Campaigns/Elections

Astroturf Soon To Be Illegal

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Apparently, congressional Democrats are worried about polls calling them do-nothings. So they've decided to do something: Restrict political speech.

The amendment, pushed by Rep. Marty Meehan of Massachusetts, would require groups that organize such grassroots campaigns to register as "lobbyists" and file detailed quarterly reports on their donors and activities. The law would apply to any group that took in at least $100,000 in any given quarter for "paid communications campaigns" aimed at mobilizing the public….

But the First Amendment specifically prohibits Congress from abridging "the right of the people . . . to petition the Government for redress of grievances." The Supreme Court twice ruled in the 1950s that grassroots communication isn't "lobbying activity," and is fully protected by the First Amendment….The idea goes too far even for Sen. John McCain, who voted to strip a similar provision from a Senate lobbying reform bill last January.

Just a quick example of the kind of astroturf–"fake" grassroots–campaigns that would be covered under the law:

Oprah Winfrey operates a website dedicated to urging people to contact Congress to demand intervention in Darfur. If her Web master took in over $100,000 in revenue from Ms. Winfrey and similar clients in a single quarter, he might be forced to make disclosures under the law.

Thank God Congress is keeping us safe from the poisonous influence of money on politics. Sheesh.

More on congressional restrictions on political speech here and here.

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  1. It’s pretty unclear how this restricts political speech. What ideas are being suppressed?

  2. …would require groups that organize such grassroots campaigns to register as “lobbyists” and file detailed quarterly reports on their donors and activities.

    So, who is going to pay for the creation of all this paperwork?

    Why does the government need to know this information?

  3. Aren’t these “anti-lobbying” laws just a facade for the party in power to abridge the activities of opposing groups? I know the GOP has George Soros in its sights, and the Dems have a whole roster of opposing lobbyists they’d like to put down.

  4. Dan –

    If I engage in political activity without filling out the right forms, I am subject to criminal penalties.

  5. What ideas are being suppressed?

    Any who adherents might utilize money to express. Remember, Dan T, the 1st Amendment protects the expression of ideas.

  6. > Why does the government need to know this information?

    They [obviously] don’t. But it’s not about what information the government needs…it’s about what information the public (via such groups) doesn’t need. Making it that much more onerous for an activist group like DownsizeDC to sustain itself will prevent the information such groups have to offer us from reaching us.

    Thank God we have the brave men and women of Congress to shelter us from all this information about how good or bad of a job they’re doing. They know better than us about which information we should see.

  7. “So, who is going to pay for the creation of all this paperwork?”

    The people providing more than $100,000 in funding.

    “Why does the government need to know this information?”

    So it can be made public, and the voters can know that “Little Old Ladies Against Drunk Driving,” who keep buy ads against a referendum to allow grocery stores to sell beer, is actually a group of liquor store owners seeking to protect their monopoly.

  8. joe, even you’re not that fucking naive.

  9. I can’t find the part in the 1st Amendment where it says that to be eligible to be part of the speech that can’t be abridged or the assembly that can’t be abridged, I have to provide details on all my speech and all my assembly for my neighbor to review.

    The bottom line is that such a requirement would mean that if I and my associates got together and engaged in political speech and then went home and took no further action, we could be subject to arrest and to criminal penalties. Period.

  10. Nothing to add, dhex?

    Um, “smelly.” You’re smelly.

    There, we’re even.

  11. So it can be made public, and the voters can know that “Little Old Ladies Against Drunk Driving,” who keep buy ads against a referendum to allow grocery stores to sell beer, is actually a group of liquor store owners seeking to protect their monopoly.

    But wouldn’t this law be bad for reason and HnR, joe. It seems like people might focus on who is contributing to Reason rather than what the Reason authors, like Katherine Mangu-Ward, are saying in substance. That would not be in the best interests of Reason’s authors, or their contributors. It might even drive down contributions to Reason that would otherwise be made.

  12. “The bottom line is that such a requirement would mean that if I and my associates got together and engaged in political speech and then went home and took no further action, we could be subject to arrest and to criminal penalties.”

    No, Fluffy, it doesn’t. You’d have to also have to spend $100,000.

  13. joe,

    The people providing more than $100,000 in funding.

    Great. More money wasted.

    So it can be made public…

    And what if I don’t want my spending habits to be made public?

    As for the publication of such information government disclosure laws aren’t necessary for those to become public knowledge. That is what the press is for (in part).

  14. So joe, how is this not an abridgment of free speech?

  15. “If a horse can’t eat it, I don’t want to play on it.”

  16. Joe –

    So if 500 of us got together in Vegas and listened to political speeches, we’d break the law.

    That directly criminalizes both assembly and speech.

  17. Better that advocacy groups spend their resources feeding a bureaucracy, rather than actually, you know, advocating, eh, joe?

  18. “I can’t find the part in the 1st Amendment where it says that to be eligible to be part of the speech that can’t be abridged or the assembly that can’t be abridged, I have to provide details on all my speech and all my assembly for my neighbor to review.”

    I can’t find the part that limits my ability to yell, “Fire!” in a crowded theater, either.

    Or that part that says I, and my 250,000 closest friends, need to get a permit to “peacefully assemble” on the national mall “to petition the government for a refress of grievances.”

    AND YET, every Constitutional scholar in American history has acknowledged that both of those laws are perfectly in keeping with the First Amendment.

  19. > No, Fluffy, it doesn’t. You’d have to also have to spend $100,000.

    No, joe, the group would have to take in $100,000. It doesn’t matter if your group has 10 members or 100,000 members, and apparently also doesn’t matter whether it spends the money or just takes it in.

  20. Annie Savoy: Oh, where are you going?

    Crash Davis: After 12 years in the minor leagues, I don’t try out. Besides, uh, I don’t believe in quantum physics when it comes to matters of the heart.

    Annie Savoy: What do you believe in, then?

    Crash Davis: Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.

  21. ^^^^Possibly the greatest movie line ever.

  22. joe,

    I can’t find the part that limits my ability to yell, “Fire!” in a crowded theater, either.

    Since the core of the First Amendment’s speech right concerns political speech your example is inapt.

    Or that part that says I, and my 250,000 closest friends, need to get a permit to “peacefully assemble” on the national mall “to petition the government for a refress of grievances.”

    Such a permit cannot be content restrictive and I doubt it would ever require a census of the folks showing up. Furthermore, such a permit deals with the use of a public facility or forum and no such forum necessarily exists in this circumstance.

    AND YET, every Constitutional scholar in American history has acknowledged that both of those laws are perfectly in keeping with the First Amendment.

    Yep, and neither of them is on point.

  23. “Great. More money wasted.”

    Some of us don’t consider greater transparency in the political process to be a waste. You know, like those people who show up on every campaign finance threat to argue that the law should be limited to public disclosure.

    “And what if I don’t want my spending habits to be made public?”

    You want to fund political acivity, but make sure no one finds out? You don’t run a liquor store, do you?

    “As for the publication of such information government disclosure laws aren’t necessary for those to become public knowledge. That is what the press is for (in part).”

    And the press is going to uncover who is behind “Little Old Ladies Against Drunk Driving,” and who funds the, how, exactly, without public disclosure?

