October 2, 2006

"Campaign Finance Reform"=Censorship

George Will has a column today detailing the increasing use of "campagin finance reform" statutes and rules as a means of supressing and punishing speech on political subjects. It's chilling. In addition to the prosecution under CFR laws in Seattle of two talk-radio hosts who promoted a ballot measure against a gas tax increase, Will reports the following:
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.
I've never considered myself a free speech absolutist, but campaign finance regulation is already so onerous that lawyers have made it a cottage industry and it's a deterrent to people who would run for office.

Looks like it will get worse before it gets better. It's my biggest beef with John McCain.

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