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Author Topic: Free speech vs "Campaign Finance Reform"
Ben
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Seattle: free spech vs campaign finance reform

This has me [Mad] ! And alarmed... if they can apply such to radio, why not newspapers and other media, as well? Newspapers do have editorials where they often endorse candidates or issues. This could have a lot more implications than the gas tax intiative they've been arguing over... text below in case link is broken later on.

quote:
Speechless In Seattle
What has happened in Seattle prefigures what a national Democratic administration might try to do to stifle conservative talk radio.
By George F. Will
Newsweek

Oct. 9, 2006 issue - SEATTLE—As the comprehensive and sustained attack on Americans' freedom of political speech intensifies, this city has become a battleground. Campaign-finance "reformers," who advocate ever-increasing government regulation of the quantity, timing and content of political speech, always argue that they want to regulate "only" money, which, they say, leaves speech unaffected. But here they argue that political speech is money, and hence must be regulated. By demanding that the speech of two talk-radio hosts be monetized and strictly limited, reformers reveal the next stage in their stealthy repeal of the First Amendment.

When the state's government imposed a 9.5-cents-per-gallon increase in the gas tax, John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur of station KVI began advocating repeal by initiative. Proponents of repeal put up a Web site, hoping to raise 1,000 volunteers and $25,000. In two days they had 6,500 and $87,000. Needing 224,880 signatures to put repeal on the ballot, they got 400,996.

Appalled by this outburst of grass-roots democracy, some local governments, which stood to gain many millions from the tax, unleashed a law firm that would gain substantially from handling the bond issues the tax would finance. The firm set out to muzzle Carlson and Wilbur, using the state's campaign regulations.

It got a judge to rule that the broadcasters were not just supporters of the repeal campaign, they were agents of it. Why, they had even used the pronoun "we" when referring to proponents of repeal. Their speech constituted political advertising, and their employer was making an "in-kind contribution" to the repeal campaign. The judge said a monetary value must be placed on their speech (he did not say how, he just said to do it that day). The law says reports must be filed and speech limits obeyed or fines imposed.

State law restricts to $5,000 the amount a single giver can contribute in the three weeks before an initiative. If Carlson's and Wilbur's speech were monetized at radio-advertising rates, they would be silenced for all but about 15 minutes in each of the campaign's crucial last three weeks. They continued to talk (the repeal campaign, outspent almost five to one, lost 54.6-45.4) and, aided by the libertarian litigators of the Institute for Justice, have taken the issue to the state Supreme Court.

What has happened in Seattle prefigures what a national Democratic administration might try to do—perhaps also by reviving the "fairness doctrine" (an "equal time" regulation)—to strangle conservative talk radio. And what has happened here—the use of campaign regulations as weapons of partisanship—is spreading.

A few people opposed to a ballot initiative that would annex their neighborhood to Parker, Colo., talked to neighbors and purchased lawn signs expressing opposition. So a proponent of annexation got them served with a complaint charging violations of Colorado's campaign-finance law. It demands that when two or more people collaborate to spend more than $200 to influence a ballot initiative, they must disclose the names, addresses and employers of anyone contributing money, open a separate bank account and file regular reports with the government. Then came a subpoena demanding information about any communications that opponents of the initiative had with neighbors concerning the initiative, and the names and addresses of any persons to whom they gave lawn signs. They hired a lawyer. That has become a cost of political speech.

In Florida, a businesswoman ceased publication of her small-town newspaper rather than bear compliance costs imposed by that state's speech police. Even though the Wakulla Independent Reporter contained community news and book reviews as well as political news and editorials, state campaign regulators declared it an "electioneering communication" in league with certain candidates, and ordered her to register with, and file regular reports to, the government.

This is the America produced by "reformers" led by John McCain. The U.S. Supreme Court, in affirming the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold speech restrictions, advocated deference toward elected officials when they write laws regulating speech about elected officials and their deeds. This turned the First Amendment from the foundation of robust politics into a constitutional trifle to be "balanced" against competing considerations—combating the "appearance of corruption," or elevating political discourse or something. As a result, attempts to use campaign regulations to silence opponents are becoming a routine part of vicious political combat.

