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There’s a New Lawsuit Against Trump’s Election Commission

Publishers Corner

Clifton Harris, Publisher of The San Bernardino AMERICAN News, Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

It aims to halt the commission’s controversial collection of data on all American voters

By: Pema Levy

President-elect Donald Trump and Kris Kobach in New Jersey last November. Peter Foley/ZUMA

President Donald Trump’s controversial election integrity commission is facing yet another lawsuit, this time from a watchdog group alleging that it violated federal law when it requested comprehensive information about every voter in the country.

At issue is the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), a little-known 1980 law that requires the government to go through specific procedures before it requests large amounts of data. Those procedures include creating a clear goal for the collection and plan for its use, soliciting public comment and gaining approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The group filing the lawsuit, United to Protect Democracy, founded in February by Obama administration alumni, alleges that the commission’s chaotic and controversial data request is precisely the kind of situation the law intended to prevent.

“If the commission wants to seek that information, the Paperwork Reduction Act says it’s got to give an account of why and how it’s going to do so responsibly, and it’s got to give the public a chance to respond,” says Larry Schwartztol, an attorney for the group who filed the lawsuit in federal court in Washington, DC. “So we are going to ask the court to issue an order saying that the commission cannot undertake this data collection until it does those things.” The lawsuit requests that the court halt the data collection and require the commission to destroy or safeguard the information it has already acquired until it complies with the PRA.

The commission, led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was created in response to the president’s unfounded claim that millions of people had voted illegally in the 2016 election. Voting rights advocates have warned that the commission is part of the administration’s plan to push voter suppression laws. It became a front-page story in June when Kobach issued a broad request to all 50 states and the District of Columbia for personal information on every registered voter, including name, birth date, address, criminal history, party affiliation, and Social Security number. The commission did not clarify how the data would be used, transmitted, or securely stored. Nearly all states refused to comply with the request at least in part, and civil rights and watchdog groups filed lawsuits in response.

Shortly after the request went out, United to Protect Democracy and the Brennan Center for Justice, a progressive research and litigation shop, sent a letter to OMB asking its director, former Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney, to halt the commission’s data collection until it complies with the law. The PRA requires the office to respond to such requests within 60 days, but both groups say OMB never replied to the letter. The complaint includes a claim that OMB is also in violation of the statute because of its failure to respond. OMB did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

At the time of the data request, numerous experts voiced concerns that the commission’s data request likely violated the PRA. In response, a spokesman for Pence argued that the commission is not subject to PRA requirements. “The Paperwork Reduction Act only applies to information collections by agencies,” the spokesman, Marc Lotter, told the Hill newspaper at the time. “The Commission is an entity that ‘serves[s] solely to advise and assist the President,’ and is not, therefore, an agency subject to PRA.”

But Schwartztol says his group is confident that the PRA applies to the commission. The act does say it applies to agencies, but it defines agencies very broadly, stating that they include “any executive department…or other establishment in the executive branch of the Government (including the Executive Office of the President).” The act lists four very specific exceptions, but none is for presidential advisory commissions. “I don’t think the commission can make a case it fits under any of” the exceptions, says Stuart Shapiro, a professor at Rutgers University who worked on PRA requests during his five years at OMB. Shapiro first argued in a July blog post that the commission’s request was illegal because it ignored the PRA.

“I think this is a very strong claim,” agrees Wendy Weiser, who works on voting rights and government reform at the Brennan Center and signed the original letter to OMB on the issue. “This particular document request was, I think, a textbook example of exactly why the Paperwork Reduction Act was passed.” The request, issued on June 28, drew rebukes from states and the public, prompted thousands of voters to remove themselves from the rolls, and was the subject of multiple lawsuits alleging violations of ethics and privacy laws. It was ultimately paused by the courts, and then reissued. And while the commission created a new portal for states to submit the requested information, the new request did not ally advocates’ concerns about privacy or how the data would be used. “The disastrous rollout of their request for voter data is a great argument for the provisions put down in the Paperwork Reduction Act,” says Weiser.

Multiple other lawsuits against the commission and its activities, winding their way through the courts, have thus far failed to stop the commission’s activities. In one case, the federal district court in Washington declined a request to immediately halt the commission’s data collection because it found that the commission did not meet the definition of an agency under the Administrative Procedure Act, one of the federal laws at issue in that case. That decision is currently being appealed. But Schwartztol says his group’s challenge faces good odds because the PRA defines agencies more broadly. If the courts ultimately decide that the commission is not subject to the law that would create a loophole in the PRA, essentially allowing the executive branch to engage in massive data collection without oversight.

United to Protect Democracy is led by attorneys who previously oversaw Obama administration compliance with federal rules and regulations. The group’s goal is to make sure that the Trump administration does not flout norms and rules that prevent the politicization of the executive branch and guard against a slide toward authoritarianism. The group has filed multiple cases pending over the disclosure of government information under the Freedom of Information Act. In July, the group filed a suit against the Trump campaign and Trump confidant Roger Stone on behalf of victims of the Russian hack on the Democratic National Committee, alleging that the campaign and Stone conspired with Russia, leading to the release of confidential information that became public when Wiki Leaks published the hacked information online.

