Democrats in the House and Senate sent a letter to the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday urging it to "develop new guidance" on how to prevent illicit foreign spending in US elections in the wake of Facebook's announcement that Russia-linked accounts purchased $100,000 worth of ads last year. ...
Looking ahead to the 2018 elections, the Democrats called on the FEC to implement improved disclosure standards "to ensure voters have the information they need to evaluate political advertising" — whether it appears on TV, the internet, or elsewhere. "There is no reason to believe this behavior will stop in future elections," they said. The FEC last approved regulations governing certain types of internet communications by political committees and campaigns in March 2006, when it amended its rules to include paid online ads as a form of ‘‘public communication.’’The full letter to the FEC can be read here. RNLA Executive Director Michael Thielen warned against a rush to regulate political speech yesterday.
Well, on Tuesday, the Democrats attempted to follow this letter up with action. Representative Theodore Deutch of Florida introduced legislation targeting political speech, called the Campaign Sunlight Act of 2017.
Some of the key aspects of this bill include:
- (Sec. 2) Most political advertisements must be immediately filed with the FEC for documentation;
- (Sec. 2 (e)(2)) FEC would post the ad or advertisement or material on an online catalog or public website with full links and documentation of the facts being asserted ("sources cited");
- (Sec. 2 (e)(2)(D)) However, the FEC would be able to charge a fee--ultimately a tax--on political speech to fund the website;
- (Sec. 3) This would apply to almost any effort to highlight or broadcast political positions, as "political advertisement" is defined as a communication covered by 52 U.S.C. § 30120(a) that refers to a clearly identified candidate in the year prior to an election.
By doing this, Democrats are attempting to tax and regulate our political speech. This bill would further politicize the FEC by turning the commission into a taxing entity and library storing political speech made by groups that just expressing their First Amendment rights.
The burdens this bill would place on speech are onerous. In addition to the existing (high) compliance costs for political speech, this would require entities and individuals to pay a fee for the privilege of engaging in one of their most important rights for a full year before the election: the right to talk about candidates. How quickly we forget that we fought a Revolution in part because an unaccountable government imposed a tax on our ability to speak.
The bill in its current form is likely to go nowhere. However, it is important to highlight the efforts of the Democrats and the left to quietly target and attempt to further regulate political speech.