There is endless whining about the stifling of free speech in this country coming from the left. Tune in to almost any interview with someone from the left on the issue and they will be wailing. Endlessly. On television. But when it comes down to reality, things are a bit different. George Will explains:
Oct. 9, 2006 issue – SEATTLE—As the comprehensive and sustained attack on Americans' freedom of political speech intensifies, this city has become a battleground. Campaign-finance "reformers," who advocate ever-increasing government regulation of the quantity, timing and content of political speech, always argue that they want to regulate "only" money, which, they say, leaves speech unaffected. But here they argue that political speech is money, and hence must be regulated. By demanding that the speech of two talk-radio hosts be monetized and strictly limited, reformers reveal the next stage in their stealthy repeal of the First Amendment.
When the state's government imposed a 9.5-cents-per-gallon increase in the gas tax, John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur of station KVI began advocating repeal by initiative. Proponents of repeal put up a Web site, hoping to raise 1,000 volunteers and $25,000. In two days they had 6,500 and $87,000. Needing 224,880 signatures to put repeal on the ballot, they got 400,996.
Appalled by this outburst of grass-roots democracy, some local governments, which stood to gain many millions from the tax, unleashed a law firm that would gain substantially from handling the bond issues the tax would finance. The firm set out to muzzle Carlson and Wilbur, using the state's campaign regulations.
It got a judge to rule that the broadcasters were not just supporters of the repeal campaign, they were agents of it. Why, they had even used the pronoun "we" when referring to proponents of repeal. Their speech constituted political advertising, and their employer was making an "in-kind contribution" to the repeal campaign. The judge said a monetary value must be placed on their speech (he did not say how, he just said to do it that day). The law says reports must be filed and speech limits obeyed or fines imposed.
State law restricts to $5,000 the amount a single giver can contribute in the three weeks before an initiative. If Carlson's and Wilbur's speech were monetized at radio-advertising rates, they would be silenced for all but about 15 minutes in each of the campaign's crucial last three weeks. They continued to talk (the repeal campaign, outspent almost five to one, lost 54.6-45.4) and, aided by the libertarian litigators of the Institute for Justice, have taken the issue to the state Supreme Court.
This is the disaster that McCain-Feingold hath wrought. This is what the men who would be president think of your right to say what you want politically. There is a horrible stifling effect here where people can be silenced by creative application of campaign laws. We are headed down an ugly road – and everyone, left or right should be frightened by this. Far from being the way the left will gain power. In the long run this will be the tool that crushes them.
It is wrong, whichever side advocates it. And it will be the downfall of this country in the long run.