Michigan state Rep. Matt Maddock and his wife, Michigan Republican Party co-chair Meshawn Maddock, have repeatedly been called out by fact-checking journalists for promoting baseless claims of widespread voter fraud and falsely suggesting that COVID-19 is comparable to the flu.
Now, the Republican lawmaker wants to create new obstacles for fact-checkers who might challenge politicians over unsubstantiated claims.
“My legislation will put Fact Checkers on notice: don’t be wrong, don’t be sloppy, and you better be right,” Maddock wrote in a Facebook post announcing his proposal last week.
Maddock’s bill, the Fact Checker Registration Act, was introduced Tuesday and would require fact-checkers to register with the state and insure themselves with $1 million fidelity bonds. Any fact-checker that failed to register with the state could face a $1,000 per day fine. The proposed legislation would also allow anyone to sue a fact-checker over “any wrongful conduct that is a violation of the laws of this state.”
Critics argued that the bill would violate the Constitution’s protections for free speech. “This is an affront to the First Amendment,” state Sen. Jeremy Moss, a Democrat, told The Detroit News.
Maddock and his wife have had a contentious relationship with fact-checkers and other journalists who have questioned their public claims.
The Maddocks have been at the forefront of conservative efforts in Michigan to combat coronavirus restrictions and they backed attempts to undermine the 2020 election results.
The state lawmaker joined an effort to impeach Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) over her coronavirus restrictions as cases spiked last fall. In December, Maddock was one of two Michigan legislators who joined a federal lawsuit challenging President Biden’s election victory, though he later sought to have his name removed after the suit was filed, The Detroit News reported.
He and his wife traveled to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 5 and 6 to attend “Stop the Steal” rallies, the Detriot Free Press reported, and Maddock spoke to a crowd gathered near the Capitol before the deadly insurrection. (The Maddocks later condemned the violence that happened later that day.)
Not long after, the couple joined a Facebook group where members were discussing the possibility of a civil war following the insurrection, the Free Press reported. Michigan Democrats tried to censure Maddock, charging that he “perpetuated conspiracy theories and election fraud lies” in the weeks leading up to the riot at the Capitol.
In recent weeks, Maddock has been stoking suspicion against fact-checkers on his social media accounts.
In April, he posted a photo of himself wearing a shirt that said “Goolag” in the same font as the Google logo. He asked his followers if they were tired of fact-checkers “only body-checking conservatives” and suggested that the public was in the dark about who was fact-checking politicians’ claims.
“Don’t we deserve to know who they are?” he wrote.
Last week, he announced his bill to challenge fact-checkers “who relish their role punishing those whom they deem ‘false’.” He also claimed, without providing evidence, that fact-checkers have unfairly targeted conservative politicians.
“Many believe this enormous economic and social power is being abused,” he wrote on Facebook. “Who are these Fact Checkers? We’re going to find out.”
Despite First Amendment protections that bar the government from abridging the freedom of the press, Maddock is far from the first lawmaker to suggest creating a government registry for journalists.
In 2016, a South Carolina lawmaker floated a bill that would have allowed the state to vet journalists and only allow the ones deemed “responsible” to do their work. He later claimed the proposal was a political stunt.
Another state lawmaker in Indiana drafted legislation in 2017 that would have required journalists to get licenses. As recently as 2019, Georgia politicians considered creating a “Journalism Ethics Board” to enforce state-imposed restrictions on reporters.
All of those proposals were widely panned as likely First Amendment violations and failed to gain enough support to become law.