    In case you haven’t noticed, virtually every story about who is funding which candidates and groups is based on research into the FEC database.

  24. The Holmes decision where the “Fire” exception comes from is exceptionally poorly written.

    It’s only illegal to yell “Fire” in a crowded theatre if it isn’t your theatre. That makes it run of the mill disorderly conduct. You have absolutely no free speech rights on anyone else’s property. If you yell “Fire” in a crowded theatre and it is your theatre, you’re not liable for the speech if people are injured – you’re liable for not maintaining safe conditions for persons using your property.

    Holmes was a big fat idiot. The case that famous quote comes from was also ludicrously wrongly decided. Debs should have tracked Holmes down and shot him in the face as a tyrant.

    “Time, place and manner” restrictions on speech don’t have as much to do with speech as they do with the ability of the federal government to own property and designate it for a particular use. I can’t hold my demonstration on the floor of the House of Representatives because that public property is already in use. I can’t hold it in the middle of I-95 because that property is already in use. But if I find public space somewhere that’s not currently in use, you’re damn right that I don’t think the state has the power to force me to get a permit.

  25. joe,

    In other words just because you can point to examples where speech can be regulated doesn’t mean that all examples of speech regulation are constitutional.

  26. Grotius,

    “Yep, and neither of them is on point.”

    Actually, they’re both exactly on point – the point being that “but that law limits/put conditions on speech” does not demonstrate that the law violates the First Amendment.

    I know, it’s a small point, but one that, surprisingly, needs to be pointed out.

  27. joe,

    Some of us don’t consider greater transparency in the political process to be a waste.

    You’d have to demonstrate that this has something to do with transparency.

    You want to fund political acivity, but make sure no one finds out?

    Yeah, sort of like a secret ballot.

    And the press is going to uncover who is behind “Little Old Ladies Against Drunk Driving,” and who funds the, how, exactly, without public disclosure?

    The same way it finds all sorts of things. There is always a paper trail.

    In case you haven’t noticed, virtually every story about who is funding which candidates and groups is based on research into the FEC database.

    Yes, but the money that candidates take is quite different from this situation. I have no problem with candidate disclosures.

  28. Fluffy,

    “But if I find public space somewhere that’s not currently in use, you’re damn right that I don’t think the state has the power to force me to get a permit.”

    Round up the posse and try to take over an empty public park for a demonstration some time.

  29. The daily trolls are providing the First Amendment equivalent of the “If you’ve nothing to hide, then you shouldn’t mind being strip searched” argument.

  30. joe,

    Actually, they’re both exactly on point…

    No, they aren’t for the reasons that I detailed.

  31. Possibly the greatest movie line ever.

    We’re sorry, but in order to express an opinion, you need to fill out form QDH-003-A and have it vetted by the IRS.

  32. Finally an issue that should have groups across the whole spectrum (or quadrants if you prefer) banding together to tell Congress to defeat this amendment. Do we really want to keep moving in the direction of having our “cartridge box” the only remaining protection of our individual rights?

  33. joe,

    Maybe you can address those reasons.

  34. > Some of us don’t consider greater transparency in the political process to be a waste.

    I’m all for transparency, but not when the burden is on individuals. Everything the *government* does, should be 100% transparent. The burden should be on the government and/or Congresspersons to document everything they do, why they do it, and who paid for it.

    An individual (or a group of individuals) can’t legally force me to do anything I don’t want. The government can. Therefore, I don’t care how individuals or groups are funded…I can ultimately ignore them if I want. I care dearly about the “who, what, when, where, how, and why” the government does because their actions I cannot ignore–I MUST comply.

  35. “In other words just because you can point to examples where speech can be regulated doesn’t mean that all examples of speech regulation are constitutional.”

    Of course not. My claim is much more modest – that pointing to some examples where speech can be regulated means that some examples of regulating speech are constitutional.

    “Yeah, sort of like a secret ballot.”

    And here we find ourselves balancing competing interests – is the benefit of keeping astroturfing secret greater than the benefit of allowing the public to know who is behind a political campaign.

    “Yes, but the money that candidates take is quite different from this situation. I have no problem with candidate disclosures.”

    There is no difference in terms of the question asked – how the press would gain access to the information about who funds the political campaigns.

  36. Christopher Monnier,

    You basically hit the nail on the head. That is the primary and most important distinction between disclosure laws for politicians and disclosure laws for citizens.

  37. Seems some on this board read the First Amendment in the same manner they read the Second.

  38. Grotius,

    “No, they aren’t for the reasons that I detailed.”

    You’re going to have to do better than “nuh uh.” I told you why the examples are relevant, and what they are relevant to.

  39. joe,

    I did better than “nuh uh” (see above). Have a good one.

  40. I sense that a ‘fairness’ doctrine revival is not far behind.

  41. Christopher Monnier,

    Since the private organizations/individuals in question are seeking to influence the government, and what it can force you to do, your distinction doesn’t hold up.

    I can agree with your argument if the “astroturf” groups were working to get people to buy more Rice Krispies, but the fact that they are working to get people to back some stance on how the government will regulate, tax, or otherwise impose on us makes these campaigns very relevant to the interest you agree with.

  42. The daily trolls are providing the First Amendment equivalent of the “If you’ve nothing to hide, then you shouldn’t mind being strip searched” argument.

    The “trolls” have the “First Amendment equivalent” of probable cause here, which makes it okay.

  43. The MLB should’ve moved away from astroturf as soon as the more realistic faux grass systems became feasible. Now, I’m not saying there needs to be government intervention to make astroturf illegal, but it sure would be nice if they’d replace it with a better playing surface. Baseball simply isn’t meant to be played on carpet.

  44. Since the private organizations/individuals in question are seeking to influence the government, and what it can force you to do, your distinction doesn’t hold up.

    Are you reading the same First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States as I am?

  45. Dave W.,

    There is no First Amendment equivalent of “probable cause,” particularly since we’re discussing political speech here.

  46. Chucklehead,

    It is totally odd to think that in order to petition the government one must first register to do so.

  47. > Since the private organizations/individuals in question are seeking to influence the government, and what it can force you to do, your distinction doesn’t hold up…

    Isn’t “influencing the government” basically the same thing as “petitioning the government for a redress of grievances?”

  48. Wouldn’t registering with the government, in order to petition the government, also be a kind of petition?

  49. Chucklehead,

    I guess it would be a petition to be allowed to petition? πŸ˜‰

  50. Isn’t “influencing the government” basically the same thing as “petitioning the government for a redress of grievances?”

    It is exactly the same thing. Some people seem to think that word games to transfer your freedom to them is a perfectly acceptable method of oppression liberty empowerment.

  51. There is no First Amendment equivalent of “probable cause,” particularly since we’re discussing political speech here.

    Wouldn’t that be the “compelling interest” test in strict scrutiny?

  52. Just to put this silly Grotius/joe dustup to bed, here’s the recap:

    Fluffy said: I can’t find the part in the 1st Amendment where it says that to be eligible to be part of the speech that can’t be abridged or the assembly that can’t be abridged, I have to provide details on all my speech and all my assembly for my neighbor to review.

    Joe (possibly) misinterpreted this to mean “Speech and assembly can never be restricted anytime, ever.” He then provided examples of legal restrictions on speech and assembly.

