Censorship

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A pro-free speech group seeks permission to speak freely

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Five years ago, members of Congress voted to protect themselves from criticism in the name of protecting us from their own corruption. For those of us who were disgusted by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, the TV spots planned by SpeechNow.org would fulfill a revenge fantasy.

One ad, aimed at Sen. Mary Landrieu, notes that the Louisiana Democrat "voted for the law restricting the speech of public interest groups" by barring them from running ads that mention politicians close to elections. The ad continues: "People can now go to jail for violating her law that protects politicians from criticism. Hey, Mary Landrieu. This is America, not Russia. But we still have the right to vote. Say no to Landrieu for Senate. Say no to censorship."

SpeechNow.org, which describes itself as "an independent speech group of individuals who have assembled in order to promote and protect our First Amendment rights," has donors lined up to pay for producing and running the ads. All it needs is approval from the Federal Election Commission, which recently agreed to consider its request. If the FEC lets SpeechNow.org proceed with its plans, the decision will further unravel the gag woven by post-Watergate restrictions on the financing of political messages.

SpeechNow.org wants to know if its intent to run ads explicitly advocating the election or defeat of candidates for federal office means it has to register with the FEC as a "political committee." In addition to the administrative burden that would entail, it would limit the group's ability to raise money, since each donor would be allowed to give no more than $5,000 per year and would have to count the donation toward his two-year limit of $65,500 for all political contributions.

On their own, the members of SpeechNow.org are free to spend as much money as they want on ads attacking politicians. Why should the situation be different when they get together and pool their resources so their message can reach a wider audience? Does exercising their First Amendment right to freedom of association somehow undermine their First Amendment right to freedom of speech?

The Supreme Court has said restrictions on political contributions, even though they impinge on freedom of speech, can be justified when they serve the goals of preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption; providing the public with information useful in assessing the merits of candidates for office (including their possible favoritism toward campaign contributors); and preventing "the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth that are accumulated with the help of the corporate form and that have little or no correlation to the public's support for the corporation's political ideas."

SpeechNow.org, which is represented by lawyers from the Institute for Justice and the Center for Competitive Politics, was deliberately organized to address these concerns. It is not a corporation (not even the nonprofit sort) and is not affiliated with any party or candidate. Its bylaws ban donations from corporations or labor unions, donations to parties or candidates, and coordination of its activities with parties or campaigns.

SpeechNow.org's ads would include disclaimers identifying the sponsor and noting that the spots are "not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee." The group would publicly disclose its donors' names and the amounts they give.

In these circumstances, it's hard to see how limiting the ability of SpeechNow.org's members to pay for their ads can be justified, even if you accept the Supreme Court's rationale for upholding campaign finance rules. SpeechNow.org notes that the Court itself, in a 1981 decision overturning a Berkeley, California, ordinance, said imposing "a Spartan limit—or indeed any limit—on individuals wishing to band together to advance their views on a ballot measure, while placing none on individuals acting alone, is clearly a restraint on the right of association."

The Berkeley debate was about rent control. SpeechNow.org wants to talk about speech control, but first it has to get permission from the speech controllers.

© Copyright 2007 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. First Post!

  2. Don’t be a dumbass.

  3. Warty,

    Calling out politicians on attempting to suppress free speech is quite noble. Attacks like yours on Mr. Sullum only serve to chill the discussion.

  4. Avast! Hoist by my own petard!

  5. OT: The New Republic has finally taken a step toward open discussion, opening a portion of their website to non-subscriber comments. It does not look like they have done this yet on The Plank or their other ‘blogs, but they did do it for the Franklin Foer 14 page blame-dodge that he posted over the weekend.

    One hopes that National Review would begin opening their site to user comments too. They just had a problem with the writings of a free-lance ‘blogger on their site coming under fire by some for things he wrote about in Lebanon. At least NRO came out to face the alligations and is keeping it’s readers informed quickly after the issue was raised. The writer, Mr. Scott, still posts in “The Tank”, but is pretty muuch left to commenting on existing news stories and the Army/Navy game (aka, the vocational bowl).

    Reason leads the way in encouraging comment on their content.

  6. Isn’t the subset of politicians who want to silence speech functionally identical to the set of politicians? Yeah, at the margins there’s one or two who don’t, but everyone else is in favor of shutting someone up.

  7. Soap boxes don’t have comment sections.

  8. This morning, I spoke $10 to the woman at Dunkin Donuts for two coffees and a pastry.

    She spoke me back $5.90.

    No, I don’t think it makes any sense, either.

  9. Well, actually Joe – that $3.10 carries with it the information that at least couple of people out there were interested in obtaining a sugary breakfast complete with caffeinated refreshment. So, yes – money does talk, and can be considered speech at a certain level.

  10. I guess the missing dollar went to a free speech tax or something.

  11. Good god… make that $4.10 – I obviously haven’t stopped in at Dunkin Donuts myself. Sheesh.

  12. joe,

    Try getting a message out using cream soda and twigs, then tell me how valuable money is to speech in today’s society.

  13. joe,

    Actually, it makes a lot of sense to me. Part of the freedom of the marketplace involves the freedom to voice one’s opinion about certain goods; part of such involves putting one’s money where one’s mouth is.

  14. Indeed, the freedom to engage in open commerce, whether it is regarding the advocacy of various political ideas or buying groceries, seems central to a free society.

  15. Speaking of chilling speech, there are nice fluffy snowflakes falling in Arlington, VA as I type.

    Let the beltway mayhem begin!

  16. joe, do you think the 1A right to free speech protects anything other than the right to speak to people within range of your unamplified voice?

    Do you think that it is possible to effectively distribute a message using nothing more than your unamplified voice?

