Everybody Loves Censorship

First it was the Democrats threatening Sinclair over its plan to broadcast an anti-Kerry documentary. Now the Republicans are following suit by filing a complaint against a couple radio show hosts who have been attacking a Republican member of the House and have endorsed his Democratic challenger.

According to the L.A. Daily News,

In a complaint to the Federal Elections Commission, the National Republican Campaign Committee accused radio station KFI-AM (640) co-hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou of “criminal behavior” for attacking Rep. David Dreier, R-Glendora, and endorsing his Democratic opponent, Cynthia Matthews.

By criticizing Dreier’s positions on immigration, promoting a “Fire Dreier” campaign and making on-air appeals for voters to elect Matthews, the NRCC said, the hosts gave Matthews an unlawful corporate, in-kind contribution of more than $25,000.

This is exactly the claim made by Democrats about Sinclair, and is an inevitable outcome of the ridiculous McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform. Reframe speech as a monetary issue, as demgagogues like John McCain repeatedly do, and there’s little room for First Amendment niceties.


Action filed vs. radio hosts over talk attacks. Lisa Friedman, L.A. Daily News, October 29, 2004.

Give Me Liberty or Give Me the FEC

There’s a famous quote — misattributed to Voltaire — that goes, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” John Kerry and George Bush seem to want to replace that maxim with, “If I don’t like your ad, I’ll whine to the Federal Elections Commission.”

Kerry went from saying “bring it on” in response to questions about his war record to a “please make it stop” complaint with the FEC. Bush isn’t much better, trumpeting his signing of the campaign finance reform law and demanding an end to ads that are outside of that framework.

It’s amusing to see the two men vying for the most powerful elected office in the world running scared from the likes of MoveOn.Org or Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

This is the best we have to choose from?

NRA Shoots Itself in the Foot

As a pro-gun, anti-campaign finance reform libertarian, I was actually excited to see the National Rifle Assocation debut its NRA News web site. But the actual implementation of the site just plain sucks.

In case you haven’t followed the story around NRA News, the latest campaign finance reform bill places additional restrictions on the ability of groups like the National Rifle Association to take out advertisements, etc. against candidates. So the NRA is routing around the damage of the Supreme Court’s gutting of the First Amendment by essentially establishing itself as a news media organization. It’s started web broadcasts of a talk show and is looking to buy a radio station to carry its message as well.

Great intentions, but the website is horrible on a number of counts.

First, it requires you to give your name, e-mail address and zip code every time you want to visit the site. This isn’t a “register and the login” system, this is a “give us your personal details” everytime you visit the site. This from a group that has fought vigorously and successfully to prevent the creation of any sort of national database or registration system for guns.

Second, it requires Flash. The PSAs and the video of the talk show are broadcast in Flash media player. Ugh. Sure Flash is common, but I hate it being required (and it’s not currently installed in my main browser).

Third, because of this, it isn’t obvious how to save the video to my hard drive. An advocacy group like the NRA should both a) make it easy to download video to the users hard drive and b) encourage users to redistribute said video. After all, the point here isn’t to make a profit but to get the NRA’s message out. Building barriers to that makes no sense.

Consider a group that I personally detest but that has an excellent web strategy — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Unlike the NRA, there’s no registration or request for personal details. Unlike the NRA, the site uses HTML and doesn’t require Flash except for some interactive applications. And unlike the NRA, PETA makes almost 300 videos — all its PSAs and quite a bit of other video — available for viewing in three different formats and offers a high bandwidth download of all of its video. Moreover, PETA encourages people to distribute and share the video files which widens their audience and saves on bandwidth costs. I have hundreds of megabytes of video from PETA on my web site at the moment. If the NRA were smart, it would make it easy for me to do the same thing with their video.

The FEC Ponders Whether Jay Leno Is Breaking the Law

Henry Hanks points out the absolutely insidious reality of campaign finance reform.

This Yahoo! story describes how the philosopher kings at the Federal Election Commission voted on whether or not monologues by comedians like Jay Leno are covered under the new campaign finance law . According to the story (emphasis added),

In its first vote spelling out how those restrictions will be applied, the FEC agreed 6-0 on Thursday to exempt some types of programming that broadcasters are not paid to air. Commissioner Karl Sandstrom said the move would keep public service announcements, late night comedy monologues and talk shows that mention or feature federal candidates from falling under the new law’s restrictions.

Commission lawyers said the exemption wouldn’t automatically keep those kinds of programming from being considered a campaign contribution. That would be considered case by case, they said.

Every time free speech objections to campaign finance reform are raised, they are dismissed as simply posturing by supporters of campaign finance reform. But here we have a bunch of un-elected bureacrats deciding whether or not Jay Leno can make fun of politicians on national television.

As Hanks puts it,

In other words – Dave, Jay, and especially you political talk show hosts out there (both the Godfathers and the Mike Malloys) – “Watch what you say.” Interesting how this doesn’t get quite the same reaction it did when it was Ari Fleischer.