    Grotius misinterpreted that to mean “because some speech restrictions are legal, all speech restrictions are legal”.

    Today’s lesson: if you find yourself interpreting someone else’s statement in such a way that it is completely, utterly absurd, say to yourself, “maybe I’m not reading this correctly…”

    Now all of you go kiss and make up.

  53. Lamar,

    Does it make much sense compare the limited power of the government to search, etc. a particular place, etc. with the speech right?

  54. Biff,

    I already put it do bed.

    The main thrust of my comments were to detail why joe’s examples are inapt.

  55. Biff,

    In other words, you are misinterpreting me.

  56. Both are instances where the government may abuse overcome its constitutional limitations.

  57. I’m not in love with this proposed law. But since, as libertarians, we prefer greater disclosure, as opposed to restrictions on political donations, what exactly is the better alternative?

    We have a First Amendment “right to lie”, especially about politics. The antidote to that is transparency. How else do we get that?

  58. Now all of you go kiss and make up.

    Gimme some sugar!

  59. In other words, you are misinterpreting me.

    So in addition to “nuh-uh”, you also have “I know you are but what am I” in your arsenal. Good show.

  60. “And here we find ourselves balancing competing interests – is the benefit of keeping astroturfing secret greater than the benefit of allowing the public to know who is behind a political campaign.”

    Um – the benefit to whom?

    Speech isn’t free because it benefits someone. And it doesn’t have to benefit anyone to be free. The question of benefit never arises.

    The fact is that you’re attempting to place an affirmative burden on the speaker or assembler to make it easy for others to know about their speech.

    No member of the public has any right to know anything about my speech, my political activity, or my spending. The Congress has no right to place an affirmative burden on me to undertake some action to engage in political speech or assembly on my own property.

    Once again this “balancing interests” crap as a legal theory only comes into play if we assume the Bill of Rights is a set of guidelines, to be abridged whenever the state thinks it has a good reason. It’s crap law and always has been. If there is a conflict between a state power and an enumerated right, the state power loses. Always. No other reasonable reading of the Constitution is really possible. There would have been no point to passing the amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights if they weren’t going to, you know, actually AMEND the Constitution and restrict the actual or implied powers listed in the original unamended text.

  61. Biff,

    Actually, I’m mostly trying to derail any further controversy. What are you trying to do?

    Anyway, my comments on the issue of why joe’s examples are inapt are quite substantive. You can read them if you like.

  62. Wouldn’t that be the “compelling interest” test in strict scrutiny

    I don’t know since not only are we not talking about a “prior restraint” her, but moreover we are not talking about a “restraint” at all. Aren’t there any lower standards of scrutiny for this lower lever of intrusiveness?

    To answer Grotius: I only mentioned probably cause because I was going with Ironchef’s “strip searching” analogy. If you ever read any history, you would know that that is why I put Ironchef’s “First Amendment equivalent” phrasing in scare quotes.

  63. Fluffy,

    The thing of course is that the conversations at the Constitutional Convention were, well, at least officially, secret (at least until Madison’s death).

  64. Chucklehead,

    “Are you reading the same First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States as I am?”

    Yes, the one that has never been read to forbid laws requiring public disclosure. Yes, the one that requires food producers to list their ingredients and nutritional information. Yes, the one that requires a strict scrutiny test for laws that place restrictions on speech. Yes, we are reading that same First Amendment.

    Chirstopher Monnier,

    ‘Isn’t “influencing the government” basically the same thing as “petitioning the government for a redress of grievances?”‘

    Yes, it is. And running for office is the same things as “speech.” We require candidates for office to collect and release this information. While they are running for office, they are private citizens seeking to effect a vote in order to influence what the government does – just like astroturf groups.

    Grotius,

    “Does it make much sense compare the limited power of the government to search, etc. a particular place, etc. with the speech right?”

    It makes sense to compare the limited power of the government to condition speech and assembly to the limited power of governemnt to carry out searches.

    That’s what I got out of Dave W.’s comment – that there are conditions (the “compelling interest” doctrine) under which speech and assembly can be conditioned, just as there are conditions under which government searches can be allowed.

  65. Anyway, my comments on the issue of why joe’s examples are inapt are quite substantive. You can read them if you like.

    Dude, I read them. They’re substantive, and wholly irrelevant. Let me say this again: nobody is arguing that those examples prove that this astroturf law is A-OK.

  66. Dave W.,

    Oh yeas, I’ve told you many times, I’ve never read any history.

  67. Biff,

    They aren’t “irrelevant.” After all, joe was using those two examples as a means to defend the idea of these sorts of measures. So me stating why they are off point is perfectly relevant to the discussion at hand.

    Enjoy your day.

  68. Fluffy,

    In other words, we have a long history secret political speech in the U.S. Indeed it is likely the case that secrecy in political speech is as important in keeping a society free as public speech is.

  69. Fluffy,

    “Um – the benefit to whom?”

    To the voters. More transparent politics is a good thing. It allows us to make better decisions, just as more knowledge about products and their prices allows us to make better decisions as consumers.

    “No member of the public has any right to know anything about my speech, my political activity, or my spending. The Congress has no right to place an affirmative burden on me to undertake some action to engage in political speech or assembly on my own property.”

    I disagree with these statements, as does the Supreme Court, and as did the individuals who wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights.

  70. I’ve changed my mind. This is a good proposal. But the $100k threshold is a bit too high in my opinion. I think anyone that contributes ten bucks or more ought to register. My reasoning is that ten bucks will allow an individual or organization to purchase 24 first-class stamps, which could then be used to mail out letters or postcards urging people to contact their Representative or Senator about some issue. And since a dozen or so calls to said Representative or Senator is clearly lobbying, we ought to know who paid for those stamps.

  71. Dave W.: I wish I had more time, but isn’t there a super level of strict scrutiny for prior restraint?

  72. Yes, joe, the founders were TOTALLY against anonymous political speech. As is evidenced by every document in the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers being signed, dated, and sealed by the true author.

  73. Lamar: Um, the supreme court has roundly rejected prior restraint.

  74. Everyone else seems to both understand why, and how, those two examples are apt, Grotius.

    Fluffy made an absolutist statement. I showed that the matter was not absolute, and gave two counter-examples. That is the extent of the point I made, and nothing you wrote refutes that limited point.

    You’re right, it refutes another point – that those examples demonstrate that this law is right – but I didn’t make that point, nor provide those examples as evidence of that point.

    I refuted Fluffy’s absolutist point. He wrote that the First Amendment forbids the government from putting any restrictions on speech. He was wrong, and I provided two examples that proved he was wrong.

    Nobody else is having any diffuculty getting this – you’re just being stubborn, and playing dumb to avoid admitting that you read a point into my comment that wasn’t there.

    Just. Let. It. Go.

  75. Dave W.,

    If one goes by the limited Supreme Court decisions on the issue “prior restraint” is verboten except in some very particular circumstances, one example given being given as I recall the “time tables” of troop transports.

  76. joe,

    You and one other person isn’t “everyone else.”

  77. joe,

    Anyway, even if that were the case, since when did “majority opinion” here at Hit n’ Run start to matter to you?

