Do you blog? Do you Tweet and Twitter? Do you e-mail? Stuff mailboxes? Paint signs? Lead protest rallies? Be careful that you don't do so within 30 days of a primary -- the clock starts August 15 -- or 60 days before a general election without checking in with the State of Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.
Because the seven liberals that Jim E. Doyle appointed to the Government Accountability Board have decided to regulate, license, and ration free speech. Not pornography. Not soda pop commercials. But political speech.
Our liberal friends sought first to use Big Government to control the commanding heights of commerce, then they went after health care, now they are claiming the biggest prize of all: political speech.
Last week the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth, Inc. and Scot Ross's liberal One Wisconsin Now, Inc. appealed to federal court. They summarize the issue like this:
The rule by the Government Accountability Board requires groups that air ads or make communications heaping praise on or criticizing political candidates to disclose where they get their money and how they spend it - even if those groups don't specifically urge their audience to vote for or against the candidate.
Then Monday, an appeal to the State Supreme Court challenging this "breathtaking" over-reach of government interference in free speech, was filed on behalf of Wisconsin Prosperity Network, the Maciver Institute, Concerned Citizens of Iowa County, and various individuals. It seeks immediate injunction to stop the regulations, known as GAB 1.28.
A seminal moment in the history of free speech
The filing is well written (James and Chris Troupis of Middleton, Rick Esenberg of Marquette Law School, and Michael Dean of First Freedoms Foundation, Waukesha) and speaks for itself:
This is a seminal moment in the history of our free and open society premised and protected by free speech. Whatever the motives may have been for the Government Accountability Board's amendment to GAB 1.28, effective August 1, 2010, "passed at the last possible moment prior to a critical election," the result is dramatic and catastrophic for free speech in the State of Wisconsin.
A farmer painting his message of discontent on the side of his barn and the nationally recognized think tank dedicated to analysis of public policy are equally silenced by GAB 1.28. The neighborhood group exchanging e-mails about a local issue on which a state legislator may have voted, the tea party group rallying on the State Capitol grounds, and a group of veterans protesting the war in Iraq are equally subject to fines and jail if they do not register, pay a $100 fee and report all of their activities.
GAB 1.28 "will require that non-profit groups, unincorporated associations and individuals completely halt participation in ongoing public affairs or be prosecuted. GAB 1.28 irrebuttably redefines common discussions on the Internet, in letters and fliers, in report and studies, as a communication for political purposes. ... The regulation requires payment of a free for the right to speak, filing of reports, disclaimers, advance reporting, after-the-fact oaths on what was said, and even requires notices to a government agency within 24 hours. [Read the entire filing at Fight Back Wisconsin]
The Government Accountability Board 1.28 says:
- Report contributors' names and addresses for all contributions exceeding $20.
- Report contributors' occupations and employers for all contributions exceeding $100 in a calendar year.
- Itemize other income exceeding $20.
- Itemize disbursements exceeding $20 with the names and addresses of persons receiving disbursements, plus the date and purpose of the disbursements.
- Itemize obligations exceeding $20 and give the names and addresses of persons or business where WRTL-SPAC incurred the obligations, plus the date and purpose of the obligations.
- All communications 30 days before a primary election and 60 days before a general election that support or condemn a clearly-identified candidate's "position or stance on issues" or "that candidate's public record" are, by definition, made for a political purpose and therefore covered even though those communications may not expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate.
Where are the freedom of information types?
Ed Garvey is a full throated apologist for GAB 1.28, bemoaning that "the law firm founded by Phil La Follette," is representing the One Wisconsin/Club for Growth challenge. Along with its Hannah Renfro and Mike Wittenwyler, Brady Williamson is one of the nation's most eminent authorities on the First Amendment.
Where is Bill Lueders, president of the Freedom of Information Council? Where is First Amendment user John Nichols? Where is the Wisconsin State Journal? The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel?
The answer: nowhere to be seen or heard. Because, you see, they've got theirs and they don't care about ours -- our free speech rights.
Because Bill Lueders and John Nichols do not have to report the cost of their salaries, the cost of the Isthmus press run, the CT web hosting -- all pro-rated to their election eve endorsement/hit job of a candidate.
The rest of us will.
A Post Script
Some of my fellow free speech advocates are miffed that Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has decided to represent the state, and thus the G.A.B., in these legal challenges. It is proper that he do so. For one thing, it's his job. He is the state attorney general. Secondly, I believe J.B. understands the First Amendment as well as anyone. I believe, as the state's counsellor, he will advise the G.A.B. to get right with the law, to cut their losses and trim their sails. Thirdly, better J.B. than someone Jim E. Doyle would appoint, a lawyer who would rack up all those billable hours. Someone like uber-lefty Lester Pines.