When the court made that mistake, most of the media applauded, assuming, mistakenly, that they would be forever exempt from regulation. If Washington state's Supreme Court does not quash the idea that the government gets to decide who gets to say how much of what on the air, the U.S. Supreme Court will be asked to reconsider the wisdom of deferring to governments when they limit speech about government.

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15078348/site/newsweek/page/2/


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velcro
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I think the Colorado law that kicks in after 2 people and $200 is riduculous.

But...

If a radio station owner dedicated 100% of the radio time to one-sided advocacy of a clearly political issue, would that not be a political contribution?

For those who say money is speech, so you can spend as much money as you want, I have these counter-examples.

When you go to a town meeting, everyone gets a fixed amount of time. You don't get more time if you pay more. Everyone gets the same microphone. You don't get a microphone that reaches the back row if you pay more.

The most important speech we have is a vote. Everyone gets just one, no matter how much money you have.

The purpose of the First Amendment is so that Government does not repress ideas. If the Government allows those with money to drown out those without money, by buying unlimited time on TV or ads in newspapers, then the letter, but not the spirit of the First Amendment is preserved.

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The Drake
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The analogy to a town meeting is flawed. A town meeting - or the House Floor - has only one microphone.

If XM radio has 18 channels of hard right vitriol bought and paid for by one crazy dude, it doesn't significantly impact the people listening to NPR.

Nor is anyone else's free speech limited by his purchases. His free speech is limited, however, if you tell him he can only have one channel.

Do we need to be protected from the ideas of our fellow citizens?

Let them be heard.

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Tom Curtis
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I'm torn on this one, but on consideration I think The Drake is right.

It is not obvious that he is. The simple fact is that money can be used to dominate political speach. This is shown by the nonsense about a "liberal" media bias in the US. In fact, all major US media outlets have a significant right wing bias. In political terms they lie far to the right of such luminaries as Nelson Mandella, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. A genuinely left wing voices can scarcely be heard in the US, being drowned out by the media.

This is hardly surprising. The Democratic party is, at the level that matters, a party of millionaires; and the media is owned by millionaires. Naturally, both speak for the interests of their "owners".

So despite the article's attempt to articulate the perils of grass roots political speach under "campaign finance laws"; I think it is really trying to ensure that the big end of town can continue to drown out grass roots voices.

Despite this, I think that the restrictions described in the article are clearly inappropriate. The Drake is right on that.

Instead, I think some other restrictions would be in order. The are:

1) Only citizens allowed to contribute to political parties, campaigns or advocacy groups (ie, not aliens and no corporations);

2) All contributions above a minimum level ($200 to $500) dollars recorded as to their source in publicly accessable records;

3) A notice of major financers or any "public interest group" or "think tank" to be appended to any press release or report by that "public interest group" or "think tank", where a major contributor is any person or organisation contributing 5% or more of the funds of that group;

4) No second hand contributions to any political party, campaign, advocacy group, public interest group or think tank (That is, you cannot pay a another person or organistation (ie trust) with the intention that that person or organisation then contribute a to a political party etc, nor establish a trust whose purpose is to contribute to public interest groups or think tanks); and finally,

5) If a contribution over a certain amount (say a million dollars) is made by any individual, then neither that individual nor any company of which he is a major share holder (>15%) may gain a contract with any government agency over which the person to which the contribution was made has a supervisory role.

What do you all think?

PS: I can't help noticing the article draws lesson on what the Democrats are likely to do even though two of its three examples come from Republican controlled states. (Can anybody say "Liberal bias in the media"? [Wink] )

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Ben
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Sorry for my lack of participation over the weekend... Still mulling over things. I have posted some thoughts on this on concord.org previously, though I am revising my thoughts in light of this recent article. As for Tom Curtis's suggestions, they seem to make sense. I'd like to see more on this. Maybe any comments on local vs national donations and politics?
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