Wanting Speech To Be Both Free And Easy
In this upcoming election and perhaps the next, North Carolina will be part of an interesting political experiment.
The experiment will be borne out on the airwaves as the effects take hold of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows corporations and unions to spend money on behalf of political candidates.
Before North Carolina legislators left town in July, they passed legislation to address the high court's ruling; before Congress left Washington, it failed to pass similar legislation affecting federal races.
The result is that -corporations and unions that decide to engage in media blitzes aimed at electing state candidates will have to file campaign finance reports similar to those filed by the -candidates, disclosing -specific donors and sources of money that went for ads and mailers. And just like -candidates, their ads will be required to contain those little disclaimers showing who paid for it.
This year, the requirements will affect only legislative races and judicial races. Other state offices - governor, attorney general and the like - won't be up for -election until 2012. One of North Carolina's U.S. Senate seats is up for election. Incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Burr faces Democratic Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Libertarian economics -professor Mike Beitler.
There will be no requirement that -corporations or unions wanting to influence the U.S. Senate race disclose who they are in ads or that they quickly report funding sources.
Obviously, the top-of-the-ticket Senate race will generate more interest and more money than state legislative or judicial races. So, maybe it takes the next two -election cycles for the disparate approaches to the opening of the corporate money flow to play out.
Still, the upcoming election here will -provide hints about whether corporations and unions, and their shadow election -campaigns, are only comfortable as long as they can remain in the shadows.
How many corporate-backed groups will be interested in exercising these free speech rights when they are unable to do so anonymously, hiding behind some made-up name?
When Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked consideration of the federal -disclosure legislation, they did so claiming it was an impediment to free speech rights. When North Carolina lawmakers passed the disclosure requirements, conservatives argued they would complicate the role of grassroots activists.
It's an interesting response. For years, many conservatives have argued for an end to campaign donor limits in favor of more disclosure.
Now that the courts have, in some respects, quashed donor limits, these folks don't want disclosure either.
What they seem to want is speech to be both free and easy.
If Target and Best Buy want to spend money to influence a governor's race, they've been freed to do so. It doesn't mean that, upon learning of that decision, I can't decide to shop elsewhere, just like it didn't mean that George W. Bush fans had to keep buying Dixie Chicks records after that band's well-publicized criticism of the -former president.
Or maybe there's some special protection for cowardice in the First Amendment that I missed.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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