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April 27, 2008

Oppressive Speech Regulation

There is nothing so fundamentally American as citizens exercising their rights under the Constitution to speak, write, assemble and petition their government for the redress of grievances -- or to do the same for purposes of supporting or opposing ballot initiatives or candidates for office.

Yet somehow the practice in this country in recent decades has been to treat the participation of Americans in such activities as a threat to "good government" -- and burdensome campaign finance regulations have been imposed upon Americans which have the effect of criminalizing activities that our Founding Fathers would have recognized as clearly within the scope of the First Amendment.

George Will chronicles one of these cases -- a brutal act under color of law designed to suppress the speech of a band of neighbors concerned about the future of their neighborhood in Colorado.

Parker North is a cluster of about 300 houses close to the town of Parker. When two residents proposed a vote on annexation of their subdivision to Parker, six others began trying to persuade the rest to oppose annexation. They printed lawn signs and fliers, started an online discussion group and canvassed neighbors, little knowing that they were provoking Colorado's speech police.

One proponent of annexation sued them. This tactic -- wielding campaign finance regulations to suppress opponents' speech -- is common in the America of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. The complaint did not just threaten the Parker Six for any "illegal activities." It also said that anyone who had contacted them or received a lawn sign might be subjected to "investigation, scrutinization and sanctions for campaign finance violations."

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of association, "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." The exercise of this right often annoys governments, and the Parker Six did not know that Colorado's government, perhaps to discourage annoyances, stipulates that when two or more people associate to advocate a political position, and spend more than $200 in doing so, they become an "issue committee."

Got that? Two people spending just $200 dollars together to participate in the electoral process constitutes a violation of the law unless they spend more to fill out and file paperwork registering them with the state and disclose incredible amounts of private information to the general public. What sort of information?

...they must report to the government the names and addresses of all persons who contribute more than $20; they must also report the employers of plutocrats who contribute more than $100; they must report non-cash contributions such as lemons used for lemonade, and marker pens and wooden dowels for yard signs.

Got that? For giving a mere $20 out of a sense of civic obligation, your name and address and political associations become a matter of public record. And if one gives the princely sum of $100, your employer will be disclosed to the general public. Gone are the days when good citizens at a community meeting can "pass the hat" and collect money to speak out on public issues -- reporting laws make those who conduct the meeting and the guy who owns the hat criminal.

Today's practices and laws are, dare I say it, unAmerican.

Let's look at the practices of our Founding Fathers.

Many of them wrote anonymous pamphlets published by anonymous supporters to advocate independence, the adoption of the Constitution, support for (or opposition to) the Jay Treaty, and the election/defeat of either Thomas Jefferson or John Adams in our first contested election.

I'll take their model of free speech above the regulated, domesticated and eviscerated counterfeit that the advocates of "campaign finance reform" and "public disclosure" advocate. The former is the free exercise of an unalienable right by a people fully possessing their liberty -- the latter the feckless submission of serfs to a to a ruling class that treats freedom as a revocable privilege. Would that this year's presidential race had a serious candidate who embraced the vision of the Founders regarding the First Amendment.

More At From On High.

OPEN TRACKBACKING AT Outside the Beltway, The Virtuous Republic, Rosemary's Thoughts, 123beta, Right Truth, Maggie's Notebook, Leaning Straight Up, The Amboy Times, Cao's Blog, Conservative Cat, Pursuing Holiness, D equals S, Diary of the Mad Pigeon, third world county, Nuke Gingrich, Woman Honor Thyself, McCain Blogs, The World According to Carl, Pirate's Cove, The Pink Flamingo, Gulf Coast Hurricane Tracker, , Stageleft, Right Voices, The Yankee Sailor, and Eric's Writing Corner, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.





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