Campaign Finance Trial on Friday

 Posted by on 2 October 2014 at 9:00 am  Campaign Finance, Free Speech, Law
Oct 022014
 

This Friday, the Coalition for Secular Government? will be in federal court, arguing that Colorado’s campaign finance regulations on “issue committees” violate our free speech rights. (Our case is being argued by the fine attorneys of the Center for Competitive Politics.)

Basically, I don’t want to have to do the equivalent of filing taxes every two weeks just so that Ari Armstrong and I can publish a very wonkish policy paper on abortion rights. Our policy paper isn’t like a campaign ad, yet it’s treated like one by the law… which sucks. (For details, read my December 2011 testimony to Colorado’s Secretary of State.)

If you want to see litigating for liberty in action, the trial will be held on Friday, starting at 10 am, in the federal courthouse at 901 19th Street in Denver. We’re before Judge Kane.

We have a good shot at making a dent in these unjust laws… and I’m very excited!

The Inner Workings of Censorship in China

 Posted by on 18 September 2013 at 10:00 am  China, Free Speech
Sep 182013
 

On tonight’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I’ll interview Robert Garmong on censorship in China. Earlier this week, Paul sent me this fascinating article on how Chinese censorship works: Academics Launch Fake Social Network to Get an Inside Look at Chinese Censorship. Here’s the first few paragraphs:

Nine years after Mark Zuckerberg quit Harvard to build Facebook, one of the university’s political science professors, Gary King, decided this year it was time to launch his own social media site. But King didn’t set up his Chinese social network to make money; instead, he wanted to get an insider’s view of Chinese censorship, which relies on Internet providers censoring their own sites in line with government guidelines. King won’t disclose his site’s URL, to protect people involved with his project.

Previous studies of Chinese censorship have mostly involved monitoring Chinese social sites to see which updates censors remove (see “Social Media Censorship Offers Clues to China’s Plans”). Some have relied on rare interviews with insiders willing to talk about their role in censorship. By contracting with a major Chinese provider of Web software to help run his site, King could instead inspect the available censorship tools firsthand. He could also ask the company’s representatives whatever he wanted about how those tools should be used. “When we had questions, we just called customer service,” says King. “They were being paid to help us.”

Along with some parallel experiments on established social sites, King’s dabble in Internet entrepreneurialism has shown that Chinese censorship relies more heavily than was known on automatic filtering that holds posts back for human review before they appear online. The researchers also uncovered evidence that China’s vast censorship system is underpinned by a surprisingly vibrant, capitalistic market where companies compete to offer better censorship technology and services.

Go read the whole thing. Most interestly, China is eager to use “markets” to enforce its censorship. That underscores a point that Robert Garmong will make in tonight’s interview, namely that China is a fascist country, not a communist one.

 

I’m delighted to report that my own Coalition for Secular Government was mentioned in a recent column in the Wall Street Journal: Bradley Smith: The Supreme Court and Ed Corsi’s Life of Political Crime. Here’s the relevant tidbit:

In Buckley v. Valeo (1976), and again in Federal Election Commission v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life (1986), the Supreme Court held that the regulatory requirements of operating a political action committee could not be imposed on groups that lacked the primary purpose of supporting or defeating political candidates in elections. But across the country, states are flouting that command, imposing rigid requirements on ordinary citizens who are trying to express their political opinions.

In Colorado, for example, a group of friends calling themselves the Coalition for Secular Government operate a website on which they posted a long policy paper on abortion and church-state relations. The paper concluded by urging Coloradans to vote “no” on a ballot measure. For that, the state says they must register as a political committee and report their activities, income and expenses.

The article begins with an even more egregious case than ours, and it’s well worth reading.

 

This press release from the Center for Competitive PoliticsColorado Supreme Court to Rule on Federal Judge’s Questions — is awesome, awesome news for the Coalition for Secular Government’s challenge to Colorado’s campaign finance laws.

