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Media & Democracy 02.14.2024

Yahoo! News/USA Today: As the cradle of tech, California looks to be leader in AI regulation

Jonathan Mehta Stein is a co-founder of The California Initiative for Technology and Democracy, a project of good government group California Common Cause, which has been advising legislators on the threats emerging technologies pose to democracy. He points to the growing use of AI in elections across the world as evidence it's no longer a theoretical, but an active practice. In the first month of 2024, deepfakes promulgating misinformation in Bangladeshi and Slovakian elections proved to be significant election disruptions. Here in the United States, AI-generated content is met with considerable concern on the heels of rising political violence and distrust in election processes. "All of these new technologies that can deceive voters and undermine elections are coming on the heels of other depressing trends," Stein said. "In our democracy, trust in institutions and in the media are all-time lows. Beliefs that our elections are being run securely and votes are counted accurately are in doubt among huge percentages of the American population."

Media & Democracy 02.8.2024

Common Dreams: FCC Announces New Rule to Confront Deepfake Robocalls

Ishan Mehta, media and democracy program director for Common Cause, said the calls in New Hampshire last month represented "only the tip of the iceberg" and warned that "it is critically important that the FCC now use this authority to fine violators and block the telephone companies that carry the calls." Mehta called on Congress to pass the Protect Elections from Deceptive AI Act, which would prohibit the distribution ofdeceptive AI-generated audio, images, or video relating to federal candidates in political ads. "We hope that both the House and the Senate will follow the example of the FCC," said Mehta, "whose Democratic and Republican commissioners recognized the threat posed by AI and came together in a unanimous vote to outlaw robocalls utilizing AI voice-cloning tools."

Money & Influence 01.28.2024

Albuquerque Journal (Op-Ed): NM elected officials still under the influence of alcohol industry

The alcohol industry is at it again. For three decades the industry, its powerful lobbyists and its allies in the hospitality industry have been successful in staving off increases in the state’s alcohol excise tax with arguments about how even a modest increase will hurt restaurants and local breweries. Increased prices for alcohol won’t result in less drinking anyhow, they say. The argument was most recently echoed in an Albuquerque Journal editorial. Meanwhile New Mexico is No. 1 nationwide in alcohol-related deaths and alcohol now accounts for one in five deaths of working age New Mexicans. Treatment programs are hard to come by, and not only families are paying the price. A recent study by the UNM Department of Economics says that excessive alcohol consumption costs New Mexicans $2.77 per drink in the form of crime, domestic violence, DWI and Medicaid payments.

Money & Influence 01.25.2024

Honolulu Star Advertiser: Saiki supports bills for full public financing of political campaigns

Camron Hurt, program manager for Common Cause Hawaii, said full public financing of political candidates would allow elected officials to focus on voters’ concerns and not special interests “by removing big money from our politics.” At the same, Hurt said, “I hope it allows for greater participation from the candidates, for a kid growing up in Pauoa or Nanakuli.” “Having the speaker’s unwavering support and leadership in this bill is astronomical at a risk to his own seat, at risk to his own colleagues who may disagree with the bill he wants to see fully financed citizen elections,” Hurt said. “It is courageous. It is commendable to have the speaker of the House take a stand and say he wants to put a stop to enormous amounts of corruption. He must be commended.”

Media & Democracy 01.23.2024

Politico: Seeing a viral pro-Biden TikTok? A PAC might have paid for it.

Ishan Mehta, the director for media and democracy at watchdog group Common Cause, said he was disappointed the FEC decided not to require paid influencer disclosures. He said regulations on paid social media political content should be the same as those for political television and print ads, which are required by the FEC to include disclaimers. “The ability to pay influencers to carry their message on behalf of a campaign is a loophole,” he said.

Common Dreams: 'Political Deepfake Moment Is Here': NH Robocall Sounds Like Biden

Also on Monday, Public Citizen and Common Cause submitted petitions urging state election officials in Alabama, Louisiana, and Wisconsin to regulate deepfakes in political campaign communications. "AI deepfakes represent a very clear and present danger to our democracy," said Ishan Mehta, director of Common Cause's media and democracy program. "The opportunity for deceiving and misleading voters has never been so acute as it is today with the vast improvements in fake computer-generated images and voices." "And ultimately if voters later realize that they have been duped by false and misleading—yet very convincing—campaign ads, they are going to lose even more confidence in the value of elections," Mehta warned.

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