This column by ACRU Policy Board member J. Christian Adams was published November 24, 2015 on PJ Media.
State political speech regulators are resisting efforts by citizens to determine if state governments are coordinating regulatory efforts against conservative groups.
Last week, I detailed how state speech and political finance regulators are collaborating on a secret email listserve in their efforts to force conservative groups to disclose the names of their donors. Hans von Spakovsky then detailed how the Texas Ethics Commission has been ignoring legal precedent in their effort to force one conservative group, Empower Texans, to disclose donor names — all under the theory that publishing a legislative voting scorecard subjects a private group to forced donor disclosure.
The efforts against Empower Texans sound very similar to another government enforcement action in Missouri. As Texas did, the Missouri Ethics Commission recently made a decision that Ron Calzone, a private citizen, was required to register with the state of Missouri as a lobbyist.
Calzone did not represent any organization. He merely spoke out to legislators to promote constitutional governance and Second Amendment rights. For his activism, the Missouri Ethics Commission determined that Calzone engaged in too much political speech aimed at the Legislature, and thus was required to register with the government agency.
Lobbyists in Missouri are required to complete this form and to make monthly reports to the government on their activities. Failing to complete the monthly expenditure report could be a felony in Missouri.
The Missouri Ethics Commission is run by James Klahr, a former aide to Democrat Governor Jay Nixon. Klahr is also a former staff attorney for the Missouri Senate who worked for Nixon when he was attorney general from 1997 to 2009. When Nixon became governor, Klahr became the legislative liaison for Nixon’s administration in the Department of Public Safety before moving to head the purportedly bi-partisan ethics commission.
The Missouri case is eerily similar to the case that was brought by the Texas Ethics Commission against Michael Quinn Sullivan and Empower Texans. Yet state speech regulatory agencies are resisting efforts to fully disclose the extent of their communications with outside groups and other states.
For example, the Texas Ethics Commission is refusing to turn over a variety of emails in response to public information requests seeking to uncover the extent of collaboration between third parties and state speech regulators.
Disclosure for thee, but not for me, so it seems.
In fact, a network of collusion between academics and left-wing interest groups already exists to fuel more oppressive regulation of political speech. George Soros-funded non-profits like the Campaign Legal Center fuel the litigation agenda of the speech regulators. State speech bureaucracies, even those purportedly constituted as “bi-partisan,” invariably hire government staff who must justify their own existence. Like Klahr, few state speech regulators come to the job with a burning desire to defend robust First Amendment Rights.
Campaign finance expert Cleta Mitchell calls those who would restrict First Amendment rights “campaign finance jihadists.” She’s right. The academics and non-profits who enable bureaucrats in Texas, Missouri, and in the states participating in the secret listserve view speech regulation as an urgent crusade, as if the Republic will fail if freedom prevails.
In the secret list serve, state speech regulators seek all manner of advice from other states about litigation matters. This, in essence, results in state speech regulation agencies having the capabilities of a very large and experienced law firm dedicated solely to speech regulation.
Washington’s Linda A. Dalton, for example, turned to the listserve in her effort to force disclosure of free legal services to a 501(c)(3) charity.
Groups like the Institute for Justice provided legal representation in a challenge to a Washington statute that caps the amount of contributions that can be donated to a recall campaign. On the state bureaucrat listserve, Dalton begs for help. She needs an expert witness and is turning to other states for assistance:
“They have supplied no IRS interpretations or correspondence that would support this view. Have any of you had Mr. Zall as an expert or are you familiar with an expert in non-profit tax status and political activities?”
Lest you think that the secret government listserve discussed only substantive legal issues, one email from New York proves otherwise.
In that email, Hillary Weisman sends the group of state officials an article by Eliana Johnson at National Review about Jim Bopp, a lawyer who defends First Amendment rights. The subject of Weisman’s email is: “in case you aren’t up on your Bopp news,” implying that monitoring the news about a private lawyer occupies the group’s attention as much as monitoring the activities of private organizations:
Weisman’s LinkedIn page notes not only is she deputy general counsel at New York’s campaign finance regulatory board, but also that she is a member of “Lawyers for Obama”:
PJ Media will release more emails from the secret email listserve in the coming weeks, until such time as the state officials who participated practice what they preach and fully disclose themselves the contents.