In an order received today, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed to a US District Court judge’s request to “provide clear guidance… as to the scope and meaning” of four unclear provisions of Colorado’s campaign finance laws that are the subject of litigation under the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

The request was made by Senior Judge John L. Kane of the United States Court for the District of Colorado in connection with a case brought by the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) on behalf of the Coalition for Secular Government (CSG). Allen Dickerson, CCP’s Legal Director, said today he is “pleased that Colorado’s highest court will provide a definitive interpretation of key provisions in Colorado’s campaign finance laws and address the important constitutional issues raised in this case.”

The lawsuit challenges whether Colorado can force small educational groups to register with the state before expressing an opinion on or publishing an analysis of a ballot question. Because of vague state laws, confusion as to what constitutes political speech and what is covered under a press exemption, and a refusal by the state to abide by a federal court order, CSG has found it nearly impossible to carry out the activities of a small non-profit group without fear of running afoul of complex Colorado campaign finance laws.

Judge Kane asked the Colorado high court for the interpretation because the “lawsuit raises First Amendment challenges to several provisions of Colorado campaign finance law that remain undefined by the Colorado Constitution, Article XXVIII’s implementing legislation, or case law from Colorado courts.”

Judge Kane certified four questions, which the Colorado Supreme Court has now agreed to answer. The questions are as follows: 1. Is the policy paper published by the Coalition for Secular Government (CSG) in 2010 “express advocacy” under Art. XXVIII, S 2(8)(a) of the Colorado Constitution?

2. If the policy paper is express advocacy, does it qualify for the press exemption found at Art. XXVIII, S 2(8)(b)?

3. Is the policy paper a “written or broadcast communication” under S 1-45- 103(12)(b)(II)(B), C.R.S.? If not, did it become a “written or broadcast communication” when it was posted to CSG’s blog or Facebook page?

4. In light of Sampson v. Buescher, 625 F.3d 1247 (10th Cir. 2010), what is the monetary trigger for Issue Committee status under Art. XXVIII S 2(10)(a)(II) of the Colorado Constitution?

A copy of the court order is available here. The case, over which Judge Kane presides, is Coalition for Secular Government v. Gessler, No. 12-cv-1708. The plaintiff’s brief to the Colorado Supreme Court is due December 3, 2012.

Once again, I cannot properly express my gratitude to Allen Dickerson and the rest of the staff at the Center for Competitive Politics for this legal challenge to Colorado’s campaign finance laws.

I’m not just grateful for the hope that I’ll never have to file campaign finance reports again — nor even for the hope of striking a solid blow for free speech in Colorado. I’m grateful because my participation in this case has enabled me to see that the rule of law, while not perfect, is a robust institution in America. As a result, I’ve become far more optimistic about the future over the past few months. I don’t share the post-election “Doom and Death Camps” so prevalent among advocates of free markets, for reasons that I explained in Sunday’s Radio Show. I’m glad of that, and I’m proud of that.

So if you’d like to assist in the efforts of the Center for Competitive Politics, you can donate here.

Oct 302012
 

On July 13, 2012, Rand Simberg (an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute) wrote a blog post critical of Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann and his work on global warming: “The Other Scandal In Unhappy Valley“.

Mann subsequently demanded that CEI retract the post and apologize for it.

CEI declined.  CEI general counsel Sam Kazman wrote:

Shortly after that post was published in mid-July, CEI removed two sentences that it regarded as inappropriate.  However, we view the post as a valid commentary on Michael Mann’s research…

And regardless of how one views Mann’s work, his threatened lawsuit is directly contrary to First Amendment law regarding public debate over controversial issues.  Michael Mann may believe we face a global warming threat, but his actions represent an unfounded attempt to freeze discussion of his views.

In short, we’re not retracting the piece, and we’re not apologizing for it.

In response, Mann filed a lawsuit against CEI and Rand Simberg, as well as National Review and columnist Mark Steyn (who quoted portions of Simberg’s piece).

CEI has stated they will defend their “First Amendment rights“.  They’ve also posted their legal defense of Simberg’s blog post.

CEI is accepting donations to help them on this issue and their other work.  I’ve gladly donated.

