I’m learning that when government pays, political speech ceases to be free.
Along with my friend and colleague, Connecticut state representative Rob Sampson, I’ve been charged with a violation of campaign-spending statutes by our state elections-enforcement authority. My misdeed was a single mention of Governor Dannel Malloy in each of two mailings we sent during the last state election.
In one flyer, we used the phrase “Malloy’s Bad Policies”; in the other, “Malloy’s Tax Hike.” To my mind, “Malloy’s Tax Hike” is a designation like “Halley’s Comet,” the name by which a thing is known. But the state alleges that those references constituted a contribution to the campaign of Malloy’s Republican opponent, which would require disclosure and reimbursement — despite the fact that we neither mentioned said opponent nor urged the defeat of Malloy.
Representative Sampson used exactly the same words in his 2012 campaign mailings, and doubtless will utter them again in his race this fall, as will I. According to elections enforcement, we will be within our legal rights to do so: We can state our opinion of the governor, but only so long as he’s not also on the ballot.Yet again, campaign finance regulations are being used by regulators to stifle the political speech of those who would criticize government officeholders and their policies. Sen. Markley suspects that his acceptance of public financing, an unfortunate reality for Republicans running in a solidly blue state, has contributed to the state's persecution of him:
Republicans face state-financed opposition all the time, with public employees pushing their liberal agenda to elected officials and to the citizens generally. But Democrats aren’t accustomed to having state money used against them, and it seems that they don’t like it.
That, I think, is what this charge is all about: The ruling party wants to prevent conservative candidates from using public financing to speak out against progressive policies and liberal officeholders. For the establishment here, that’s just unacceptable.Connecticut knows that "[s]uch a capricious restriction on explicitly political speech" is "unlikely to hold up in court" and has offered Sen. Markley and Rep. Sampson a settlement. Instead of accepting it, they are bravely fighting the state regulators and standing up for the right of all citizens in Connecticut to speak freely, including criticizing government officials, without fear of government investigation and persecution.