Chilling Free Speech

Posted by By at 27 April, at 12 : 43 PM Print

Imagine the following scenario.

The Governor of a large industrial state – one that allows anonymous coordinated campaign contributions – is widely regarded as being an “enemy” of unions. That Governor, who benefitted from millions of dollars of these types of expenditures from corporate donors, decides that he wants to know what the unions actually spent, so he asks for a bill that would require disclosure.

The legislature refuses to accommodate him (even though it is his own party in control). Undeterred and acting unilaterally, the Governor issues an order that anyone doing business with the state must disclose on any bid the campaign contributions of the business entity and all its sub contractors (the trade unions)– including those not required by any law to be disclosed.

Now imagine that Governor was Scott Walker. Or John Kasich. Or Tom Corbett. The left would be blowing a gasket over the apparent attempt to chill valid – and Constitutional – political speech. They would claim that any move was an attempt to punish a Democrat funding stalwart and as such the order was invalid. Heck, knowing that this is a group that equated lawful legislation limiting bargaining rights with Hitler’s atrocities, they probably would try to have the Governor impeached, indicted, tarred and feathered.

However, in one very real sense they would be absolutely right – the disclosure requirement discussed is absolutely being imposed to chill political speech. There can be no valid reason to demand to know this type of information because it could not – LEGALLY – be used as any basis for a decision.

Think about that before we move on – there is NO use for this information in contracting except to hope that eventual disclosure will prevent its expenditure all together. You can’t base contracts on it (we call that Quid Pro Quo, and even laymen know that is a big no-no in politics, even if it still happens); you can’t score bids relying on it; and you can’t judge any merit based on it. All you can do is hope to silence dissenting voices through intimidation and implied contracting disadvantages.

Sounds like something Bush would do, right? Guess again. It is none other than that Constitutional scholar and noted liberal President Obama.

You see, the Democratic Party has some structural problems developing. Their reliable ally on policy, the mainstream media, is dying. The “objectivity norm” of news is going with it, replaced by a more partisan style from both sides on the web. The new views on the web are much more diverse – making it possible for GOP ideas to break through the media walls presented in the last two decades. This is obvious by the terms of the debate we are having over the budget; rather than spend versus cut the GOP has made this a debate about how and where do we cut, not if.

For the Democrats losing the media advantage is bad enough. But they are also losing the financial support of the Unions – not because the Unions are unwilling, but because of the declining pool of people and funds from which to draw. This will have real consequences; in the last election SEIU (which is in debt over $80M, ironically) was the top PAC donor at over $8M, and #3 and #4 were teachers unions who combined for another $12.3M. Those unions are deeply in debt, and their resources are being constricted by budget cuts – the dollars that the DNC used to count in the bank even without asking are going to be greatly reduced.

Finally, and this is what drives the White House and the left NUTS – the playing field was finally leveled, allowing corporations to do exactly what the Unions have been doing for the last 40 years – engage in valid political speech. The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen’s United made it possible, and ever since the President and his party have been determined to kill its effect.

Which brings us back to the latest “could you imagine what they would say if Bush did it” moment of this Presidency (there have been lots): unable to get legislation through a Democrat House and Senate (maybe they read the Constitution), the President wants to chill the free speech of opponents just in time for his re-election.

And I am not over selling it. The leaked draft of an executive order would require any company seeking a federal contract to first disclose if the company or its executives gave more than $5,000 in political contributions.

Never mind that any executive’s individual contributions of hard money is already public knowledge; what the White House wants to know is are you a secret closet Tea Party supporter who gave to a coordinated expenditure campaign?

And more importantly, the President (and current candidate for re-election who would benefit greatly from this edict) wants to give big companies pause before they oppose his policies or support any of his opponents.

This is as invalid an executive order as I can imagine, and not just because it seeks to gain information to which it has no right; its because it seeks information for which it can have no legitimate use.

What possible justification can there be for requiring this disclosure EXCEPT to imply that too much money for the opposition will hurt your contracting chances? Government contracts are decided on low bid – so I will ask again – why on earth do they need this information in this process?

The answer is as plain as the daybreak – and totally unacceptable: the President of the United States is looking to quiet opposition speech. It is inarguable. Not convinced? Need further proof that it is the opposition he seeks to silence? Guess who is exempted from the order – actually, you don’t need to guess, you know: the Unions.

Like exempting the Union healthcare plans from taxation (shared pain is a relative concept, apparently), the executive order protects this most favored constituency and does not apply the disclosure requirements to federal employee unions. That way they can continue to plow money into campaigns – like BHO 2012: Hope and Change 2.0.

So when you hear all of those populist appeals and talk about “an adult conversation,” remember that this is a sitting President using executive authority to silence the opposition and to enhance his chances of holding power. Like I said before, could you imagine if Bush had done it?


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This post was written by:
- who has written 77 posts for Rock The Capital
Scott Paterno is an accomplished policy analyst and political consultant based in Hershey, PA. Mr. Paterno, never one to sit still, has practiced law, run for a house seat, and worked as lobbyist in Harrisburg and Washington. Paterno is Vice Chairman of the Sustainable Energy Fund and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Political Science. He is happily married with three children. - Email scottp

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