Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Campaign Finance Reform - Slippery Slope

The prosecutor in San Juan County, Washington sued a group advocating for a ballot initiative to overturn a new gas tax in Washington state. The prosecutor alleged that the group failed to list radio commentaries as contributions to its campaign. I am not making this up.

It gets worse. The judge agreed with the prosecutor. The judge opined that he was merely requiring disclosure. Of course, the real purpose of the lawsuit is to penalize people who espouse an opposite political viewpoint. For more on the lawsuit, see Everything I Know Is Wrong.

Until a recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion upholding much of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, Americans thought they were free to engage in political speech without interference or restriction. Now, we are beginning to see the fallout. A prosecutor sues a citizen group in Washington. The Federal Election Commission is considering regulations on blogs and other non-traditional media. We are on the slippery slope, and our most basic political right of free speech is in peril.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin also covers the Washington state case here, here, and here. Michelle's posts give us the below commentary concerning the case.

The liberal Seattle Post-Intelligencer sees the danger.

Two years ago, when the federal campaign-finance law reached the U.S. Supreme Court, dissenting justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas warned that something like this would happen. We doubted it; it seemed clear to us that the law applied to ads, not editorial content. We thought Thomas was over the top when he said campaign-finance law was leading toward "outright regulation of the press."

Judge Wickham has made a step toward just that. It is a dangerous, unconstitutional ruling.
Ryan Sager of the New York Post conveys my thought on the looming danger.

THE campaign-finance-reform lobby has always claimed that it wants to regulate money, not speech.
So why are two talk-radio hosts being harassed by Washington state officials under local campaign-finance laws for their on-air support of an anti-tax ballot initiative?

And why did a judge back the government attack, ruling that on-air speech can be considered a campaign contribution — which leaves it subject to myriad rules and regulations?

Because, contrary to the reformers' claims, money is speech, and speech is money. If you set out to regulate one, you will inevitably regulate the other.
I agree completely.

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