  78. Timothy,

    Nice straw man. Someday, you’ll be big enough to argue against points made by actual people!

    (I’ll do you the favor of assuming you are deliberately being obtuse, rather than lacking the 8th-grade reading skills necessary to realize that I didn’t claim the Founders were opposed to individuals engaging in anonymous political speech).

  79. Er, the Dave W. comment was meant for Lamar.

  80. Yes, the one that has never been read to forbid laws requiring public disclosure.

    That would be incorrect. The First Amendment has been read to prohibit “forced speech.” See, e.g., West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).

    Yes, the one that requires food producers to list their ingredients and nutritional information.

    Rightly or wrongly, “commercial speech” is given less 1A protection than political speech. Since we are talking political speech here, pointing to laws that have passed muster under a lower standard doesn’t really help.

    Yes, the one that requires a strict scrutiny test for laws that place restrictions on speech. Yes, we are reading that same First Amendment.

    And can you possibly believe that this law would pass a strict scrutiny test? What is the compelling public interest that can be served in no other way?

  81. Timothy,

    Nice observation. πŸ™‚

  82. Let it go, Grotius. You misread my statement. It’s been explained to you several times. Even you get it at this point.

    Just move on. You’re not accomplishing anything, not making any point, not refuting any point, not shedding any light on anything.

    You’re just advertising the fact that you misread what I wrote. It’s been cleared up.

    Move. On.

  83. R.C. Dean,

    Since we are talking political speech here, pointing to laws that have passed muster under a lower standard doesn’t really help.

    Thanks for pointing that out more succinctly than I did.

  84. joe,

    I’m not the one bringing it up time and time again. You are. πŸ™‚

  85. Move. On.

    Did Soros get you to type that?

  86. I didn’t claim the Founders were opposed to individuals engaging in anonymous political speech

    It’s not really clear what you were claiming, joe. You should probably clarify.

    Anyway, truly anonymous speech should be legal, and the Founders wanted it that way. Astroturfing isn’t anonymous speech, it’s deliberately deceptive speech – a speaker trying to pretend he’s someone he isn’t. Saying you’re “Publius” is different from saying you’re “Republicans for Clean Air”.

    The law is a bad idea because it’s overbroad and burdens non-astroturfing groups as well as astroturfing groups. Again, though, what’s our better alternative?

  87. joe,

    I think what Grotius is saying is that there is a vast difference between the permissible restrictions on free speech you mention, and the proposed law restricting astroturfing.

    A person who yells “Fire” in a movie theater is creating a clear and present danger to the public safety, so their behavior falls within the police power of the state. Gathering 250,000 people in a single location on public property is going to disrupt other people’s ability to use it, so again the govt has a legitimate interest there as well.

    Astroturfing does not threaten public safety or hog the use of public property. You haven’t presented any such compelling interest that the govt has to regulate such speech. Also, there is the small fact that legitimate, non-astroturfing organizations will also be negatively impacted by this law, which I’m told is another consideration the courts take into account when dealing with 1st ammendment cases.

  88. Timothy,

    You know the Federalist Papers could be construed as a form of astroturfing (depending on how liberally one applies the term), since the term “federalism” probably more aptly applied to the so-called “anti-Federalists.”

  89. RC Dean,

    “Public disclosure” and “Forced Speech” are not cotermimus. The 1st Amendment has been read to forbid SOME forced speech. It has never been read, as Chucklehead claimed, to forbid ALL “forced speech,” such as public disclosure. If it had, there would be no food labelling laws. You made the Grotius error – reading my refutation of a statement asserting an absolute as if I, myself, was making an absolute statement.

    “Rightly or wrongly, “commercial speech” is given less 1A protection than political speech. Since we are talking political speech here, pointing to laws that have passed muster under a lower standard doesn’t really help.”

    OK, so you are acknowledging that the absolutist statement I refuted is, in fact, untrue in some cases. Good.

    Now, are disclosure laws on political activity constitutional? The laws requiring the disclosure of donations to candidates have been repeatedly upheld.

    “What is the compelling public interest that can be served in no other way?” Exactly the same one that is served by the similar requirements placed on the campaigns of candidates for office – the greater transparency created by public disclosure. You can find some really well-phrased expressions of this principle on old threads about McCain-Feingold, by libertarians opposed to donation limits and ad regulations.

  90. Dave W.: I wish I had more time, but isn’t there a super level of strict scrutiny for prior restraint?

    I don’t know. Back at lawr skeel, I took as little Con Law as I could get away with, in favor or corporations and IP.

    It is just that, intuitively, “compelling interest” and “strict scrutiny” seem overly tough for a law that is content neutral and mandates only disclosure-related things, rather than substance-related things.

  91. I refuted Fluffy’s absolutist point. He wrote that the First Amendment forbids the government from putting any restrictions on speech.

    I’m pretty sure he didn’t.

    Anyway, having failed to convince either Grotius or joe, I hereby retire from my brief stint as Hit & Run Hall Monitor. I want to spend more time with my family.

  92. In other words, the Constitution created a far more centralized government than the federation then in place, yet supporters of the document called themselves federalists. Of course at this point it becomes an argument over word definition (a generally pointless endeavour).

  93. Again, though, what’s our better alternative?

    Ever heard of caveat emptor?

    If Little Old Ladies Against Drunk Driving is able to convince the citizenry to support anti-beer laws, does it matter who pays their bills?

  94. crimethink,

    I’m certainly open to the idea that this law is unduly burdensome one small political organizations. I can recognize this as a cost, to be weighed against the benefits of transparency.

    I’m just objecting to the arguments that 1) there is no benefit to knowing who is behind an astroturf campaign and 2) this law must be unconstitutional because it involves speech and assembly.

    As a matter of constitutional law, laws that restrict or condition speech CAN be constitutional, if they meet certain standards; as a matter of fact (although debateable), transparency does provide benefits to the political system.

  95. If Little Old Ladies Against Drunk Driving is able to convince the citizenry to support anti-beer laws, does it matter who pays their bills?

    Obviously it does, otherwise nobody would bother with astroturfing in the first place.

  96. Constitutional issues aside, it is a question of who do you trust, the voters’ ability to see through astroturfing and make a decision for themselves or politician’s ability not to use this kind of thing as a way to harrass groups that oppose them. Being at heart a democrat, I trust the voters’ judgement and the maketplace of ideas to work these kinds of things out. Politicians on the other hand will use this power to stomp on whoever happens to be out of power. Never was a bigger lie told than people claiming the “need to stop the corrupting influence of money in politics”. Bullshit. This is all about using the corrupting influence of regulatory and police power to stile debate and intimidate dissenters. The people who support this ought to be ashamed of themselves.

  97. I refuted Fluffy’s absolutist point. He wrote that the First Amendment forbids the government from putting any restrictions on speech.

    So, having shown that that absolute statement is false, now you can safely ignore Grotius’ non-absolutist arguments?

  98. crimethink,

    The thing of course is that any good reporter could ask all sorts of pointed questions about the funding of such an organization and if they aren’t forthcoming that fact alone can be seized on.

  99. crimethink,

    “If Little Old Ladies Against Drunk Driving is able to convince the citizenry to support anti-beer laws, does it matter who pays their bills?”

