Forced Speech


Campaign finance reform, for all the righteous hubbub about "clean elections, is really about restricting speech – especially the speech of those who tend to call for less government. But in Arizona, a ballot initiative that squeaked by last November attempts achieve "clean" elections via another route: compelling people to speak, or at least to fund the speech of others.

Backed by Arizona's Common Cause, the Sierra Club, the AFL-CIO, the National Organization for Women, and myriad other "good-government" advocacy groups, Proposition 200, the "Clean Elections Act" (CEA) is Arizona's attempt to get publicly financed elections, a long-time wish of the left.

Under the law, candidates who seek public funding can spend $500 to $1,000 of their own money, and must raise $5.00 from a specific number of people depending on the office they seek, from 200 for legislative office to 4,000 for governor.

If they refuse all other outside money, they can count on government support ranging from $25,000 for a legislative race to $950,000 for a run at the governor's office. If a candidate is facing a free-spending opponent or outside advocacy groups running advertisements, he or she will get up to three times the original allotment to fight back.

Arizona Common Cause describes the CEA as "a carefully thought-out system" designed to "diminish the influence of special interest money in Arizona elections." But like most campaign finance reform proposals, this one's carefully thought out to give an advantage to advocates of more government.

This is the dirty little secret of all so-called campaign finance reforms that seek to "clean up" elections. Any restrictions on spending necessarily privileges left-of-center politicians who can rely on free-plugs from their friends in the press and the expensive, but untraceable, work of labor unions.

Private-sector labor unions have annual staff payrolls of $2.4 billion—$10 million a day – and during election season much of this staff is devoted to unreported electioneering, according to Reed Larson of the National Right to Work Foundation. Rutgers labor economist Daniel Troy estimates that in presidential election years labor unions funnel $500 million in staff and resources into politics, 10 times their reported money contributions.

Even when the statutes appear ideologically neutral, they allow public sector- bureaucrats to show discretion, and hence their biases, to political enforcement. In 1996, for example, Wisconsin state regulators went after the state's largest business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce for issue ads in the 1996 election. But the same regulators didn't harass the Sierra Club for similar activity. WMC fought the regulators and won in state court.

The government can't restrict political speech. But whether it can compel it will be decided by a federal court in Arizona.

It's no secret that Americans don't like to pay for political sermons. Only one in eight taxpayers voluntarily dedicates money for federal elections. So backers of Arizona's CEA knew they couldn't rely on taxpayers to give $5.00 "voluntarily" by checking off a box on their tax returns, even though they would be compensated with a $5.00 tax credit.

The law's authors, therefore, chose to rely on forced funding. It places a 10 percent surcharge on all civil and criminal fines and penalties. In addition, lobbyists for commercial interests – but not labor unions, non-profit advocacy groups, i.e., the backers of the initiative – are forced to pay $100 to support the fund.

In other words, anyone who gets a parking ticket in Arizona, or owns a business and would like to communicate with the government is forced to tithe the state's political class.

Thomas Jefferson said, "To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical." This is precisely what Proposition 200 does.

"It's blatantly unconstitutional," says Arizona state representative Steve May ( R ), who has refused to pay the 10 percent surcharge on a recent parking ticket. "As and elected official, I don't think I should be forced to contribute to my opponent."

May has teamed up with the Institute for Justice and joined a private citizen and lobbyists for the Chamber of Commerce and agricultural interests to challenge the law on free speech and equal protection grounds in federal court. Says the Chamber's Tim Lawless, "The lobbyists fee not only violates my free speech rights, it unconstitutionally discriminates against me based on the type of client I represent."

That, of course, is the point.