Supreme Court to pro-life group: carry on

Breaking news: the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously agreed today that the First Amendment applies to speech. Seriously. And it all started when a Congressman lost his re-election bid and accused a pro-life group of denying him his livelihood. (Can’t make this stuff up.)

I’m only barely facetious here. What actually happened was that the Court ruled that the Susan B. Anthony List has standing to challenge an Ohio “false statement” law on First Amendment grounds. Former Ohio Congressman Steve Driehaus took exception to SBA List’s claim that his vote for Obamacare was a vote for abortion. He lost his election and blamed SBA List for it. He cited an Ohio law criminalizing “false statements” during a campaign.

SBA List is fighting the law, claiming that not only was their statement true, but that the First Amendment takes precedence over state law. The Supreme Court today agreed that the group may continue its challenge to the Ohio law in lower courts.

That’s reassuring. I hope it’s not the high-water mark for free speech and religious liberty, as we wait for buffer zone and Obamacare mandate decisions within the next couple of weeks.

Remarks after the decision: “We will continue to tell the truth”

SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser spoke to reporters during a conference call less than an hour after the decision was announced, saying that she did not go looking for this case. “We are a pro-life group, and our job is to win elections. We will continue to tell the truth even if an Ohio law says we have to stop speaking.”  She called today’s decision “a resounding victory against fear in the public square. The threat of jail time, of fines that could put you out of business, that is a chill.” She added “it’s still the voters’ responsibility” to evaluate statements made in the course of a campaign.

Michael A. Carvin, one of the attorneys for SBA List in this case, said the group would move “very expeditiously” to an Ohio district court, seeking an injunction against Ohio’s so-called “false statement” law in time for the Fall 2014 elections. “There’s no excuse for delay.”

Carvin noted that the Ohio elections commission has independent litigating authority. What that tells me is that even if the Ohio attorney general declines to waste taxpayer resources on a dead-bang-loser of a free-speech case, the elections board could go ahead anyway. (We don’t know what Ohio officials will decide to do at this point.)

Obamacare and abortion

We already know about the HHS contraceptive mandate, which includes coverage for abortion-inducing drugs under the mistitled “Affordable Care Act.”. SBA List points out further issues:

“The law, known as Obamacare, permitted direct payments for abortion under risk pools and other clauses and included elective abortion plans in tax-preferred state exchanges.  The law’s Preventative Services Mandate forces employers to provide coverage of abortion-inducing drugs and also includes a loophole allowing Congress and its staff to spent federal dollars on abortion-funding health care plans.”


The case: Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus




I’m still not a PAC – who’ll back me up on that?

I’m a blogger. I write about politics. I spend money to keep the blog going. Does that make me an entity that has to register with the state? And isn’t it a little bit creepy to contemplate requiring writers to register with the government? I wish I didn’t have to worry about that.

Do I look like a political committee to you?
Do I look like a political committee to you?

There’s a push in Concord to Do Something (Anything!) about campaign financing. More transparency. Know who all those donors are. Find out just who’s “really” funding politics. And as often happens when politicians get the itch to Do Something (Anything!), there are questions that get glossed over. Such is the case with New Hampshire’s Senate Bill 120.

I wrote a few months back in “I Am Not a PAC (some people have to be told)” about a guy in another state who blogged about politics, sponsored meetings, made flyers, and spent money to do so. He was accused by a local GOP official of failing to register as a PAC, since he was obviously spending money to influence elections.

I thought that was a stupid accusation then, and I still do. Now, New Hampshire has this bill. I have reason to take it personally. Or maybe I don’t. It depends on which supporter of SB 120 I’m talking to.

I promote pro-life public policy. I criticize attacks on the right to life and on the rights of individuals putting their peaceful beliefs into practice. That means I mention names of incumbents and candidates and bills.

SB 120 would require a political committee to register with the secretary of state, pay a fee, and make periodic financial reports including names of donors and the amount of each donation. Now, let’s look at the language and definitions in excerpts of SB 120 as it might apply to political bloggers. I’ve added emphasis here and there.