(BTW, their website notes, “CEI is a non-partisan, educational and research institute operating under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. CEI accepts no government grants or contracts, nor do we have an endowment. Contributions to our efforts are tax-deductible.”)

If you want to support CEI, you can donate here.

I’ll also be staying tuned for updates on Rand Simberg’s blog, Transterrestrial Musings, and will pass them along as appropriate.

[Crossposted from GeekPress.]

Preliminary Thoughts on Defamation

 Posted by on 16 October 2012 at 12:00 pm  Defamation, Free Speech, Justice, Law, Rights
Oct 162012
 

Last week, I was chatting with my friend Santiago about the validity of defamation laws. Just to get everyone on the same page, Wikipedia summarizes defamation as follows:

Defamation — also called calumny, vilification, traducement, slander (for transitory statements), and libel (for written, broadcast, or otherwise published words) — is the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation a negative or inferior image.

I’m particularly interested in this topic because I have a question on it in the Philosophy in Action Queue that I’d like to answer sooner rather than later. Here’s my current thinking on the matter, and I’d be interested in people’s thoughts in response.

I can understand that a person might be deeply distraught to be harassed by people telling bald-faced lies about him, particularly when that costs him well-earned business. I can understand the desire to recover damages for those losses. However, even if a person should be able to do that, I’m doubtful that defamation should be a legally actionable tort in a free society. Why?

First, defamation laws are too often used as a weapon to silence criticism — meaning, to violate free speech rights. If a person dislikes the criticisms of others — even if those criticisms are completely justified by the facts — he can can sue (or threaten to sue) others into silence. Alas, I have personal experience with such abuses. The cost in time, money, and anxiety of defending yourself against a false claim of defamation is ginormous.

The fact that defamation lawsuits — or the threat thereof — silence speech important for living life should be deeply troubling. People should be free to speak out about their experiences with incompetent doctors, shady contractors, dishonest businesses, and the like without fear of legal reprisals. Such speech is critical to living life well, yet under defamation laws, people engage in such speech at their peril.

Second, if a person unjustly attacks your reputation, defending yourself is almost always pretty easy. You simply have to say that the person is mistaken or lying, then state the facts. (Many staunch defenders of defamation laws are unwilling to do that, I’ve found: they see themselves as above any such explanations to the unwashed masses.) You can also ask forums hosting the defamatory speech to remove it or not permit more of it. Sure, some people will believe the lies, but most people worth knowing or dealing with will not just swallow them. Reasonable people will listen to you. I know that from far too much personal experience too.

Third, notwithstanding those practical conerns, the critical question about the validity of defamation laws concerns the nature and scope of rights. To wit: Does a person have a right to a factually accurate reputation?

A person’s reputation is the sum of the judgments that others make of him: it’s “the beliefs or opinions that are generally held about someone or something.” As such, a person cannot be entitled to a certain reputation by right. A person can influence his reputation by his words and deeds, but it’s not his property because ultimately, a person’s reputation consists of judgments in the minds of others. It’s their property, in fact.

Certainly, some people believe ridiculous claims about me — yet they’re not violating my rights in doing so. They’re just jerks or chumps, but hey, that’s their right. I don’t have a right to anyone’s good opinion, even if that’s what I deserve morally. People are entitled to believe whatever they damn well please — and, I think, to say pretty much whatever they damn well please too. Yes, that speech might do me damage, but so does the speech of pastors and politicians.

Ultimately, I don’t see any basis for claims of a right to reputation. Hence, at least right now, I don’t see that defamation laws can be justified.

Thoughts?

Politics Corrupts Money

 Posted by on 12 October 2012 at 10:00 am  Campaign Finance, Election, Free Speech
Oct 122012
 

Dirty MoneyIn this blog post for The Objective Standard, Ari Armstrong explains that money doesn’t corrupt politics, as advocates of campaign finance laws claim. Instead, politics corrupts money: “Although the source of money is virtuous because it is production, money is corrupted when it is used to buy political favors.” Indeed, and such political favors can only be bought in a mixed economy in which some people’s rights may be violated for the right price.

So if you think that campaign finance laws can keep politics pure, think again… and go read the whole post!

