Posts tagged ‘Pandora Box’

Dark Days for Free Speech

Nearly every day brings new evidence of what a threat to free speech campaign finance "reform" laws have become.  I found this bit from Brian Anderson very depressing, but not surprising:

Consider what's going on in Washington State as an early warning.
Early in 2005, the Democrat-controlled legislature passed"”and
Democratic governor Christine Gregoire signed"”a bill boosting the
state's gasoline tax a whopping 9.5 cents per gallon over the next four
years, supposedly to fund transportation projects. Thinking that their
taxes were already plenty high... some citizens organized an initiative campaign,
as Washington law allows, to junk the new levy: No New Gas Tax.

Two popular conservative talk radio hosts, Kirby Wilbur and John
Carlson, explained why the gas tax was bad news and urged listeners to
sign the 225,000 petitions necessary to get the rollback initiative on
the November ballot, though they played no official role in the
campaign and regularly featured on their shows defenders as well as
opponents of the tax hike. With the hosts' help, the petition drive got
almost twice the needed signatures, but the ballot initiative, strongly
opposed by labor unions, the state's liberal media, environmental
groups, and other powerful interests, narrowly lost.

Meantime, however, a group of pro-tax politicians sued No New Gas
Tax, arguing that Wilbur's and Carlson's on-air commentaries were
"in-kind contributions" and that the anti-tax campaign had failed to
report them to the proper state authorities. The suit sought to stop
NNGT from accepting any more of these "contributions" until it
disclosed their worth"”though how the initiative's organizers could
control media discussions or calculate their monetary value remained
unclear. The complaint also socked NNGT with civil penalties,
attorneys' fees and costs, and other damages...

The real target of the suit was clearly Wilbur and Carlson, or, more
accurately, their corporate employer, Fisher Communications. If NNGT received the "contributions," that meant Fisher had sent
them by broadcasting Wilbur's and Carlson's support for the initiative.
Washington law limits contributions in the last three weeks of a
political campaign to $5,000. Depending on how one measured the dollar
worth of on-air "contributions," Fisher could thus face big fines and
criminal sanctions if it let Wilbur and Carlson keep talking about the
gas tax. "Thankfully, Fisher assured us that we could keep
talking about the subject on the air, and we did," Wilbur says. The
judge ruled in favor of the pro-tax pols, though he finessed the $5,000
limitation problem by ruling only on the "contributions" that occurred
prior to the campaign's last three weeks.

I find this offensive.  And expect similar "in-kind" donation logic to be coming to a blog near you.  And while Democrats may short-sightedly cheer as long as this logic is applied against conservative talk radio, this "in-kind" logic is a Pandora's Box that will be very hard to close.  For example, lets say my wife's reading club organizes 200 women to go out to a 3-hour rally to support Hillary Clinton.  In doing so, the club just mobilized 600 "man"-hours for Ms. Clinton, which at $10 an hour, which is a low value for a professional person's time, is worth $6000.  Have they violated the law?  Or, lets say a lawyer who normally bills $300 an hour spends all day Saturday and Sunday marching in a rally for George Bush.  Is he over the limit?

We are in the absolutely terrifying and historically unprecedented position of having had Congress pass a law that no citizen (except a few media people and a few government licensed political groups) can criticize a member of Congress by name within 60 days of an election.  And the Supreme Court signed off on this travesty!