It looks like the Federal Election Commission is going to nix SpeechNow.org's attempt to get around restrictions on political speech by organizing as a 527 group, eschewing corporate and union support, and operating independently of parties and campaigns. In a draft advisory opinion issued today, the FEC says SpeechNow.org has to register as a political committee and comply with the donation limits that entails if it wants to run ads explicitly opposing or supporting candidates based on their positions regarding campaign finance regulation. "This opinion would leave practically no room for Americans to exercise our First Amendment rights to join together and speak freely to other Americans about who to elect to office," says David Keating, SpeechNow.org's president. Former FEC Chairman Bradley Smith, chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics (which is representing SpeechNow.org along with the Institute for Justice), sums up the opinion this way:
The FEC is now saying that any time two or more people pool their resources to support or oppose a federal candidate, they become a political committee subject to government regulations and limits. But it should be common sense that if individuals can speak without limit, so too can groups of individuals.
The FEC, which is scheduled to consider the draft opinion on Thursday, can't officially adopt it because the commission does not currently have a quorum. But SpeechNow.org says it does not plan to risk fines or jail time by running its TV spots without a green light.