bad look for companies under especial scrutiny for systematic dishonesty — primarily Facebook.

So they'll lose face, but not the books ...

Seriously though, come on. I'm getting increasingly cynical about this. This is business as usual in the US. They're not going to self-regulate themselves a conscience.


The title should be updated to include 'political' before 'spending'.


I thought campaign contributions could run afoul of Sarbanes Oxley regulation rules, and other incorrect accounting of donations, if they cant even track what they gave, how can they certify the books.


> if they cant even track what they gave

The article is about what they were paid, as advertising platforms, not what they gave.


Off-topic:

> Specifically, “documents and books of account” must be made available for public inspection during the campaign and for three years following; these must detail the candidate, name of advertiser, address, cost and method of payment and description services rendered.

Description services rendered? Did you mean description of services rendered?

Please, let me know if I'm missing something here. These seems like yet another grammatical error in Techcrunch.

Every time I click on a Techcrunch article it is full of grammatical errors and misspellings.

Are they full of factual errors, too? Makes me wonder. If a major online publication like this can't fix missing words, what are their stories worth?

When I read Techcrunch I assume it's no better than a grocery store tabloid.


Doesn't seem like a very good investment on their part


The "failure to disclose" part in the article's title on the source website seems very relevant to me. The title on HN implies that the state is suing the companies solely because of their political ad spending.

The source title: "Washington sues Facebook and Google over failure to disclose political ad spending"


updated the title. Thanks


Could you change the title to say "State of Washington"?


Here I was thinking George was up to something!

In all seriousness, this really should be updated, but somehow omitting "state of" sounds more powerful to me...although I'm not sure why I feel this way?


Perhaps because Washington alone would represent the HQ of the national government. Think of "London", "Beijing".


Which, for those who like funny Wikipedia words, is a synecdoche.


Not to be confused with Schenectady.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synecdoche,_New_York


Also not to be confused with a synecdouche (somebody who constantly overuses synecdoche hoping to impress people).

Obligatory content-related content: If I were the Attorney General, I think a suit like this, whether successful or not, would undoubtedly be one of the high points of my career.


Ha, that is interesting! I had no idea there was a word for this, I love it when HN comes through with a nugget like this! Thank you!


Wouldn't the short of Washington DC simply be DC?


Direct Current? Joking aside, ambiguous 2 letter acronyms is not really a good way to reference a US city, since there are folks here who are not in the US.


Sometimes, other times no. Referring to the seat of the US government as "Washington" is apparently just too much fun for journalist types, so an unqualified reference to it is often ambiguous in practice.


To the rest if the world, no. Washington is used to refer to the whole country of the USA


yes, or even "The District"


Isn’t the state of Washington in Seattle? which means something else entirely.


Seattle[0] is the city in the state called Washington[1]. I was under the impression that when just 'Washington' was used, it refereed to the state. But looks like even Washington, D.C (formally District of Colombia [2]) is called just Washington[2].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seattle [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington,_D.C. [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_(state)


or just "Washington State"


That can be also interpreted as the university though.


I'm not really familiar with people referring to Washington State University as Washignton State. WSU is common. Wazzu is common. Washington State not so much.


It’s pretty common. I think the state of Washington would be the best option here.


I was going to recommend "The State of Washington" but even that is ambiguous.


Ok.


Is anyone else getting tired of everyone playing editor on HN? In some cases its nice when clickbait headlines are reduced to their original content. However threads like this are drowning out the conversation about the subject matter.


No. Sometimes reading the headline is enough, if the headline is correct.

Those of use that really want to know more, will read the article on its own merit, because we’re interested, not because we’re being manipulated into a deeper curiosity than warranted.

Meanwhile, complaining about aggressive journalistic tactics is not forum sliding. Keep in mind, beyond linguistic syntax, semantics and other trivial technical matters, much of HN doesn’t qualify as experts on non-technology-oriented stories, and political tripe. Some articles aren’t colored up very much by HN peanut galleries and bike shedding. This is might be one such instance.

Anyway, when we notice deceptive practices we complain about them.


I wouldn't bother clicking on this link if I knew it was the state. So no, I'm not tired of everyone playing editor because it benefits me in the end.

I also don't agree that such threads drown the conversation. Often they're buried. Sometimes they are a healthy part of the conversation itself. Sometimes there's a passive aggressive argument about whether or not the conversation is healthy and hey maybe even that's healthy!


I seem to be in the minority, carry on.


It would be nice if such comments were hidden or filtered (with no karma penalty of course) once reviewed by a moderator.

Or at least, given a substantial visibility penalty.


Seems pretty fair.


... in the latest chapter of scapegoating internet firms for Trump's election.


Mmm, this is Washington State, not DC


[flagged]


Political sports-teaming doesn't belong on hacker news.


These companies were in obvious violation of the law. These proceedings do not require responsibility for the election to be valid.


"The left" is a hand.


Not exclusively.


Washington AG Bob Ferguson has a history of filing activist lawsuits.


Is an Attorney General enforcing the laws of the state "activist"?


Nowadays the answer to that question seems to be different for any person you ask, and dependent on whether or not the law being enforced aligns with said individual's ideological beliefs.

That's part of the problem not only in the US, but in the West in general at the moment.

That said, when you read the law, it's clear that Google and Facebook are in violation of it. They aren't providing requested political ad spend information to residents of Washington state on the spot. That Google and Facebook don't like a law does not confer to them the right to violate it.


I think the "activist" angle comes from being a state AG who regularly and publicly gets involved in the national discussion from the state-level chair they have. I wouldn't say it's a bad characteristic in an AG, but it's perhaps a bit unusual?

Another example would be New York's (former) AG, Eric Schneiderman, who has filed "over 50 lawsuits opposing Trump's environmental revisions", and of course, actively pursued Harvey Weinstein before resigning due to his own sexual harassment allegations.

I would guess that AG's regularly inserting themselves into the national conversation while being very public about it on Twitter and the like, especially, are prepping for a run at a more national political campaign in the future.


Depends on whether your party leader is declared above the law.


I can't fathom why the mere mentioning the new doctrine of self-pardon makes people mad.

It was announced was it not? I assume all readers are either happy and proud of it or not in which case why shoot the messenger?




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