  • “Political committee” means [among other things] “Any organization of 2 or more persons that promotes the success or defeat of a candidate or candidates or measure or measures, including the political committee of a political party; ..As used in this paragraph, ‘organization’ includes, but is not limited to, one or more natural persons…”
  • “Expenditure” means disbursement of money or thing of value, or a promise of disbursement, or a transfer from one political committee to another, but …
  • “Expenditure” shall not include activity designed to encourage people to register to vote or to vote (as long as a specific candidate isn’t mentioned), any communication by any membership organization or corporation to its members or stockholders (as long as the primary purpose of the organization isn’t to promote or defeat of a candidate or candidates and measure or measures), or any communication by any political committee that is not made for the purpose of promoting the success or defeat of candidate(s) or measure(s).
  • And here’s my personal favorite: “political advocacy organization” means any entity that spends $5000 or more in a calendar year to pay for a communication that is “functionally equivalent to express advocacy” because, when taken as a whole, such communication is likely to be interpreted by a reasonable person only as advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate(s) or measure(s).

Excerpts, as I said. The whole dreary thing is here.

Don’t worry, I’ve been told; it only applies to two or more people. Problem: do the people I hire for tech support count as “people” under the bill? If I run guest posts, does that trigger the two-or-more provision? And what about the provision of the law a few lines down from “two or more people” that says an organization is “one or more natural persons”?

Don’t worry, I’ve been told; you don’t count because the blog’s communications don’t exist for the primary purpose of supporting/opposing candidates. Problem: Who’s going to determine my primary purpose? It would an administrative determination, with no appeal, leaving me subject to fines and possible prosecution for “false swearing.” I’m here to write in support of a culture of life. That means I spend a lot of time tracking bills and noting what officeholders and candidates are saying. I make it clear who’s not going to be any help on the life issues. What is some bureaucrat going to conclude about my “primary purpose”?

By the way, if you think accusations of violations of the law wouldn’t be publicized all over the place, you’re too naive to be allowed loose. One accusation of “campaign finance” violations would be enough to sully someone’s reputation permanently. Exoneration wouldn’t get nearly the same coverage.

Don’t worry, I’ve been told; your blog expenses won’t reach the “expenditure” threshold under law. And if they did, “we” (who’s “we”?) would divide your posts into political and non-political and prorate your expenditures accordingly. Problem: that prorate thing is nowhere in the bill. As for what I spend on the blog, I assure you that hosting, tech support, and travel add up.

You can understand why I’m concerned. The Senate will decide soon if it can live with the House amendment to SB 120. If the bill passes, it goes into effect immediately.

What am I supposed to do then? Keep a lawyer on retainer? That, I can’t afford.

One last question, to which no one has yet offered an answer: will putting my blog on a government registry really do anything to bring “transparency” to politics?

I am not a PAC (some people have to be told)

I find it impossible to write about the life issues without also writing about politics, politicians, and public policy. I am not registered with either the Federal Elections Commission or the New Hampshire Secretary of State as a political action committee. I don’t see a problem there. A fellow blogger is discovering that in his case, there IS a problem. He is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to straighten things out.

Noted with alarm: this item from the Wall Street Journal weekend edition of September 7.  To summarize briefly, an Ohio man named Ed Corsi started a political web site in 2008. He blogged. He sponsored meetings. He made flyers and distributed them. He spent money to maintain his site, hold the meetings, and print those flyers. That’s what nailed him, apparently. A local GOP official who was also a member of the board of elections accused Corsi of not printing disclaimers on his flyers as required by law for PACs. Corsi was spending money to influence elections, said the accuser.

Not coincidentally, the GOP official in question had been the subject of criticism from Corsi. Until his own ox was gored, the official apparently was not moved to apply the PAC law to a blog.

This blog isn’t “registered” with anyone aside from WordPress, the blog platform I use. It certainly isn’t a money-making operation yet. It is, however, frankly political. Politics, culture, and the right to life are inextricably linked. I didn’t link them myself.

Does that make me a “political action committee”? Somehow, I doubt that the first advocates of campaign finance reform had writers in mind – even opinionated writers. Imagine the writers of the Federalist Papers, anonymous (“Publius”) even though their identities are now known to history, being hauled into court for not having disclaimers on their appeals for ratification of the Constitution. Granted, they were promoting ballot questions rather than candidates. The principle is the same: writers supporting one side or another in a political question should not have to register with the government.

So I’m not registering. I’m writing. And I’m keeping an eye on the Corsi case.