Michigan Republican wants to create register for fact checkers and journalists

GOP Rep. Matt Maddock

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."

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.

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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. Some Democratic legislators have said Maddock should be censured for backing the "big lie" about last year's elections, while the national Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has called for his resignation or removal from office.