The campaign finance goo-goos - cynical, hypocritical lot that they are - are in full war whoop. On a number of fronts, they have free speech cornered, wounded and calling 911 but getting the hang-up dial tone.
- On the Friday before the Tuesday, November 4, general election, at the behest of the Democrat(ic) Party, a circuit court judge in Jackson County yanked a political advertisement off the airwaves without holding a hearing because he didn't like the ad.
- Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board (the merged Ethics and Elections Boards) is about to manufacture rules governing third-party "issue ads," those being defined as advertisements not placed by the candidates themselves but by those who are interested in the results - aka: citizens.
- The Wisconsin Judicial Commission has taken it upon itself to determine whether it agrees with an advertisement aired by successful State Supreme Court candidate Michael Gableman.
- A Democrat(ic) Congress appears poised to re-instate the Orwellian-named "Fairness Doctrine" in order to shut down conservative talk radio.
Against these frontal assaults on free speech, the likes of Dave Zweifel, Scott Milfred, Mike McCabe, Jay Heck, John Nichols, Bill Lueders and Ed Garvey have issued not a peep of protest. In fact, most of them are singing hosannas of praise. But hear them squeal like hogs to slaughter when their own First Amendment freedoms are threatened! Watch them wind up their Thomas Jefferson action figures lest anyone think of regulating THEIR words.
The irony is that most of them want to prevent voluntary organizations from expressing their members' collective opinion when it is most likely to be heard, at election time. But (with the possible exception of Milfred) they have no problem using the coercive powers of the state to tax you and me and the man behind the tree to fund speech that we do not support. They call that "campaign finance reform."
That's the irony. Here is where the rubber hits the road: worried about despoiling the electoral process? Then tell me what governmental agency is going to save us from John Nichols' lies?
Free speech costs money
The political speech hall-monitors are thrilled that the Government Accountability Board (GAB) will attempt to regulate "issue ads" placed by third-party interest groups.
In a move likely to draw a legal challenge, the state elections agency voted unanimously Tuesday to ban corporate cash for thinly veiled campaign ads and require backers of the ads to disclose who pays for them.
"They struck a very important blow for the public's right to know," crowed Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. [Board to Regulate Issue Ads] What's to know? Who paid for the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce ads in the Spring Supreme Court race? Big business. Who paid for the $2.1 million in WEAC ads - in just five key districts - in the Fall Legislative races? Unionized teachers. [See the breakdown]
The goo-goos are not subtle about their objectives.
"Nothing would please me more than to stop each and every issue ad from ever leaving the special-interest political hack's desk - that, however, might be a challenge in court," thundered State Sen. Jon Erpenbach in The Capital Times.
Not to mention, the Constitution. The G.A.B. will start by putting up hoops to jump through and printing many forms to file for those who wish to be heard within 30 days of a primary election and 60 days of a general election if they:
- Refer to the "personal qualities, character or fitness" of a candidate.
- Support or condemn a candidate's position on issues.
- Support or condemn a candidate's public record.
And, apparently, it will ban all corporate speech during that time. But not for unions?
In the summer of 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a major portion of McCain-Feingold "campaign finance reform" that had forbade similar speech during the same campaign timeframes. Instead, the court upheld the right of Wisconsin Right to Life to inform the world of its members' feelings on issues during an election campaign.
David Broder of The Washington Post is no one's idea of a heavy breather. He wrote in June 2007:
If you believe most of the newspaper editorials and the outraged complaints from self-styled reform groups, the Supreme Curt last week opened a huge 'loophole' in campaign finance law that will enable corporations and unions to pollute the political process with their ads.
It is astonishing to me that a decision grounded in the First Amendment right to address basic public policy questions should be objectionable to people who consider themselves liberal.
But we're 'journalists!'
What it comes down to is that - shut out of the Mainstream News Media - conservative interests are forced to rely on direct mail, TV commercials and talk radio. My old friend Dave Zweifel has worked up a froth against talk radio in what amounts to an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the speech muzzlers. Wade through the mush and you come out the other side a little poorer for the experience but with the understanding that good ol' Dave objects to talk radio for these three basic rules of situational ethics, only:
- Talk radio is conservative
- Talk radio is successful
- Talk radio isn't "fair."
The Capital Times, of course, is innocent of Points #1 and #2. As for Point #3, imagine a Fairness Doctrine for The Capital Times!
That Orwellian name was designed to disguise the doctrine's use as the government's instrument for preventing fair competition in the broadcasting of political commentary.
When government regulation of the content of broadcasts began in 1927, the supposed justification was the scarcity of radio spectrum. … Because daily newspapers are much more scarce than are radio and television choices [today], should there be a fairness doctrine for The New York Times?
Indeed, where is the recourse to this third-party independent expenditure contributed by The Capital Times on behalf of the Kathleen Falk re-election campaign?
The county executive has worked hard to address problems at the center - most of which had developed because she and the County Board deferred too frequently to county and local police agencies.
But blame can also be apportioned to managers and to officials who had oversight responsibilities - in particular, County Board members who failed to attend meetings of the panel that is charged with reviewing issues related to the center.
I'm serious, I intend to file a complaint if I don't see John Nichols' in-kind contribution listed on Falk's next campaign finance report.
Does John Nichols have more free speech rights than a member of Wisconsin Right to Life, the National Rifle Association, or Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce because he professes to be a journalist? The First Amendment makes everyone a journalist.
You want campaign finance reform? How About Media Reform? Christian Schneider at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute nails it:
Imagine the Legislature passing a bill saying the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel or the Wisconsin State Journal had to report the names of all their subscribers and sources of income to the state before they could write a political editorial or endorse a candidate. Think they'd approve of that restriction on their free speech rights?
Of course not. But that is exactly what they argue should be imposed on any group that doesn't happen to be a newspaper. Unless you have been blessed by the all-knowing editorial boards of this state, they argue you shouldn't have the First Amendment right to criticize your government. Instead, you'd be silenced unless you run through a mountain of red tape, reviewed by the very government you'd be trying to criticize, and subjected to the same retribution by those government officials.There's a reason we vote anonymously - and that anonymity should apply to political speech.
As for Judge Tim Lister in Jackson County:
"Judges should not be in the business of deciding which political speech is acceptable for public consumption and which is not," ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty said.
That's for us common folk, ain't it, John?