    There is a reason why special interests pose as grassroots groups – because it’s effective. Little Old Ladies Against Drunk Driving operates under that name because they know that the fraud involved in adopting that persona can influence the public.

    Decisions made based on truth are better than decisions made based on fraud.

  100. It has never been read, as Chucklehead claimed, to forbid ALL “forced speech,” such as public disclosure.

    Where did I claim this, exactly?

    Besides, joe, I’m on your side now. Read my ten-dollar proposal. After all, if the law applies to the wealthy, it ought to apply to the poor as well. Or… are you advocating regulating political speech for some, but not for others based on some arbitrary dollar amount?

    … That certainly doesn’t seem egalitarian…

  101. This is another example of our celebrity worshipping/ad hominem as an OK argument/wanna have a beer with the president society. We don’t really examine the specific proposal as long as a sympathetic figure presents it.

  102. So, having shown that that absolute statement is false, now you can safely ignore Grotius’ non-absolutist arguments?

    Who are you talking to, and WTF are you talking about?

  103. John,

    we should also consider your comments in light of the current controversy over dismissals at the Justice Department.

  104. I’m certainly open to the idea that this law is unduly burdensome one small political organizations. I can recognize this as a cost, to be weighed against the benefits of transparency.

    joe, you sound awfully anxious to make your omelette. I wonder, would you support forcing Congresscritters to undergo public lie detector tests to ferret out their true motivations when proposing legislation?

    That’s transparency I could get behind.

  105. crimethink,

    I haven’t ignored Grotius’s non-absolutist arguments. I agreed with him that those cases do not prove that this law is legit (just refute one argument about why it cannot be legit), and have attempted several comments about transparency and public disclosure of funding already being accepted by the courts as legitimate governments interests.

  106. crimethink,

    Hey, thanks for visiting my blog BTW.

  107. crimethink,

    Do you have a blog?

  108. Grotius, no blog for me.

    I’m saving my ingenuity for the book… πŸ˜‰

  109. “we should also consider your comments in light of the current controversy over dismissals at the Justice Department.”

    I don’t think so. US Attorneys are slithery political creatures who got their jobs at the pleasure of the President and because of their connections. If they don’t want to toe the party line, whatever that is, then they need to find a new job. I didn’t blame Clinton when he canned every one of them. I wouldn’t blame any president for canning US attornies for sport or any reason they want. Politics is politics.

    This case is about people and their ability to petition the government, not about some politically connected croney to keep his job after he pissed off the powers that be.

  110. Chucklehead,

    “Where did I claim this, exactly?”

    At 12:55 PM.

    Anyway, your ten-dollar proposal fails a cost-benefit analysis. Groups operating with a $10 budget have nothing to do with the problem of astroturfing; even if they did, they wouldn’t be big enough to accomplish anything; and the resources and intrusiveness required to enforce a law on everyone that small would be prohibitive. You know, the “this regulation looks absurd if we change it to something absurd, so the original regulation is bad” isn’really very effective.

  111. crimethink,

    Well, I can’t promise much ingenuity at my blog but it is interesting to a create a “little world” of one’s own.

  112. BTW, Grotius, I got the link to your blog from a thread on the Reason group at Big Facebook. You should check it out sometime if you haven’t already.

  113. crimethink,

    “joe, you sound awfully anxious to make your omelette.”

    Could it possibly be that you could be assigning me a more absolutist position than I actually hold? It’s been known to happen…

  114. crimethink,

    I am working on a very large piece on Strauss that I’ll hopefully finish by the weekend and publish there. An absolutely fascinating intellect.

  115. The law would apply to any group that took in at least $100,000 in any given quarter for “paid communications campaigns” aimed at mobilizing the public….

    This is the problem with the bill: What exactly is a paid communications campaign? How will we define aimed at mobilizing the public?

    If I run an organization that takes in donations for other purposes, but has a website, would I be guilty of running a paid communications campaign?

    What if I was a watchdog group that reported on corporate and government issues, laws, scandals on its website? Am I now trying to mobilize the public?

    If I report on a piece of legislation on my website that I find to be egregious and post a link on my website to a page where people can write their congresspeople a note on this, am I a paid public lobbyist or a concerned citizen? I can almost guarantee that the government will interpret me as a lobbyist, even I’m completely user supported and I’ll be subject to even more onerous costs and regulations because I chose to exercise my rights of free speech and encouraged others to do the same.

    Whatever it’s intent, it will be used as a silencing tactic. And it will silence the little guys in favor of corporate interests that can afford to pay the additional costs of complying with the regulations.

  116. crimethink,

    Anyway, hopefully the comment at Facebook was a positive one. πŸ™‚

  117. “Nothing to add, dhex?”

    not really!

    you’re in one of your moods, so we’ll leave it at that.

  118. At 12:55 PM.

    Weird. I don’t see a claim there, only a question.

  119. Grotius,

    Well, it was sort of neutral. It also contained a link to our old reactionary friend gaius’ blog at declineandfallofwesterncivilization.blogspot.com (which I wrongly thought was a joke).

  120. I don’t think joe has sufficiently addressed my question of why the burden should be on individuals and non-government groups and not necessarily on the government. The reason “because they’re trying to influence the government” isn’t good enough for me. Interpreted as loosely as the commerce clause, we’re essentially all trying to influence the government one way or another.

    Why do we care who’s funding the advertisements and other type of speech we see? Last time I checked, an advertisement can’t confiscate your property at gunpoint. Yes, the ads are trying to ultimately influence the government, but so what…the rubber doesn’t meet the road until the government actually does something.

    And that’s when we really need transparency–when the government is doing something (i.e. passing a law). Every law should have a transparency disclosure wherein each person or group that lobbied for and against the law is recorded, how much money was spent lobbying on the law, and who will benefit from the law.

    Why waste effort on disclosing who paid for ads that *might* affect policy? Why not focus on actions by the government that actually *do* affect government policy?

  121. crimethink,

    Oh man, what a name for a blog.

    Oh, and just to clarify (since I’ve been asked this a few times in “meatspace”), “ingenuus” is the Latin term for an individual, hmm, well born free. The Romans made a legal and cultural distinction between those born free and those who are manumitted; I’m of course taking some liberties with the former.

  122. Or we could return to strict interpretation of the constitution, interpret the commerce clause narrowly, and eliminate the need for corporations to try and influence a small government that has no power to grant them favors.

  123. joe,

    Can I get your full name and mailing address? I need to make sure your comments aren’t part of some astroturffing campaign… your postings could easily be a fake identity created by an evil corporation. Since you are all for transparency and disclosure, you should be happy to give me that information.

    In addition, please answer another question… what happens when I donate money to a grass roots campaign to increase auto safety standards… and because of “transparency” that you so love, the auto companies that I do work for decide they no longer need my services… that those services are better provided to someone more politically acceptable? I know you come from the leftist “All government legislation works 100% as planned and there are never negative consequences for a law” school of thought, but can’t you see how these kinds of laws could be used to stifle political speech?

  124. Rex Rhino,

    If you keep accurate records, then beat yourself up in the office of your boss, with no witnesses, then you can have a safety campaign funded by your former employer.

    Can even fore a club too.

    Solyent soap can fit in there someplace . . .

