Monday, May 14, 2007

Adam Ford: Sunlight on Special-Interest Funding Called a Gag on Free Speech

The Wall Street Journal has published a hit piece by John Fund in the opinion section this morning. The piece is subtitled: “Congressional Democrats prepare another assault on the First Amendment” 10010072

Fund admits that “Hardly anyone objects to the [proposed] legislation's requirement that former lawmakers wait two years instead of one before lobbying Congress. Ditto with bans on lobbying by congressional spouses and restrictions on sitting members of Congress negotiating contracts with private entities for future employment.”

But Fund’s justification for his sensationalist puffery is that “the legislation may be amended on the floor to . . . require groups that organize grassroots campaigns to register as ‘lobbyists’ and file detailed quarterly reports on their donors and activities. The law would apply to any group that took in at least $100,000 in any given quarter.”

So, to recap: Democratic sponsored legislation is pending before Congress that would tighten lobbying controls. The bill has hardly any opposition. But there is a possibility of an amendment which would require right-wing e-mail/phone mills to disclose who funds them. Fund believes this possibility constitutes a frontal and dire assault on the First Amendment rights of all Americans.

It is stunning to see how far some on the right will go to oppose even the smallest obstacle that has even a minuscule chance of getting in the way of their big-money influence-buying machine. They define free speech to mean manufactured speech facilitated by mercenaries operating in the shadows paid by hidden donors. Any attempt to shine light on their activities is decried as a constitutional crisis.

The Republican right in Utah would be proud. They have long held the line against any and all lobbying reform in our state. Repeated attempts to lower the gift disclosure level (meals excepted) have been rejected by the Republican state legislature in recent years. The best summary of Utah lobbying reform was published by the Deseret Morning News last year (,1249,635185011,00.html).


JM Bell said...

Good post, Adam

Jesse Harris said...

When you push aside the hysterics, there is a valid concern regarding balancing between the privacy of an individual and the right of the public to know. Right now, the pendulum swings towards more disclosure and less privacy because of numerous egregious violations of the public trust. The flip side of this is that you have the right to a secret ballot... right up until the point you financially support a candidate.

Some unscrupulous winners will take the donor list and use it for retribution. A good example of how that could play out would be the "do not hire" list of anti-Cheney protesters passed around Provo to various businesses. The same thing happened in a judicial race in Las Vegas several years ago, not to mention that opposition to the state's gay marriage ban used the list of contributors to blacklist businesses. Indeed, these are chilling effects upon free speech.

In the same vein, most of these proponents also support campaign finance limits. While intended to keep one powerful entity from buying up a wide swath of candidates, these limits end up hurting third-party and independent candidates the most. Republicans and Democrats can make up in volume what the smaller candidates cannot, thus leaving many good candidates out in the rain.

It seems that too many supporters of campaign finance restrictions and disclosure don't bother to consider these negative side effects. The responses I've encountered have ranged from politely dismissive to downright hostile.

Steve said...

Way to pick-and-choose what paragraphs in the piece you decide to quote. How about trying this one -

"But the First Amendment specifically prohibits Congress from abridging "the right of the people . . . to petition the Government for redress of grievances." The Supreme Court twice ruled in the 1950s that grassroots communication isn't "lobbying activity," and is fully protected by the First Amendment. Among the groups that believe the Meehan proposal would trample on the First Amendment are the National Right to Life Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union. The idea goes too far even for Sen. John McCain, who voted to strip a similar provision from a Senate lobbying reform bill last January."

It is stunning to see how far some on the left will go to oppose a freedom that that has even a minuscule chance of getting in the way of their liberal agenda.

They define free speech to mean manufactured speech facilitated by tree hugging peaceniks. Any attempt to restrict freedoms outside of abortion and gay marriage are to be embraced.

Freedom should be valued whether you or your opposition take the most advantage of it.