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Speech Isn’t Free when Government Requires Speakers to Register and Report

picture of amazed woman with hand over mouthImagine how America’s Founders would have reacted if politicians had tried to force them to register with the government in order to speak their minds about politics. Needless to say, they would have acted decisively and quickly against such tyranny.

But in many contexts today, under federal and state laws, people legally must register with the government and file reports with the government in order to speak their minds about political issues. Such laws flagrantly violate people’s rights to freedom of speech.

Thankfully, the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) is working to overturn such rights-violating laws by challenging the relevant laws in court. Recently the organization filed suit challenging federal and state campaign finance disclosure laws on behalf of the Independence Institute in Colorado (disclosure: I have written for this organization). CCP summarizes:

The Independence Institute wishes to run two ads: one asking Colorado Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennett to support a federal sentencing reform bill, and one asking citizens to contact Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and urge him to initiate an audit of the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange. The McCain-Feingold law, along with a similar state statute, effectively prevents the group from raising money for the ads. . . .

Colorado and federal law treat speech about public issues as campaign speech whenever a candidate is mentioned in a broadcast ad within 60 days of the general election. Groups must either file public reports with personal details about donors who have provided funds for the ads, or refrain from speaking.

Such disclosure laws violate people’s rights to speak anonymously and subject people to onerous reporting requirements. (Diana Hsieh and I discovered this first-hand when working to oppose an anti-abortion measure in Colorado. CPC is also working on Hsieh’s behalf in this regard). Steve Simpson, formerly an attorney with the Institute for Justice, discusses in an interview with TOS the ways that campaign disclosure laws violate the right to freedom of speech.

Let’s hope that CCP scores a legal victory for free speech—and that the American people come to fully understand and consistently defend the right to freedom of speech.

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