My prediction — eventually the FEC will try to take action against weblogs. Look, for example, at all of the weblog-related activity centered around defeating Cynthia McKinney during her primary. Yes that was free speech but it was also electioneering, and campaign finance reform is predicated on the view that the latter is not protected by appeals to the former. And, it is not clear that courts will afford weblog-style sites the same consideration that newspapers receive (in fact in some cases they have clearly said that some guy in his bedroom updating a personal web site does not deserve the same legal rights as a newspaper doing the same thing from an expensive office building).

Paul Wellstone on the Evils of Anti-Republican Ads

The debate on campaign finance reform is now out of the hands of politicians and will soon find its way into the courts, but let us pause to remember one Senator’s vision of the horrors that might befall then nation if the Supreme Court should eventually strike down the Senate’s bill.

Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota) took to the floor of the Senate during debate over the bill to defend his proposed amendment which would bar advocacy groups that raise “soft money” from buying television ads close to election time. Wellstone and others want to prevent groups like the NAACP, the Christian Coalition, the Sierra Club and others from running ads mentioning specific candidates near election time.

In defending his amendment, Slate’s Mickey Kaus reported that Wellstone exclaimed the “loophole” allowing groups to run ads attacking candidates had to be closed. As Wellstone put it,

If you do not . . . you are going to have a proliferation of these organizations. Republicans for Clean Air, Democrats for Clean Air, People Who Do Not Like Any Party for Clean Air, Liberals for Clean Air, Conservatives for Clean Air, Citizens for Dirty Air — I don’t know what it will be. Another example is the Club for Growth. This was an outfit that ran attack ads against moderate Republican congressional candidates in the primary.

Yikes. Attack ads against moderate Republicans? Thank goodness Wellstone is there to protect the Union from such a travesty. As Kaus said of Wellstone’s fears of nonprofit advocacy groups, “Why is this scenario so scary to Wellstone and others? Sounds like a free country to me.”


Wellstone’s Folly. Mickey Kaus, Slate, April 4, 2002.

Does Ralph Nader Oppose Shays-Meehan?

Last week the House of Representatives passed the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill which is probably doomed to die in the Senate (which is a good thing). In a very confusing article, CNSNews.Com quoted Ralph Nader to the effect that he opposes Shays-Meehan, but is this accurate?

Quoting from the CNSNews.Com article,

Former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader . . . criticized the Shays-Meehan campaign finance legislation Monday, arguing it would infringe on free speech without ending corruption in the system.

“It’s like trying to stop water from running downhill. It will squirt away and keep running downhill and take our democracy with it,” said Nader Monday at a Washington news conference.

If accurate, this is a bit odd considering that |Public Citizens| was jumping for joy at the passage of Shays-Meehan last week with a headline on its web site in large type reading simply, “We Won!” In a press release, Public Citizen’s |Joan Claybrook| gushed said, “Finally, it seems that enough lawmakers have become as disgusted with the shakedowns as the rest of us. We are truly heartened that soft money may soon be eliminated from federal politics.”

Shays-Meehan is, of course, a) unconstitutional and b) a backdoor to censorship.

The bill would ban all soft money donations, apparently ignoring that fact that in Buckley v. Valejo the Supreme Court already ruled that such a ban was unconstitutional. Perhaps the “reformers” are hoping that the Supreme Court will have a change of heart, but in order to do so it would have to grant federal authority over non-federal activities of political parties and, if anything, the current incarnation of the Supreme Court is moving in the opposite direction.

It is also a bit odd to see liberals, leftists and some conservatives celebrating a bill that includes blatantly unconstitutional censorship. Under Shays-Meehan ads, it is illegal for corporations, labor unions or nonprofits to broadcast ads that mention the name of a candidate for federal office within 60 days of an election. If somebody digs up dirt on a politician after that 60 day threshold, advocates will just have to cross their fingers that the press will make a big stink about it. Many of the ads run by labor unions and the NAACP in 2000 attacking Republicans for their positions on race and labor would have been illegal under this bill.

Shays-Meehan also requires full disclosure about donations from all advocacy groups that run independent ads. So Jesse Helms will be able to have a list of everybody who donated to groups running advertisements criticizing him for his stand on race or AIDS. Yeah, that’s a big improvement.

Interestingly, like all good state restrictions on rights, Shays-Meehan invents a whole new vocabulary for criticizing or praising candidates for office. Rather than speech, ads mentioning candidates would be categorized as “electioneering communications.”

Not that this will ever happen because, again, this portion of Shays-Meehan is clearly unconstitutional and will get the boot from the Supreme Court. But it is still interesting nonetheless to seem some politicians and commentators fall all over themselves to declare this sort of retrograde legislation as “progress” and “reform.”


Third parties decry campaign finance bill. Jim Burns, CNSNews.Com, February 19, 2002.

Senators mull campaign finance bill. Las Vegas Sun, February 18, 2002.

Public financing is key to true campaign finance reform. Marie Cocco, New York Newsday, February 14, 2002.

House Vote Heralds New Era; Bush Should Approve Campaign Finance Reform Measure. Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen, press release, February 14, 2002.