Milford Republican Wants To Register Fact-Checkers
May 13, 2021
By ANTHONY IZAGUIRRE and DAVID EGGERT
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan Republican known for challenging the results of the 2020 presidential election has turned his attention to those who fact-check the claims of public officials.
State Rep. Matt Maddock this week introduced the “Fact Checker Registration Act,” which would force journalists and others who perform fact checks to register with the state and insure themselves with a $1 million fidelity bond. His legislation also would fine fact checkers $1,000 every day they don’t register.
The proposal, which critics argue would violate First Amendment protections for the press and free speech, appears unlikely to be a priority, even in a legislature controlled by his fellow Republicans.
“This is a clearly unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech,” said Len Niehoff, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School. “No responsible legislature would pass such a law, and no competent judge would uphold it.”
House Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski of Scio Township said Rep. Maddock was one of several Michigan Republicans who tried to "steal the presidential election and spread conspiracy theories that fueled the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. Maddock’s bill is just another play in his brazen attempt to perpetuate the Big Lie. If trying to override the will of the people wasn’t enough, now Maddock is trying to intimidate and harass journalists and others who work to promote the truth, keep our citizens informed, and hold our elected officials accountable…”
The proposal came after social media posts in which Maddock questioned the identity of those who check facts online.
The bill would apply to people who are employed by a fact-checking entity that is a member of the International Fact-Checking Network, a group of media organizations that adhere to standards established at the Florida-based Poynter Institute, a journalism training organization. The Associated Press is a member of the network.
“If you’re a paid fact checker and you’re out there destroying people and businesses, then you need to be 100% accurate,” Maddock said Wednesday. “I say put your money where your mouth is.”
Baybars Orsek, director of the International Fact-Checking Network, said requiring journalists to register with the government is a clear violation of constitutional rights.
“It’s an overt attack on press freedom,” he said.
The Michigan bill comes as several other Republican-controlled legislatures are pushing legislation that takes aim at social media companies, which have angered conservatives by removing posts, flagging them as false or suspending the accounts of those who regularly make false or misleading statements. That legislation was introduced in roughly two dozen states and would allow civil lawsuits against the big social media platforms.
Other states this year had considered legislation that would have required media outlets to publish follow-up reports on the outcome of any civil, criminal or ethics proceedings, though none of those passed.
Maddock, of the Detroit suburb of Milford, was among 12 Republicans in the state House who sought to join Texas’ lawsuit seeking to overturn President Joe Biden’s win in Michigan and other states. The filing claimed that Michigan’s Legislature unconstitutionally delegated the certification of the presidential results to election officials. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the suit.
He also was among Republicans who unsuccessfully asked former Vice President Mike Pence to delay confirmation of Biden’s Electoral College win on Jan. 6, the day of the deadly insurrection in the U.S. Capitol.
Maddock spoke at a rally in Washington, D.C., the day before the riot. His wife, Meshawn Maddock, who now co-chairs the Michigan Republican Party, organized busloads of Trump supporters who traveled to the Capitol in Washington, D.C., for the protest that devolved into the riot.
WHMI's Jon King contributed to this report.
Associated Press coverage of voting rights receives support in part from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.