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On Thursday, Axios reported that Google is going on the offensive against antitrust legislation being considered in Congress — warning clients that the proposals pose a threat to small businesses.
Antitrust laws, which have been gathering bipartisan support in Congress, target the size and power of large companies like Google, rather than small businesses. However, Google argues, many small businesses rely on its services, and would suffer if the litigation affects them.
"Google said the dangers could include ... making it harder for customers to find businesses because listings, including address and business hours, may no longer appear in Google Search results or on Google Maps [and] hurting the effectiveness of digital marketing if Google Ads products were broken up and disconnected from Google Analytics," reported Margaret Harding McGill.
"[W]e're concerned that Congress' controversial package of bills could have unintended consequences, especially for small businesses who have relied on digital tools to adapt, recover and reach new customers throughout the pandemic," said a Google spokesperson to Axios.
This comes as global technology companies come under a fresh wave of new scrutiny, not just over their market dominance but over their algorithms and business practices. Multiple whistleblowers at Facebook have come forward with allegations against that company, claiming that they have deliberately prioritized profits over containing misinformation and hate speech, which executives deny.
Harassing election officials and working to undermine the integrity of Wisconsin elections has become a central part of Republicans' electoral strategy.
On Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told reporters that it is “possible if not likely" that his election investigator, former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, will interrogate Meagan Wolfe, the beleaguered administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC), even before Attorney General Josh Kaul's request to block that interview is heard by a judge.
In his press conference, Vos claimed that he has grave concerns arising from the Legislative Audit Bureau report on the 2020 election, which found no evidence of wrongdoing and which Republican state Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Allouez), who co-chairs the Legislature's Audit Committee, summed up by saying it had proved that the 2020 election in Wisconsin was “safe and secure."
“Basically, WEC is being mismanaged," Vos said, putting his own spin on the report. “And there were major problems during the course of the 2020 election."
Republicans seem to figure they can get away with distorting the audit bureau's findings because most people won't actually read the report for themselves. Specifically, Vos pointed to elections officials in Madison who “wouldn't even turn over the basic ballots to have the Legislative Audit Bureau — totally nonpartisan, totally respected — even do their job." But, as the LAB report itself states, the clerk in Madison who didn't turn over those ballots was merely following guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice, which warned that she could be violating the federal Civil Rights Act if she gave up physical custody of election records. “In part as a result of this guidance from the Department of Justice, the City of Madison clerk did not allow us to physically handle election records," the LAB report explains.
Rather than run afoul of federal law, the Madison clerk offered auditors the chance to view the ballots without taking physical custody of them. The auditors didn't take her up on that offer.
The audit bureau report made a series of recommendations for improving election processes and training, but it also noted a high level of satisfaction with WEC training among local election clerks, and found no evidence of significant problems with voting machines nor discrepancies in the vote count.
And yet, four days after the LAB released its report, Wisconsin Senate leaders announced they were launching yet another investigation of the 2020 election, claiming, “The audit findings released on October 21st paint a grim picture of the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC) and their careless administration of election law in Wisconsin."
For election workers, who managed to pull off a safe, secure election in the midst of a pandemic, then slogged through recounts while angry, anti-mask supporters of the former president breathed down their necks, the continuing GOP attacks just add insult to injury.
Republicans, who keep launching more election investigations even as they simultaneously scramble to re-rig one of the nation's most gerrymandered partisan voting maps, claim they are motivated by deep concerns about good government.
But here's the thing: They are already on the record laying out their plan to undermine voter confidence in elections as part of an explicit political strategy.
At a Nov. 21, 2019 meeting of the Republican National Lawyers Association in Wisconsin — secretly recorded and posted on YouTube by the Democratic opposition research group American Bridge — then-Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald explained how the Republicans' move to get rid of the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board back when Scott Walker was governor has benefited the GOP. Fitzgerald gave a shout-out to Republican lawyer Eric McLeod, for his help in eliminating the GAB and replacing it with the WEC, whose members are partisan appointees, and where “we have much more control." “There's a lot less behind-the-scenes stuff," Fitzgerald said of the WEC, which was designed to be plagued by gridlock with its three Republican and three Democratic appointees. “But that doesn't mean you can take your eye off 'em — it can be very frustrating."