Be sure to consider what he says about Colorado’s Amendment 65:

Amendment 65 is a futile attempt by the left to solve the problems created by leftist policies. As I argued in my debate with Gordon, the censorship of political speech that Amendment 65 advocates will not solve the problem of influence peddling; it will only make that problem worse. As I pointed out, under Amendment 65, the proposed censorship laws would themselves be crafted by the influence peddlers.

Demanding that the foxes guard the henhouse is not wise politics: it’s a power-grab by the foxes and their allies in the henhouse.

 

On October 2nd, the Center for Competitive Politics posted a press release about the questions that Judge Kane is sending to the Colorado Supreme Court for CSG’s campaign finance lawsuit. It’s very interesting news, because until very recently, I didn’t even know that this could be part of the legal process. (Look, it’s federalism in action! Nifty!)

CONTACT: Sarah Lee, Communications Director, 770.598.7961

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A federal judge today issued an order seeking clarification by the Colorado Supreme Court of the state’s campaign finance laws. Senior Judge John L. Kane of the United States Court for the District of Colorado asked the state Supreme Court to “provide clear guidance… as to the scope and meaning” of provisions that have been challenged under the First Amendment to the US Constitution

Judge Kane’s order was made in connection with a case brought by the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) on behalf of the Coalition for Secular Government (CSG). The case, over which Judge Kane presides, is Coalition for Secular Government v. Gessler, No. 12-cv-1708.

The judge’s order noted that the “lawsuit raises First Amendment challenges to several provisions of Colorado campaign finance law that remain undefined by the Colorado Constitution, Article XXVIII’s implementing legislation, or caselaw from Colorado courts.”

CSG alleges that, even though it plans to raise no more than $3,500–nearly all of which will go toward updating and disseminating a public policy paper–the state constitution appears to demand that CSG register as an issue committee if its papers take a position on ballot measures. Such registration would force CSG to maintain several new types of records, file periodic reports, turn over the names and addresses of contributors who donate as little as $20 toward financing the policy paper, and risk substantial fines should it err in its public filings.

Judge Kane certified four questions. These include:

  • Does the Colorado Constitution treat money spent on a policy paper, including one that suggests how the reader should vote on a ballot initiative, as the equivalent of money spent on political ads?
  • Does the state constitution entitle policy papers distributed over the internet to be treated in the same way as newspaper and magazine editorials for purposes of campaign finance law?
  • In light of a federal decision declaring certain groups too small to be regulated by the state of Colorado, what is the monetary trigger for an issue committee under the state constitution? Is it the roughly-$1,000 mentioned in the federal opinion? The $3,500 contemplated by CSG? The $200 mentioned in the constitution itself? Or another number altogether?
While the Colorado Supreme Court is not required to answer Judge Kane’s questions, doing so would provide some welcome guidance on these important questions.

“For years, organizations in Colorado have been unsure how to comply with Colorado’s campaign finance rules, or have been subject to politically-motivated complaints for making minor errors,” CCP Legal Director Allen Dickerson said. “Some choose not to speak at all in the face of this situation. The Colorado Supreme Court now has the option of bringing a measure of predictability to some of the state constitution’s more difficult provisions.”

Judge Kane’s order, which includes a brief description of the case, may be found here.

Here are the four questions certified in their technical language:

1. Is the policy paper published by the Coalition for Secular Government (CSG) in 2010 “express advocacy” under Art. XXVIII, S 2(8)(a) of the Colorado Constitution?

2. If the policy paper is express advocacy, does it qualify for the press exemption found at Art. XXVIII, S 2(8)(b)?

3. Is the policy paper a “written or broadcast communication” under S 1-45-103(12)(b)(II)(B), C.R.S.? If not, did it become a “written or broadcast communication” when it was posted to CSG’s blog or Facebook page?

4. In light of Sampson v. Buescher, 625 F.3d 1247 (10th Cir. 2010), what is the monetary trigger for Issue Committee status under Art. XXVIII S2(10)(a)(II) of the Colorado Constitution?