  125. Aww, it ate the rest of my question. πŸ™

    I wanted to know, joe, why people that come together in order to urge their fellow citizens to contact their democratically-elected representatives need to be regulated if they happen to pull in a fat wad of cash?

    And I still think my ten-dollar proposal is solid. Pshaw to your cost-benefit analysis. Since when does the federal government need to break even?

  126. Christopher Monnier,

    I support efforts to make the governemnt more transparent, too. Even more than astroturf groups. I don’t think the minutes of these groups’ board meetings need to be published for public review, for example.

    Rex,

    You have my full name and email address.

    You know I’m not an astroturfer, because of the extremely limited distribution of my arguments.

    “your postings could easily be a fake identity created by an evil corporation” Even if they were, my comments don’t amount to enough of a campaign to actually matter. Hence, the cutoff in the bill.

    “what happens when I donate money to a grass roots campaign to increase auto safety standards… and because of “transparency” that you so love, the auto companies that I do work for decide they no longer need my services”

    You sue their asses for a civil rights violation, and win, thanks to laws supported by people like me, and opposed by people like you.

    Wow, that was easy.

  127. So it can be made public, and the voters can know that “Little Old Ladies Against Drunk Driving,” who keep buy ads against a referendum to allow grocery stores to sell beer, is actually a group of liquor store owners seeking to protect their monopoly.

    And also so that if a group of citizens want to pool their money, and that of like-minded people, to push for enactment of legislation that pisses off politicians, said politicians can arrange to have the paperwork of the citizens’ group scrutinized in hopes of finding some technical violation of the law, so the leaders of the group can be fined and shut up. Or better still, so the intricacies of the law scare off the citizens’ group from even getting started in the first place.

  128. > I support efforts to make the governemnt more transparent, too.

    But isn’t this enough? Why must we violate the rights or individuals in order to achieve even greater transparency? And why draw the line where you’ve drawn it? Surely we could get a little more transparency if we DID require meeting minutes of board meetings…why not do this?

    Perhaps you value transparency more than liberty? I believe individual liberty is supreme. We should scrounge for every bit of transparency we can get from within the government. Individual liberty trumps transparency, at least for me.

  129. Y’know, if they call it the Federal Regulations Ensuring Egalitarian Speech Pertaining to Election Engineering Come Hell And Cresting Tides, it might pass.

  130. (campaign commercial in 2008): “John Politician is a champion of free speech. In 2007 he supported the FREE SPEECH ACT to crack down on astro-turfing groups determined to deceive the American public. He’s also committed to preserving America’s liberty, as evidenced by his support of the USA PATRIOT act…”

  131. Wow, that was easy.

    What was easy? Posting that comment?

    Frankly, joe, I would prefer the option of maintaining my privacy. Civil rights lawsuits sound like a pain in the ass, knowhutimean?

  132. For anyone interested, the Center for Competitive Politics has written extensively on grassroots lobbying disclosure (for links to lots of our previous stuff, including policy primers, op-eds, blog commentary, and the text of the Meehan proposal, go here: http://www.campaignfreedom.org/blog/id.237/blog_detail.asp).

    For now I’d just like to make a few quick points.

    Whatever its possible merits, grassroots lobbying disclosure is essentially a government database of citizen political activity. There’s something distinctly Orwellian about that and we should be sure that the benefits outweigh the risks before we go supporting it. We can be certain that the risks of disclosure are real; for a recent example, see Sen. Kerry’s grilling of Ambassador Sam Fox over the latter’s donations to Swift Boat Vets. The potential benefits, on the other hand, are much less well-established.

    The debate certainly isn’t furthered by the use of the term “Astroturf.” This term may be more convenient than “grassroots lobbying,” but it badly distorts the nature of the activity. Grassroots lobbying consists of nothing more than one group of private citizens contacting another group of private citizens and asking them to urge their legislators to vote for position X. The calls that a legislator receives as a result represent real people–not “fraudulent” people or “Astroturf” people–who were convinced by the argument they heard. This is true regardless of the speaker or the speaker’s motives. It is true regardless of how well funded the speaker is; the speaker, after all, is convincing these people to call, not bribing them to do so.

    CCP believes that private citizens, when exposed to such advocacy, are capable of weighing its merits and of making decisions that they believe are in their best interest. We believe they are capable of doing so without knowing the identity of the speaker, because the identity of the speaker does not bear on the merit of the argument.

    Reaching a conclusion on the merits of an argument isn’t always easy. Certainly it’s more convenient to simply say: “I don’t like Speaker X, so I will ignore his argument.” But the First Amendment–and, accordingly, the protection enjoyed by anonymous speech–doesn’t make exceptions for convenience; it makes exceptions for corruption. And there is nothing corrupt about asking people to contact their legislators, no matter who does the asking, who paid for it, or what they call themselves.

    Again, for those who are interested in reading more about this (and other political speech issues), we invite you to stop by our website.

    Sincerely,
    Paul Sherman
    Associate Director
    Center for Competitive Politics

  133. You sue their asses for a civil rights violation, and win, thanks to laws supported by people like me, and opposed by people like you.

    Frankly, joe, I would prefer the option of maintaining my privacy. Civil rights lawsuits sound like a pain in the ass, knowhutimean?

    Hear Hear!!

    I too support laws for civil rights violations, but that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be allowed to petition the government anonymously. Regardless of how much money their group might take in.

    What a jackass-y mindset. Anonymity in speech is a right and very important for many people in order to be able engage politically and not face consequences which would otherwise keep them from advocating.

  134. Regardless of how much money their group might take in . . . Anonymity in speech is a right

    I have always thought I should have the right to a pony. And the right to run people over iff they stay in the crosswalk too long. And other nice things. Rights = goooood.

  135. ChicagoTom,

    See, the numerous and manifest problems associated with this particular government program can be remedied with another government program. πŸ˜‰

  136. We can be certain that the risks of disclosure are real; for a recent example, see Sen. Kerry’s grilling of Ambassador Sam Fox over the latter’s donations to Swift Boat Vets.

    Oh, the horror!

    The debate certainly isn’t furthered by the use of the term “Astroturf.” This term may be more convenient than “grassroots lobbying,” but it badly distorts the nature of the activity.

    By “debate not furthered” of course you mean your side of the debate. Boo hoo.

    You’re being deliberately deceptive here. Nobody uses “astroturfing” as a synonym for all “grassroots lobbying”, and you well know that. “Astroturfing” refers to fake grassroots campaigns where a few donors pour lots of money into organizations that pretend to be large-membership organizations (see the Parents Television Council), or more generally to campaigns which pretend to be representative of people which they are not (see the famous “Republicans for Clean Air”). By trying to conflate astroturfing (something any normal person can see as intentional deception) with grassroots lobbying (something everyone supports), you’re just trying to mislead people yourself. I suppose that makes you a perfect spokesman for this particular cause.

    the identity of the speaker does not bear on the merit of the argument

    Please. If that were the case, none of your astroturfing buddies would bother pretending in the first place. They do it because it’s misleading, and it works.

  137. I think I have perfected my “Biff Translation Tool.”

    “I don’t want to regulate all political speech. I just want to regulate the political speech I don’t agree with.”