Meagan Wolfe can certainly attest to that.
The featured speaker at the Republican National Lawyers Association event in 2019 was Trump campaign lawyer Justin Clark, who talked about the importance of focusing on voter fraud — a phenomenon considerably less common than UFO sightings — to Republican electoral victories.
“The strides you have with respect to Election Day voting and the mechanics of voting in Wisconsin are miles ahead of most other battleground states," Clark told the group. “ID rules, voting machines, the way you structure your elections, the entire process here has really done a complete 180 in the last 20 years, which is a good thing, because I'm going to say over and over again, Wisconsin is the tipping point to 270 [Electoral College votes]. If we win Wisconsin, Donald Trump is re-elected."
Clark then delivered some good news about the “huge differences" between the elections of 2016 and 2020, starting with the elimination in 2018 of a federal court's consent decree that had limited the Republican National Committee's ability to challenge voters' qualifications and target “ballot security." The decree, Politico reported at the time, came out of a 1982 lawsuit over Republican voter-suppression tactics, including targeting African-American voters in mailings warning of serious penalties for violating election laws and posting armed guards at the polls in minority neighborhoods.
The end of the consent decree, Clark crowed, “frees the RNC up to coordinate" creating a network of national and local Republican groups focused relentlessly on voter fraud.
Clark did not straight-up concede that claims of voter fraud, which have been repeatedly disproven, are baloney. But he did acknowledge that it was hard to get the media to take the stories seriously. That is, until former President Donald Trump and his barrage of disinformation on social media really turned the tide. “We've got a guy who's committed to this, who is able to short circuit media attention on stuff and just say things — and we're gonna be able to highlight these things that are really, really, finally, the biggest difference."
“We've all seen the tweets about voter fraud and blah, blah, blah," Clark told the Republican lawyers' group. “Every time we're in with him, he asks, 'What are we doing about voter fraud? What do we do about voter fraud?'"
“Which is great for guys who are looking for budget approval on stuff," Clark said to appreciative laughs. “Point is, he's committed to this. He believes in it, and he'll do whatever it takes to make sure that it's successful."
Trump, it turned out, was not successful. State and federal courts dismissed more than 50 lawsuits presented by Trump and his allies challenging the election or its outcome.
But the infrastructure Clark was crowing about in 2019 is still in place. Wisconsin has led the nation in its restrictive voter ID laws and other voter suppression efforts, which specifically target voters of color, low-income voters and students. And now the emphasis on undermining elections, discouraging voters and making false claims of fraud has become central to the GOP strategy.
“It's going to be a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better funded program," Clark said. We're now running downhill a little bit more, and we've got the resources to do it."
That's bad news for election workers all over Wisconsin. It's even worse news for our democracy.
Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.
Republicans allowing violent threats to fester by calling for Merrick Garland's resignation: columnist
One Republican senator after another harangued attorney general Merrick Garland, and two even called on him to resign.
Nearly every Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee attacked President Joe Biden's attorney general for issuing a memo urging prosecution for death threats directed at school board officials, and Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) are putting those public servants at greater risk by calling on Garland to step down, reported MSNBC's Steve Benen.
"My larger concern is that the intensity of the Republican pushback will have a chilling effect," Benen wrote. "How many officials at the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security might start hesitating in response to legitimate threats against local school boards because they're afraid GOP lawmakers and governors will get hysterical again?"
He compared the ginned-up controversy to a 2009 report commissioned by the Bush administration that warned of the gathering threat from right-wing extremists that GOP lawmakers complained was an attack on conservatives, and which led to a scaled-back response.
"The chilling effect was obvious: The Department of Homeland Security simply didn't want to have to deal with the GOP's misguided fury," Benen wrote. "More than a decade later, here's hoping the Justice Department is able to focus on public safety, regardless of the partisan pushback."
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