I’ll be very interested to see how the Colorado Supreme Court rules on these questions — and then what Judge Kane says about that. I’m excited by the prospect of at least clarifying Colorado campaign finance law, let alone striking down some of its most burdensome elements.

Also, I’ll have some news about the forthcoming updates to Ari Armstrong’s and my 2010 paper — The “Personhood” Movement Is Anti-Life — soon. Although “personhood” won’t be on the ballot in Colorado due insufficient signatures, the movement has grown dramatically in influence over the past year, as seen in the GOP primary. Hence, Ari and I are determined to update the policy paper to reflect that.

Alas, my being so sick last week blew apart our plans. We’ve made a new plan, and it’s a better plan, I think. You can expect some announcements about that later this week. Just know that, once again, we will need your support to make it happen!

 

Ari Armstrong published an excellent op-ed in Sunday’s Denver Post against the campaign finance measure on Colorado’s ballot, Amendment 65. The whole op-ed is worth reading, but I particularly enjoyed his argument that restrictions on campaign spending are restrictions on speech. He writes:

Voters must observe that limiting campaign spending means limiting spending on speech.

You have no right of free speech if you cannot spend your resources how you want on speech. With the possible exception of shouting over panhandlers on a street corner, every form of speech requires the expenditure of resources.

To write for an audience, you need computers, Internet connections, copy machines, books, or newspapers. To speak, you need microphones, podcasts, film equipment, radio signals, or television transmissions. Spending money on speech is part of speaking. Controlling spending on speech is controlling speech itself.

Yes! That’s exactly why free speech depends on property rights — and the “dictators of the proletariat” understood that. The Soviet Union didn’t ban the free press directly in its early years: it simply nationalized all printing presses.

Ari then observes:

The very idea that government should attempt, through force, to “level the playing field” in the realm of communication and ideas is pernicious. It is the government’s proper job to protect each individual’s right to speak freely, whether alone or as part of a group, not to forcibly silence some voices so that others face less competition.

Certainly, I’ve felt that heavy burden in speaking against Colorado’s “personhood” amendments in 2008 and 2010, as I described in detail in my December 2011 testimony. No advocate of campaign finance regulations has ever directly addressed the huge contradiction between their stated goals with campaign finance regulations and my experience as an ordinary citizen attempting to speak out. It’s infuriating.

In addition to this excellent op-ed, Ari gave this short speech on Amendment 65 at a local forum on the election:

Ari deserves the thanks of every Colorado resident for his work advocating our rights to speak freely!

 

As I mentioned, the Coalition for Secular Government’s trial, scheduled for Friday, was postponed. Here’s Judge Kane’s order, as reported here:

Plaintiff’s requests for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief were consolidated and are set for a full-day trial/hearing tomorrow, Friday, September 21, 2012. Given the unlikelihood proponents of a ‘personhood’ amendment will salvaged for the Colorado state ballot in time for the 2012 election cycle, the impetus for the very expedited timeframe under which this case has been operating has relaxed enough to warrant the more thorough approach afforded by certifying certain important and threshold questions to the Colorado Supreme Court. Accordingly, tomorrow’s hearing is VACATED, to be reset at a later date.

That’s good news, on two counts.

First, the proposed “personhood” amendment will surely not make the ballot in 2012. If adequate numbers of signatures were indeed collected, the remedy will be that the measure appears automatically on the 2014 ballot. Hence, Ari Armstrong and I can raise and spend money for an updated version of our 2010 paper on the “personhood” movement without me filing those burdensome and intrusive campaign finance reports. Given the prominence of “personhood” in the GOP primary and Paul Ryan’s support “personhood,” I’m eager to update that policy paper. I’ll be announcing more about that soon.

Second, by not being on such a rushed schedule — and by having the Colorado Supreme Court answer some critical questions in advance — the case is likely to grapple in a more serious way with the serious constitutional questions raised by the suit. Obviously, that’s good news.

For a taste of the other work of the Center for Competitive Politics, see this Washington Examiner column by Allen Dickerson and Bradley Smith: Court ruling a boon to privacy, accuracy. If you’d like to donate to their efforts, you can do so here.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha