Michigan GOP lawmaker floats bill to register, fine 'fact checkers'

Beth LeBlanc Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A Michigan lawmaker who's been at the center of efforts to question the 2020 election introduced a bill Tuesday that would require "fact checkers" to register with the state.

Rep. Matt Maddock, R-Milford, wrote the legislation, which was co-sponsored by eight other Republican House members, about five months after Maddock floated the idea of licensing fact checkers on Twitter.

The "Fact Checker Registration Act" defines a fact checker as someone who publishes in print or online in Michigan, is paid by a fact-checking organization and is a member of the International Fact Check Network. 

State Rep. Matt Maddock, R-Milford, is sponsoring legislation that would require "fact checkers" to register with the state of Michigan.

The network is a reference to the Poynter Institute's International Fact-Checking Network, a unit launched by the journalism group in 2015 to train and develop best practices in fact checking, Maddock said. 

The bill requires qualifying fact checkers to file proof of a $1 million fidelity bond with the Secretary of State's office, which will be tasked with developing the "form and manner of registration and filing."

An "affected person" could bring a civil action in any county district court to claim the bond for "any wrongful conduct that is a violation of the laws of this state." The bond could be forfeited at the discretion of the judge for "demonstrable harm" stemming from something a fact checker wrote, Maddock wrote.

Fact checkers found to be in violation of the registry requirements could be fined $1,000 per day of violation. 

In a Facebook post last week, Maddock said the bill would allow people to understand who is fact checking information. 

"Social media companies deplatform people, politicians, and businesses on the basis of 'fact checkers' who relish their roles punishing those whom they deem 'false,'" Maddock wrote, after alleging in April that fact checkers were largely "body-checking conservatives."

"Many believe this enormous economic and social power is being abused," Maddock wrote. "...My legislation will put fact checkers on notice: Don't be wrong, don't be sloppy, and you better be right."

The nation’s founders established protections for the press so it can operate without government intrusion, said Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, who studied journalism at Michigan State University. 

“This is an affront to the First Amendment,” Moss said of the proposal.

In December, as the litigation involving Michigan's election results continued, Maddock first floated the idea of licensing fact checkers in a tweet that also called for the burning of all Dominion voting machines "so we don't use them in future elections."

His co-sponsors for his new bill include Republican state Reps. Pat Outman of Six Lakes, John Roth of Traverse City, Gary Eisen of St. Clair Township, David Martin of Davison, Robert Bezotte of Howell, Beth Griffin of Mattawan, John Damoose of Harbor Springs and Steve Carra of Three Rivers. 

Maddock in December was one of two Michigan lawmakers initially involved in a lawsuit in federal district court in Washington, D.C., that aimed to require legislatures to certify presidential election results in Michigan and four other battleground states. In Michigan, Republicans control the state Legislature. Judge James Boasberg labeled the suit's contention "flat-out wrong."

Maddock said he and Rep. Daire Rendon, R-Lake City, were working to remove their names from the suit. They had allowed their names to be used, "but what was eventually filed is very different than what was initially discussed," Maddock said without providing details of what changed.

Also, in December, Maddock was among the state lawmakers who signed onto another court filing in the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to “establish a constitutional process for the selection of presidential electors” related to the Nov. 3 election.”

They contended that state legislators should have a post-election certification vote that would determine the electors for Michigan and wanted the justices to stop Michigan's electoral vote until a legislative certification could take place.

Their request conflicted with Michigan law, which awards electors to the winner of the popular vote after certification of the election by bipartisan county and state canvassing boards.

The filing was part of a GOP-backed and unsuccessful lawsuit by the state of Texas seeking to challenge the election results in Michigan and three other battleground states.

Rep. Maddock is married to Meshawn Maddock, co-chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party.

On Dec. 14, Matt and Meshawn were among a group of Republicans who tried to enter the Michigan Capitol to cast their own electoral votes for Donald Trump. They were turned away by security.

However, according to a document filed in a court case, Meshawn was one of 16 Michigan Trump "electors" who signed a certificate of votes for the president, who lost the state's election. The document said the GOP electors had "convened" in the Capitol, but they weren't actually allowed inside the building.