“The idea that they can do an end-run around [the PRA] by establishing a presidential commission is pretty unsettling,” says Schwartztol. “It would be really unusual and harmful to set the precedent that there’s sort of an ungoverned space here that the commission can operate in.”

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Publishers Corner: Fox News Scandal: Ads Pulled from ‘O’Reilly Factor,’ New Lawsuit Against Ailes

Publishers Corner

Clifton Harris

Publisher of The San Bernardino AMERICAN News

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

As Fox News is reeling from the release of a staggering report revealing numerous sexual harassment lawsuits filed against its star, Bill O’Reilly, two advertisers have pulled ad placements during “The O’Reilly Factor.” Meanwhile, women continue to come forward with claims of a misogynistic culture at the company.

Julie Roginsky, a Democratic political consultant and Fox News contributor, filed a lawsuit in New York state court on Monday against the network; its former chairman, Roger Ailes; and Bill Shine, the network’s co-president. Roginsky accuses them of denying her a permanent hosting job after she refused Ailes’ sexual advances.

“During these meetings, Ailes additionally (and without irony) volunteered the advice that Roginsky should engage in sexual relationships with ‘older, married, conservative men’ because ‘they may stray but they always come back because they’re loyal,’” the claim states.

“Ailes also remarked that he was loyal but that loyalty was a two-way street. These comments and their delivery made it clear that Ailes wanted a sexual relationship with Roginsky.”

Roginsky also claimed in filings that at her meetings with Ailes, he “usually sat in a low armchair.”

“He repeatedly insisted on a kiss ‘hello’ requiring Roginsky to bend down to kiss him. Ailes would consistently position himself in such a way as to look down Roginsky’s dress.”

There are at least two separate lawsuits, against Fox News and Ailes, by women claiming they were sexually harassed. Last year, on behalf of Ailes, Fox News agreed to pay $20 million to settle a harassment suit by former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson. He denied any wrongdoing but resigned in July.

Also in 2016, former Fox News anchor Andrea Tantaros filed a separate sexual harassment lawsuit that was sent to private arbitration.

“Bill, you’re my boss!” a former Fox News producer said in a lawsuit she told Bill O’Reilly when he propositioned her for sex.

Roginsky, 43, claims in the lawsuit that Ailes, 76, in early 2015 told her he was considering her for a full-time slot on highly rated talk show “The Five.” But after she declined his advances, the job never materialized and she lost her spot as a contributor on the show, she said.

She also sued Shine, Fox News co-president, asserting that he failed to investigate her claims. Roginsky also said in her lawsuit that a misogynistic culture at Fox had not changed since Ailes resigned last year.

“They need to sweep that place out with a shovel,” Jeff Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean for executive programs at the Yale School of Management, said in an interview.

Sonnenfeld thinks that amid the continued revelations, 21st Century Fox should consider more changes to the executive team that worked with Ailes.

Roginsky, who has appeared on Fox News programs since 2011 and writes a column for the network’s website, is seeking unspecified damages under a New York City law that prohibits discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

According to CNN, more women employees at Fox want to speak out against Ailes but do not come forward in fear of losing their jobs.

Susan Estrich, a lawyer for Ailes, refuted Roginsky’s sexual harassment claims, calling them “total hogwash.”

“This is about someone who wants to pile-on in a massive character assassination in order to achieve what she did not accomplish on the merits,” Estrich said in a statement.

Then it would be “a massive character assassination” taking place for more than a decade. That’s how long women employees at Fox have claimed that Ailes and O’Reilly have sexually harassed them, according to reports from The New York Times this past weekend.

In addition to the millions paid in support of Ailes, Fox, its parent company 21st Century Fox and O’Reilly have paid approximately $13 million in five settlements. There is an ongoing federal investigation centered on whether 21st Century Fox misled investors by hiding payments to Ailes’ and O’Reilly’s accusers.

But the more than $30 million paid out is just a portion of the nearly half a billion dollars in advertising revenues between 2014 and 2016 that O’Reilly created for the news channel during “The O’Reilly Factor.”

The network will no longer be receiving an estimated $1.9 million in ads from Mercedes-Benz during O’Reilly’s timeslot.

“The allegations are disturbing and, given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now,” Donna Boland, the manager of corporate communications at Mercedes-Benz, said in a statement.

The company’s ads during O’Reilly’s program “[have] been reassigned in the midst of this controversy.”

Hyundai said it would reallocate upcoming ads due to “the recent and disturbing allegations.”

“We had upcoming advertising spots on the show, but are reallocating them,” Hyundai said in an emailed statement to The Times.

“As a company, we seek to partner with companies and programming that share our values of inclusion and diversity,” the statement said. “We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation as we plan future advertising decisions.”

Will other companies follow their lead?

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