(Thomas Mitchell/http://4thst8.wordpress.com/) If the lawsuit filed by the state against Citizen Outreach for daring to comment on a politician sounds vaguely familiar, it should. It is little more than a rehash of the 2010 case in which the state censored a group’s television ads.
It was successful then and may well be successful again. But that doesn’t make it right.
Democratic AG Catherine Cortez Masto is seeking a $10,000 fine against Citizen Outreach, which is run by conservative agitator Chuck Muth, because the group sent out mailers critical of Democratic Assembly Speaker John Oceguera without filing campaign finance reports with the secretary of state’s office, which is headed by Democrat Ross Miller. The mailers, among other things, accused double-dipping legislator/firefighter of, well, double-dipping.
Back in 2010 the target of the thought police was a Virginia-based organization called Alliance for America’s Future, which was running ads supportive of the candidacy of Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval.
A sympathetic Carson City judge shook out the Bill of Rights and discovered within its folds some brand new rights never dreamt of by the freedom-loving Founders. As I wrote at the time, Judge James E. Wilson Jr. discovered the inalienable to not be duped.
“Nevadans have a right to know who is behind election advertising,” Judge Wilson explained to us peons who were under the mistaken impression that the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers, as well as “Common Sense,” were penned anonymously. “Continued violation of the statutes and depriving Nevadans of information about who is behind its election advertising will cause irreparable harm as voting will be influenced by unknown persons and voters will not have, through the proper channel, i.e., the Secretary (of State) information they need to determine what weight to give the advertising. Compensatory relief cannot compensate for this type of harm.”
The judge flippantly dismissed all of the alliance’s arguments thusly:
“The first issue is whether the advertisement advocates expressly, the election of Brian Sandoval. It does. The second issue is whether the Secretary has established the necessary elements for a preliminary injunction. It has. The third issue is whether Alliance has shown NRS 294A.0055 is unconstitutional. It has not. The fourth issue is whether Alliance’s First Amendment rights are unconstitutionally chilled. They are not.”
Voters are simply incapable of judging for themselves whether countenance speech whose source is unspecified. If you need a permit to do something, it is not a right.
“The ad constitutes express advocacy or the functional equivalent of express advocacy, because it cannot be reasonably interpreted as anything other than an appeal to support Brian Sandoval,” Wilson wrote.
Never mind that the U.S. Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo wrote that “express advocacy” must include such “magic words” as “vote for” or “elect.”
Never mind that the same court in the more recent ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, as attorney Scott Scherer noted, said the First Amendment “does not allow political speech restrictions based on a speaker’s corporate identity.”
Then there is McIntyre v. Ohio.
In 1988, Margaret McIntyre was fined $100 for distributing leaflets opposing a school tax levy at a public meeting in Westerville, Ohio. She had violated a state law prohibiting unsigned leaflets.
In declaring the Ohio law unconstitutional, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote:
“Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. … It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation — and their ideas from suppression — at the hand of an intolerant society.”
But Masto and Miller and their pet judge pay no heed to such words of wisdom and rush headlong to gag anyone who doesn’t cow to their bureaucratic demands.
Citizen Outreach plans to file a SLAPP suit against the state.