  138. You sue their asses for a civil rights violation, and win, thanks to laws supported by people like me, and opposed by people like you.

    Wow, that was easy.

    Uh, where to begin?

    First of all, they aren’t going to come out and say “We aren’t hiring you because you donated money to the wrong political campaign”, the same way they would never come out and say “We won’t hire you because you are an ethnic minority”. You simply find that you are being passed up for those jobs. The company does a background check on you including viewing your political donations before even calling you for a consultation, and if you support political campaigns they don’t like, you simply never get a phone call from them about a job. I wouldn’t even know they haven’t given me a job because they would simply not contact me in the first place.

    Second of all, if you are a contractor, you never sue your clients… ever, for any reason. Period. End of story. Who the hell is going to do buisness with a contractor who might sue them? Even if a client did something crazy like refused to pay me in violation of our contract, I wouldn’t sue them, I would eat the cost and just never do buisness with them again. But it would cause severe harm to my career to ever sue a client, no matter how justified.

    If I somehow was unable to simply donate money to whoever I want via extra-legal means (as any corporation or nefarious interest with any resources will also be able to do), this kind of law would prevent me from donating to any political group. It has a horrible chilling effect on free speech and the political process. Everyone who wants a job will have to tow the company line politically.

    Fortunatly, this kind of law isn’t designed to prevent powerful financial interests from astroturfing (they can continue to do so illegally), but rather it is designed to destroy real grass-roots campaigning by groups who might not want to break the law.

  139. Biff,

    Has it ever occured to you that some grassroots campaigns start as “astroturf” campaigns and then get popular support and become true grassroots orginizations. What’s the difference between the two? At what point can you distinguish when one becomes the other?

    Putting excessive regulations on speech is a fast way to make it so only rich people with an army of lawyers can even think about starting a grassroots campaign. Which is exactly what you seem to be railing against.

  140. Biff –

    Your distinction between “astroturf” organizations and “genuine” grassroots organizations is crap.

    “where a few donors pour lots of money into organizations that pretend to be large-membership organizations” – so what? How do they pretend to be anything? By the name they give themselves? If me and the two richest guys in America form a group called “Citizens for Fair Tax Law”, well, guess what – we’re citizens, and we’re for fair tax law, so that makes the name anything but deceptive. If you’re mad because you think the name implies hundreds of millions of members, too bad.

    And Joe, you did not refute my absolutist position, at all. You have provided throughout this thread a handful of examples of wrongly decided cases. That’s it. Debs Vs. United States? Wrongly decided. The longstanding exception to the 1st Amendment for obscenity? Wrongly decided every time. Prior restraint of commercial speech? Bad law.

    Come the revolution, the persons responsible will get their just desserts. [I need a smiley icon. Can I get a smiley icon? Oh wait, I forgot: πŸ™‚ ]

  141. What Biff said.

    The worst-case example the “Competitive Politics Institute” was able to come up with was…seriously, this is the one they picked to highlight…the fact that Congress and the public were able to figure out what sort of person was being nominated for an ambassadorship, and vote to defeat the nomination. Ohnoes!

    Astroturf does NOT refer to grassroots political acivity, but to exactly the opposite – special interest political activity posing as grassroots activity.

    And if the identity of the speaker didn’t matter, why are CPI’s clients – er, funders – er, members – paying so much to hide their identities?

  142. Fluffy,

    Yes, except for the past two centures of Constitutional Law, your argument about the Constitution is very strong.

  143. This is just another iteration of the argument over whether the right to free speech includes the right to spend money spreading your ideas.

    The Supreme Court has ruled that there is a right to anonymity in making political speech – you cannot compel disclosure of the identity of the author of an anonymous pamphlet.

    We are just arguing about whether the state can go ahead and compel disclosure of the identity of whoever paid for the anonymous pamphlet to be copied and mailed.

  144. Astroturf does NOT refer to grassroots political acivity, but to exactly the opposite – special interest political activity posing as grassroots activity.

    How do you distinguish between the two? Is MoveOn Astroturf?

  145. Putting excessive regulations on speech is a fast way to make it so only rich people with an army of lawyers can even think about starting a grassroots campaign.

    Which is, of course, exactly the reason our well-funded Political Masters love this kind of thing.

  146. Astroturf does NOT refer to grassroots political acivity, but to exactly the opposite – special interest political activity posing as grassroots activity.

    It’s already been said, but…

    Grassroots are “special interests,” too, joe.
    Speech wasn’t meant to be as free when it becomes too organized?
    Put up the sign from Animal Farm and be done with it then.

  147. joe, the kind of person being nominated for ambassador was the kind who wanted to know the truth about a narcissistic serial exaggerator who was running for president. I’m sure you would disagree with the particulars, but I think you see the point here. Would you heap the same scorn on a person who donated to Media Matters, Moveon, or (insert liberal activist group here)?

    (what a stupid question!)

  148. Joe –

    It should be obvious that in discussions of constitutional principle we can’t be limited to existing case law and precedent. If that were the case, there would be no reason for any constitutional issues whatever to ever be adjudicated or disputed, and the body of precedent would never change.

    The fact that different courts could rule in diametrically opposite ways in Plessy and Brown pretty much means that relying on precedent is a bad idea.

    I have the raw text of the document on my side, since it quite plainly contains no exception for obscenity, no exception for advocating resistance to the draft, no exception for commercial speech, no exception for assembly if assembly requires the expenditure of funds, etc. On your side you have precedents that could be overturned at any moment. I bet the Washington DC government thought that they plenty of precedent that the 2nd Amendment was limited, too.

  149. Biff said:

    Please. If that were the case [that “the identity of the speaker does not bear on the merit of the argument”], none of your astroturfing buddies would bother pretending in the first place. They do it because it’s misleading, and it works.

    It most certainly is the case. An idea does not become good or bad based on who proposes it; that’s the very definition of the ad hominem fallacy. Rational advocates, who know that individuals are prone to those sorts of judgments, may want to conceal their identity, and the constitution gives them that right.

    Obviously, they hope their argument will be adopted uncritically; every advocate hopes for that. But they certainly can’t count on that, and through anonymity they can at least assure that if their argument is rejected, it is rejected on the merits and not because of bias against the speaker.

    Will some people use the right of anonymous speech to forward selfish interests? Sure. And as federal power expands, we can expect even more to do so. But if you look at people using anonymous speech to seek rents through big government, and conclude that the problem is too much anonymous speech, I’d suggest you’re missing both the real problem and the constitutional solution.

    As for retaliation, Ambassador Fox was merely a current example. If you’re unmoved by that example, I’d refer you to the Institute for Justices cases San Juan County v. No New Gas Tax (in which CCP submitted an amicus brief) and Sampson v. Dennis (information available here: http://www.ij.org/first_amendment/index.html). Both are cases where ordinary citizens were hauled into court because of campaign finance disclosure laws that (like grassroots lobbying disclosure) had nothing to do with preventing quid pro quo corruption.

  150. I also see no mechanism provided in the text of the 1st Amendment to distinguish between “real grassroots activity” and “special interest activity”.

    The term “special interest” has no real meaning here, since we’re talking about rights that are possessed by individuals. One or two persons might have the most particular interests in the world, and their interests might in fact be completely opposed by the interest of the other 299 million Americans. That has nothing to do with their right to speak and assemble about that interest, even if it’s just the two of them. Nothing at all.

  151. I think I have perfected my “Biff Translation Tool.”

    Which apparently is “pretend Biff said something he didn’t actually say, and attack him for it.”

    “I don’t want to regulate all political speech. I just want to regulate the political speech I don’t agree with.”

    Having lurked here for a while, I usually respect your commentary, highnumber, but you’re just being an asshole now. Get back to me when you’re interested in an honest discussion.

  152. If me and the two richest guys in America form a group called “Citizens for Fair Tax Law”, well, guess what – we’re citizens, and we’re for fair tax law, so that makes the name anything but deceptive.

    What a well-chosen example. How about this or this?

  153. How do you distinguish between the two? Is MoveOn Astroturf?

    You require disclosure and let voters decide for themselves. This is the approach libertarians are supposed to favor, instead of laws restricting donations. But maybe that was just an argument of convenience.

  154. An idea does not become good or bad based on who proposes it; that’s the very definition of the ad hominem fallacy.

    In the real world of political advertising, the identity of the speaker is part of the message. That’s why it pays to pretend you are, for example, the “Consumer Coalition for Competition in Satellite Radio”, as it makes voters think you are actually a pro-competition group that has researched an issue and evaluated it objectively.

    Rational advocates, who know that individuals are prone to those sorts of judgments, may want to conceal their identity, and the constitution gives them that right.

    Concealing your identity and faking your identity are two very different things. “Publius” vs. “Republicans for Clean Air”, as I mentioned upthread.

  155. joe of course completly ignored my arguement where I described how making political funding public inevitably makes it possible for your employer (or potential employer) to retaliate for your political donations. Pretty much it eliminates the right to help fund political groups that disagree with your employer.

    I, of course, ignored issues such as the police raiding the homes of people who donate to organization who want to reform drug laws… or people who donate to pro-choice groups being targeted for outright violence by pro-life extremists… Or people who support gay-rights organizations being kicked out of their church… or criminals targeting people who donate to anti-gun groups as homes they want to rob.

    But I figured joe would probably support these kinds of exploitation (except maybe for the anti-guns people being targeted, I am sure he would support a reporting exemption for that), so they make a poor example.

  156. Having lurked here for a while, I usually respect your commentary, highnumber, but you’re just being an asshole now.

    You must be confusing me with someone else. πŸ˜‰

    Biff,
    You’ve somehow tricked me. You have made me want to be very nice and earnest, and you have made me want to be a big time smart alec(k) asshole, maybe even summon forth Urkobold.

    Fie on you! You get both nice and asshole, but no Urkobold.

    I think I’m becoming a shill for big Cato, but I recommend checking these out:

    A Skeptical Look at Grassroots Lobbying Disclosure
    Download a Podcast of the Event (MP3)

    and

    The Dangers of Disclosure: The Unintended Consequences of Campaign Regulations for Free Speech and Privacy
    Download a Podcast of the Event (MP3)

    They’re long, but when you have the time, give them a listen. Cato’s policy forums are typically quite balanced discussions.

  157. I frankly don’t have a problem with your first example.

    If terrestrial broadcasters want to support groups that don’t want XM and Sirius to merge, why shouldn’t they be allowed to?

    I don’t think the government should be able to regulate the merger of those two companies. But since the state has taken that power unto itself, it should now expect that other broadcasters to be interested in the outcome of regulatory deliberations.

    And if I called XM and said, “Hey, I don’t think the government should be able to regulate your merger. Give me some money and I’ll organize people who share that belief,” if you are claiming the power to stop me, you’re a fascist.

    The 2nd example is muddled, because some of the money is coming from the tobacco settlement itself. I think the government’s case against the tobacco companies was atrocious law, and that therefore the tobacco settlement shouldn’t exist, but since it does exist and since part of the monies have gone to anti-smoking groups, those groups are now going to use that money to try to stop smoking. Those are the breaks.

    And by the way, just because some libertarian somewhere once told you that he favored disclosure instead of regulation that doesn’t mean he has somehow bound us all to choose from among those two options. I favor neither disclosure nor regulation. You still have never dealt properly with the counterclaim that your entire argument is the ad hominem fallacy writ large. When you say:

    “In the real world of political advertising, the identity of the speaker is part of the message. That’s why it pays to pretend you are, for example, the “Consumer Coalition for Competition in Satellite Radio”, as it makes voters think you are actually a pro-competition group that has researched an issue and evaluated it objectively.”

    I respond: Tough shit. Get smarter voters. The C3SR is offering an argument, and the voters should be able to evaluate that argument on its merits. If your argument is that we need disclosure because voters are too stupid to do that, well…I’m not going to accept limits on my speech and assembly based on the fact that people are stupid. I don’t need to know anything about the people funding the Parents’ Television Council to know that I don’t agree with them. I just need to read what they write and listen to what they say.

  158. *gazes across school yard at lunchtime. High# there, Biff there.

    Will there be hand holding off into the sunset? Will they ever reconcile?

    Will the spark of humor that ignited their tempestuous relationship ever get rekindled?

    Tune in, dear readers, to next time’s installment of NOT WITHOUT MY TAINT

    (A Zod/Urkobold production. All rights reserved)

  159. If terrestrial broadcasters want to support groups that don’t want XM and Sirius to merge, why shouldn’t they be allowed to?

    Good grief, dude, of course they should be allowed to. They just shouldn’t be able to pretend that they’re a “consumer coalition” when they’re not.

    Tough shit. Get smarter voters. The C3SR is offering an argument, and the voters should be able to evaluate that argument on its merits.

    So it’s ok to lie to people. It’s their fault if they believe it, the maroons.

    And no, C3SR is not merely offering an argument. By pretending to be someone the audience views as being honest and untainted by personal financial interest, they are deliberately and specifically arguing from authority. You should be pitching your “ad hominem fallacy” shtick to C3SR, since they clearly don’t believe you.

    just because some libertarian somewhere once told you

    Wow, I disagree with an absolutist position on disclosure, so I’m kicked out of the libertarian club?

    Oh highnumber, hold me.

    if you are claiming the power to stop me, you’re a fascist.

    And the thread goes Godwin! (or quasi-Godwin, anyway) Night, folks.

  160. So it’s ok to lie to people. It’s their fault if they believe it, the maroons.

    Biff, that’s the premise our entire freaking political system is built on. People running for office lie about everything under the sun, and the only check on that behavior is for the voters to catch on and give them das boot.

    It’s interesting that those of you who are so in love with forcing disclosure on the part of non-govt advocacy groups, haven’t addressed my creative idea of forcing members of Congress to undergo lie detector tests when they propose legislation. Only in that way can we be sure to know their true motivations.

    Why should citizens be subject to transparency laws, but not their representatives?

  161. Of course, it’s also interesting that when there are ethical breeches perpetrated by members of Congress, the solution is always more regulation of the people outside Congress. Sort of like Adam & Eve telling God to kick just the Serpent out of Eden for being so darn tempting, if I may be forgiven for a biblical reference.

  162. Biff, sweetie, I think we’re alone now. Let’s snuggle.

  163. WTF is that!!!!

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