    Do you think the ability to expend resources on the distribution of a message is a necessary condition to distributing that message beyond the range of your unamplified voice?

  17. The comical thing is that the 1st amendment reads:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    What is a press? It was the printing press, which at the time was the only way to broadcast messages.

    In other words, Congress is not permitted to make any law telling people what they can and cannot broadcast. So, it can’t tell people who own a press what to print, or a radio station what to say, etc.

    However, Congress has come up with a hilarious idea – they will just prohibit people from renting their printing presses out. That’s what all these reforms and blackout periods are about.

    Then they try joe’s weird tactic of claiming it’s not speech they are limiting when in fact that is precisely what they want to limit, otherwise why would they care?

    It does not matter whether you tell a guy “you can’t broadcast X”, or you tell him “you can’t rent your broadcast system to other people who want to broadcast X”. In the end, you are blocking the people who want to broadcast X from being able to do so.

    This is the same type of dishonesty (although to a much lesser degree) that the Federal Govt and its apologists pulled when they chose to effectively “outlaw” marijuana by mandating that people buy a permit to cultivate or own it, and refusing to sell any permits. When challenged they would say “we didn’t outlaw it, there are legal avenues for ownership”.

    And like any insane policy of prohibition, the more they try to make it work, the more problems and unexpected consequences the cause, and the more society suffers.

  18. “the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth that are accumulated with the help of the corporate form and that have little or no correlation to the public’s support for the corporation’s political ideas”

    —-This to me is the key and probably why so few viewpoints are presented on U.S. media, I dod think some kind of regulation is necessary to prevent complete and utter plutocracy in the United States(I say this tongue and cheek since we are living in a near absolute plutocracy now)

  19. It is not a corporation (not even the nonprofit sort) and is not affiliated with any party or candidate. Its bylaws ban donations from corporations or labor unions, donations to parties or candidates, and coordination of its activities with parties or campaigns.

    SpeechNow.org’s ads would include disclaimers identifying the sponsor and noting that the spots are “not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.” The group would publicly disclose its donors’ names and the amounts they give.

    Subversive bastards. Trying to use their non-corporate, non-union, unaffiliated money to promete the un-American idea of talking about issues and politicians stance on them prior to an election. I’m fairly certain the FEC will stomp on them like the filth spreading cockroaches that they emulate.

    In conclusion, I would like to thank and honor Senators McCain and Feingold for their diligent efforts to protect me and my fellow citizens, who are far too ignorant and gullible to sort through the mountains of comflicting claims that would otherwise be inflicted upon us, from being exposed to ads about politics. Those published and aired just prior to an election are especially heinous.

    Long live the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Incumbent Protection Act.

  20. Well Joe, what you did at Dunkin Donuts was most definitely an association – indisputably so – and it was accomplished by means of speech.

    By the way, if I wanted to use a nice little counterexample, I could say:

    This morning the Congress passed a law making it illegal to use money to buy books by Al Franken. But the law did nothing to make it impossible for Mr. Franken to speak, so we expect no one to object.

  21. “This morning the Congress passed a law making it illegal to use money to buy books by Al Franken.”

    That is ALMOST a good idea, but the First covers even unhinged socialists like Franken.

  22. Wait, we can’t speak unless we own a press? A printing press at that!

    Next thing you know there will be a form to fill out, under penalty of jail or fines, if you use the USPS to distribute your freely printed speeches.

  23. The more important question is: what type and flavor of pastry?

    Looking forward to more hilarious hair-splitting by joe in an attempt to show that money spent on speech isn’t speech.

  24. joe,
    Getting heard in America is not a right. Buying a willing audience is.
    Please say that over and over to yourself. I’m not big into Catholicism, but they may have something in that whole repetition thing.
    Eventually, it’ll sink in.

  25. See? Speechnow.org is petitioning the government to see if they’re allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights!
    Democracy works! Democracy works!
    “And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free (SIC) … “

  26. This morning, I spoke $10 to the woman at Dunkin Donuts for two coffees and a pastry.

    She spoke me back $5.90.

    No, I don’t think it makes any sense, either.

    A few hundred years ago, Michelangelo spoke the David and da Vinci spoke the Mona Lisa.

    Nope, doesn’t make any sense to me. Guess your brilliant analogy means that government can censor the visual arts, joe.

  27. SA,

    I love women in the visual arts. Especially interpritive dance, to the melodic tones of Poison or ZZ Top. I support them $5 at a time just for showing up to the theater.

  28. Hey, Guy Montag, don’t want to stop you when your on a roll and all, but you do realize that the form is for the ‘privillege’ of paying a reduced rate. Otherwise, you can just send it First Class.

  29. IP,

    There is/was one that had to be filed by any publication going through the mail. 2600 magazine used to print theirs annually in the magazine and I did look it up, was real at the time.

    Sorry if I grabbed the wrong form this time! Imagine that happening after more than a decade of Clinger-Cohen (paperwork reduction act)!

  30. The only possible way to petition your government is to write it with a quill and send your petion to DC by donkey cart. Pony express, telegraph, telephone, radio, TV and e-mail cannot be used to petition your government?

  31. This morning, I spoke $10 to the woman at Dunkin Donuts for two coffees and a pastry. She spoke me back $5.90.

    The BCRA doesn’t prohibit people from organizing SpeechNow.org, or from sending it money. It prohibits SpeechNow.org from using that money to produce statements about politics and politicians and purchasing air time to broadcast them.

    Perhaps you don’t understand the difference between “freedom” and “it doesn’t cost anything.”

  32. This is the same kind of mentality behind the return of the Fairness Doctrine…

  33. Here are a few ideas to use and change.

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