“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 who did not 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 pushed back on that criticism in a statement shared with The Washington Post on Wednesday.
“This isn’t about journalists or free speech,” he said. “It’s about the fact checkers who have been injected into our First Amendment right to be wrong if we want to. If a fact-check entity is bankrupting businesses and cancelling people with lies, they should be held accountable. If they have high standards and are doing good fact checking, they have nothing to worry about.”
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 Joe Biden’s presidential election victory, though he later sought to have his name removed after the suit was filed, the Detroit News reported.
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 style 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.
All of those proposals were widely panned as likely First Amendment violations and did not gain enough support to become law.