Saturday, September 24, 2022

In Context: How to Entangle Free Speech

Free speech is about more than just saying something. Free speech is about saying something so that it can be heard and make a difference in the outcome of a situation.

While legal protection for the right to free speech has come at a price, there is also always a cost of exercising a meaningful right to free speech. Even if one is not directly spending money to speak, external adjudicators can always find an expense related to the exercise of free speech. Whether someone paid for the gas used to drive to a venue to speak or paid for internet access to connect to social media, a financial cost is unavoidable.

It is precisely these inevitable costs that makes laws about campaign finance a menace to freedom of speech.
Every day the Senate was in session this week, Majority Leader Schumer spoke about Sen. Whitehouse's bill, S. 4822, the DISCLOSE Act—Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections Act of 2022. He described it as “a measure critical to fighting the cancer of dark money in our elections … to eliminate the evil scourge of dark money.”

He claims the bill is simple: “The DISCLOSE Act is premised on a simple idea: Americans deserve to know who is trying to influence their elections.” “The DISCLOSE Act is simple. It would require Super PACs and other dark money groups to report anyone contributing $10,000 or more during an election. It would likewise require groups spending money on judicial nominees to disclose their donors too.” “The DISCLOSE Act operates off a simple premise: A healthy democracy is a transparent democracy, one where billionaires and mega-corporations don't get a free pass to exploit loopholes in campaign finance law in order to spend billions in anonymous contributions.” It apparently takes 64 pages to do that.

The problem with campaign finance laws is simple: all speech has a measurable cost, and those costs can get entangled by any campaign finance law requirements related to those costs. Schumer dismisses this reality saying, “now all we hear from the other side are the absurd—and these are truly absurd—arguments that transparency somehow equates to suppressing freedom of elections. Tying logic and fairness into a pretzel knot to say that transparency is like suppressing freedom of expression is absurd.”

On Wednesday, Schumer said, “Today, the average American—someone who might chip in $30 or $50 every now and then to support a candidate—is left practically powerless against billionaires and special interests who can cut million-dollar checks to promote candidates of their choice.”

Disclosure laws have precisely the opposite effect. These laws make “passing the plate” collections illegal because you must track when people give to a point above certain thresholds, sometimes as low as $100. They make it harder for people to take risks on lesser-known candidates. Campaign finance disclosure laws actually reduce the number of donors leaving only already-established donors like “billionaires and special interests” as those willing to run the gauntlet of taking heat for unpopular support for a candidate or policy. Campaign finance disclosure laws are an incumbent protection system.

The left does not just want these laws so they can “know who is trying to influence their elections.” Once they know who, then if they disagree with them, they can out them, shame them, and intimidate them for taking the “wrong side” of an issue or election. This is fuel for censorship and cancel culture. As Republican Leader McConnell observed, “The same Democrats who wouldn't condemn angry mobs gathering outside the private family homes of Federal judges now believe that vastly more information about private citizens' political views should be made public.”

He continued, “It is no mystery as to how these things fit together. Even the liberal ACLU warned years ago that what the Democrats want to pull off ‘unconstitutionally infringes on freedom of speech and the right to associational privacy.’ I don't often say the ACLU has it right, but they do here.”

This bill may not have made many headlines this week because of it's short life on the Senate floor, but it is a top priority for Democrats and could be, in their eyes, more than sufficient justification for eliminating the filibuster in the Senate: “More than anyone in this Chamber, Senator Whitehouse has labored relentlessly to shine a light on the link between dark money and so many of the ills that plague our politics, from the radicalization of our courts to the rise of climate deniers and more. I thank him for his work. Our entire caucus does. We stand with him, strongly, fervently, in supporting this bill. The need for the DISCLOSE Act is great. The past decade has been the most expensive in the history of American elections.”

And yet, Americans easily spend more on junk food than elections. Billions of dollars are only large sums to Democrats when it's money they cannot control. Many other times, billions of dollars are not enough for how much they want to spend. Don't be fooled, and don't be misled about the potential consequences of this legislation.

Father, awaken Your People to see through the lies being used to manipulate one situation into a reason for passing laws that would have much wider consequences for this Nation, for the right to speak freely, and ultimately for the right to tell others about salvation in You. May we be grateful for the freedoms you've given us in this country, and may our gratitude include the exercising of those freedoms.

“By long forbearance a ruler is persuaded, And a gentle tongue breaks a bone.” (Proverbs 25:15)

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