Not Now, SpeechNow

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There will be no preliminary injunction for SpeechNow.org, the pro-free speech-in-politics group profiled by Jacob Sullum here. The group can't run ads attacking Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) and Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), according to the ruling of a D.C. district court.

Plaintiffs' argument presents a false syllogism that relies on a "crabbed view of corruption, and particularly of the appearance of corruption" that is at odds with Supreme Court precedent…

Second, that SpeechNow cannot literally funnel contributions to candidates, and therefore cannot serve as a vehicle for the direct exchange of dollars for political favors, is not dispositive. The Supreme Court has long acknowledged that "corruption," in the sense that word is used in campaign finance law, "extends beyond explicit cash-for-votes agreements to 'undue influence on an officeholder's judgment.'"

Democracy 21 does the Snoopy dance, which is to be expected, since the group's first reaction to political speech is "how illegal was that?" The New York Sun has some depressing quotes.

"He is saying to be truly independent is impossible, but that is the exception that swallows the First Amendment," a lawyer backing the challenge, Steven Simpson of the Institute for Justice, said, vowing an appeal. "People have the right to speak. They don't have to apologize for the fact that other people might abuse that right."

A supporter of campaign finance regulation, Tara Malloy of the Campaign Legal Center, praised the ruling. "The idea that 527 groups are sort of magically independent really doesn't withstand scrutiny," she said.

If you want a few non-magical opinions about free campaign speech, dig into reason's archives. Michael Lynch chewed over the issue with FEC commissioner Brad Smith in 2001.

NEXT: Christopher Hitchens Tortured (Seriously)

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  1. Free Speech was such a quaint notion anyway.

  2. What is unclear about shall make no law?

  3. They go by a different Constitution, the one that says “…shall make no law. Or not.”

  4. When the Supremes upheld portions of the McCain Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Incumbent Protection Act I was ashamed.

    If there is any arena where free speech is more importan than in politics, please let me know.

  5. If a ruling like this was supported through all appeals, then we’d be back in a space where the US would have no legitimate government. Again. And where the laws of the Republic would deserve no respect. Again.

  6. Trying again –

    When the Supremes upheld portions of the McCain Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Incumbent Protection Act I was ashamed.

    If there is any arena where free speech is more importan than in politics, please let me know.

    Preview, dammit! Preview.

  7. Why do well-intentioned groups assume it is acceptable to stick a volume knob on the First Amendment? “You can spread your message, but only to a certain number of people at certain times of the year.”

  8. Dave, you should have reprinted the judge’s statements on independence:

    “‘Independence’ does not prevent candidates, officeholders, and party apparatchiks from being made aware of the identities of large donors, and people who operate independent expenditure committees can have the kind of ‘close ties’ to federal parties and officeholders that render them ‘uniquely positioned to serve as conduits for corruption,’ both in terms of the sale of access and the circumvention of the soft money ban,” the judge wrote.

    By the judge’s logic, all large amount of money spent by an individual on politically related speech of any kind should be banned, since the simple expenditure of that money “corrupts” politicians.

    Ridiculous.

  9. J sub D —

    The first version was better, as if censorship gremlins had gotten a hold of your post and attempted to redact it.

  10. volume knob on the First Amendment

    Mine goes to 11.

  11. I’d like to suggest to some on the left that they might be a clearer alternative for some civil libertarians if they weren’t sounding increasingly bad on speech. Finance reform. Fairness Doctrine. Hate speech. Et cetera. I’m not saying that the GOP offers a comfortable home, either, but being weak on free speech really guts any claims that you are on the side of the angels.

  12. Let me guess, Tara Mallow is all for freedom of speech, but…

  13. Why do well-intentioned groups assume it is acceptable to stick a volume knob on the First Amendment? “You can spread your message, but only to a certain number of people at certain times of the year.”

    Peter, are you serious with this quesstion?

    that right has to be weighed against “other important governmental interests.”

    Welcome to the modern view of the Bill of Rights. The “other important governmental interest” in this case, is the fear that money is tainting politics. Direct criticism about a candidate is a defacto campaign contribution.

  14. so will Tara Malloy get immunity like the telecoms?

  15. I like McCain-Feingold, but this was the wrong ruling. I don’t think the Constitution allows the law to stretch this far. Disappointing. Not the end of the world, but disappointing.

  16. “‘Independence’ does not prevent candidates, officeholders, and party apparatchiks from being made aware of the identities of large donors, and people who operate independent expenditure committees can have the kind of ‘close ties’ to federal parties and officeholders that render them ‘uniquely positioned to serve as conduits for corruption,’ both in terms of the sale of access and the circumvention of the soft money ban,” the judge wrote.”

    That’s true as far as it goes. It’s also true that a group can be lefitimately independent. Liberty demands that the governing entity has to prove that there is corruption happening, not put a blanket ban all instances of a situation where corruption may occur.

  17. So, will SpeechNow appeal?

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