- Federal government to gag grassroots
Our tangled American history illustrates that those in power usually don’t care much for vigorous public criticism. An unfortunate national pastime includes attempts to silence those with unpopular views, dissenting voices, or minorities. In most instances the First Amendment ended these repressive acts, giving rise to our national civil rights movement, protecting dissenters of every stripe, and even guarding the right of political free speech. But these rights remain in peril due to continued efforts by some to silence and intimidate their opponents.
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) proved prophetic. Discussing the importance of free speech in our Republic, he explained that those who care about the Constitution must actively defend the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, lest the president and his allies do all they can to delegitimize it. That prediction is proving accurate today.
On June 19, Bob Bauer, former White House counsel, filed a complaint against Crossroads GPS – a 501c(4) organization, with the Federal Election Commission. His concern? Because the advertisements seemed to have an “electoral purpose,” the group should have to register and report as a “political committee” with the federal government before speaking. That also means it would have to surrender its constitutional right to associational privacy just to speak. In other words, it would be forced to reveal its donors to the federal government – donors largely critical of the federal government and fearful of retribution by the current administration.
In the wake of Citizens United, and due to a recent loss (Real Truth About Obama v. FEC) for supporters of free speech in the Fourth Circuit, those in the reform lobby will remind us that this is all about “mere disclosure.” Leader McConnell rightfully pointed out in his AEI speech that the Obama Administration is using the tools of campaign finance reform as a means to intimidate opponents and shut down debate. Unfortunately, that tactic is the regular stuff campaign finance laws are made up of. Use the complicated levers of election law to bully your opponents, silence opposition, and win the next electoral hurdle.
Some individuals believe that public disclosure is always the right thing to do. Justice Scalia is among them, explaining that without disclosure, America will “not resemble the Home of the Brave.” Of course, our founding fathers had a different take, with many of them assuming fictitious identities or using anonymity to speak out about controversial political issues. When the stakes are high, and retribution probable, protecting political privacy makes good sense. The public is then free to decide whether to give weight to the arguments of unidentified speakers, or not. But government-mandated disclosure proves suffocating, silencing, and otherwise destructive of our natural rights.
A courageous group of gentlemen from Wyoming believe this bullying is wrong and formed the organization named Free Speech. Its simple goal is to speak out about political issues it cares about while discussing President Obama and other public servants. But facing a mountain of complicated FEC reporting forms, uncertain application of the law, and civil and criminal penalties for making mistakes has kept them, and many others nationwide, muted effectively as any speech ban ever could.
In the Home of the Brave, it is about time to end government bullying, the tired tactics of silencing opponents, and gagging the grassroots. And it is time to celebrate free speech, liberty, and the truth that a free people, not speech bureaucrats, can best decide the shape of our national debate. With Free Speech v. FEC, these truths are about to be realized.