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The same Democrats outraged by Donald Trump’s alleged offenses against the First Amendment passed, as their first priority, a speech-restricting bill opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Trump shouldn’t call the media “the enemy of the people” or inveigh against Jeff Bezos for owning The Washington Post, but Nancy Pelosi’s HR 1, which passed the House last week, is the true affront to the Constitution.

The wide-ranging legislation purports to reform campaign finance with a series of vague, sweeping measures that will act to chill speech when they don’t actively regulate or squelch it. HR 1 is called the For the People Act, but would be more aptly titled the Be Careful What You Say, It Might Be Illegal Act.

Progressives can’t abide the notion that people in this country get together to spend money on advocacy outside the purview of the government — in other words, freely promote their favored causes as befits a free people living in a free country.

HR 1 cracks the whip. As the Institute for Free Speech points out, the current campaign-finance rules limit expenditures that expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate, or refer to a candidate in public advertising shortly before an election. The idea is to have clear rules so groups can promote their views without fear of running afoul of federal regulations.

HR 1 blows this regime up. It seeks to regulate any speech at any time that “promotes or supports the candidate, or attacks or opposes an opponent of the candidate,” a fuzzy standard that could catch up all manner of nonelectoral messages (e.g., “Trump’s tariffs are a mistake,” or “Support Trump’s wall”).

HR 1 also widens the definition of coordination between a group and a candidate to encompass almost any communication. It’d still be permissible to discuss a candidate’s position on an issue, so long as there no talk “regarding the candidate’s or committee’s campaign advertising, message, strategy, policy, polling, allocation of resources, fundraising, or other campaign activities.”

Even if a group doesn’t coordinate with a candidate under this loose standard, it could still be deemed to have coordinated if it were founded by someone who goes on to become a candidate; relies on the professional services of someone who also did work for a candidate; or is run by someone who had conversations about a campaign with the relative of a candidate.

On top of all this, HR 1 goes after the privacy of donors to advocacy organizations. It mandates the disclosure of the names and addresses of donors giving more than $10,000 to groups that engage in “campaign-related disbursements.”

Given our toxic political environment, this would potentially subject the donors to harassment and abuse, and they might not even be aware of or support the communications in question.

Supporters of HR 1 say it is necessary to rein in super PACs, the frightening-sounding organizations that aren’t as unregulated as everyone believes (the Federal Election Commission gets reports of their expenditures and contributions).

But, as the Institute for Free Speech notes, the bill affects a much broader array of “trade associations, unions, business groups and advocacy organizations, such as Planned Parenthood and the National Right to Life Committee.”

Love them or hate them, these groups are part of the warp and woof of American public life, and they shouldn’t have to think twice before engaging in acts of persuasion that enrich and enliven our democracy, not corrupt it.

The Supreme Court has long put an emphasis on bright lines in its campaign-finance jurisprudence exactly to avoid a chilling effect on advocacy. It has said that laws must be “both easily understood and objectively determinable.” The campaign-finance provisions of HR 1 are neither.

What HR 1 makes abundantly clear is that the foremost threat to the First Amendment are the people who believe that there is something untoward about unregulated political speech and seek to bring it under control.

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Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

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(21) comments

oldhomey

Yes D, getting anonymous big money out of politics is a huge priority if we want to save our republic. Rich Lowry is a paid mouthpiece for the uber rich and powerful people on the right. He argues:

"Given our toxic political environment, this would potentially subject the donors to harassment and abuse, and they might not even be aware of or support the communications in question."

It is the sort of money funneled anonymously into propaganda mills that have laid the groundwork of our hyper-toxic politics of today. These people, and you don't have to scratch the surface too deeply before you find the fingerprints of the Koch boys, Adelsons and billionaire control freaks manipulating these propaganda mills. Why do they wish to remain anonymous? Because they know the public will turn against their agenda when they see it is the uber-rich doing this stuff to consolidate and grow their wealth and power. We, the people, have a right to know who is talking when political messages flood our media, especially the internet. Period. End of story.


Lowry continues: "But, as the Institute for Free Speech notes, the bill affects a much broader array of 'trade associations, unions, business groups and advocacy organizations, such as Planned Parenthood and the National Right to Life Committee.' {He might have listed, too, the American Petroleum Institute, which gets a lot of Koch money}.

"Love them or hate them, these groups are part of the warp and woof of American public life, and they shouldn’t have to think twice before engaging in acts of persuasion that enrich and enliven our democracy, not corrupt it."

Nobody is trying to stop attempts to persuade, Mr. Lowry. We simply demand that we know who it is who is trying to do the persuading so that we can judge just exactly what the agenda is behind that persuasion. Nobody's voice should be muffled, but we would like to remove the masks that the loudest persuaders in the arena are hiding behind. Fair enough?

DMoney

If the liberal movement is so strong, righteous and vibrant, and if conservatives are so evil and anti-populist--why's it matter? Let billionaires spend. Let free speech reign. Let people vote their values.

martian2

well isn't this rich, Dmoney spends plenty of his time and effort defending the uber rich so they are able to buy and influence politicians and elections. But commenting on racism and equality just isn't worth it to him. Just not worth his time. Human rights is for others to promote, but not Dmoney, he got his white privilege and that is all that matters.

oldhomey

Amen, martian.

DMoney

Does your white privilege matter less?

martian2

does my white privilege matter less than what? You forgot to finish your sentence Dmoney. I acknowledge my white privilege, I am honest about it. Its not any one person's fault. It is a fact. It is not right, or fair to others. I speak out against it and discrimination against others different than me. And yes it is worth my time and effort.

new2Lax

You might have listed Geo. Soros, Tom Steyer, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, I suspect intentionally left them out right and all the large Cor[orations that gave to Obama and Clinton. Free speech should be left alone, voters can figure it out. Fake news is always called out.

martian2

They should be stopped to there new2. Doesn't matter who the uber rich are, they should have no more rights than the rest of us. And by the way, corporations are not people, they are much like you, with out a soul or conscience. Fake news is called out by some of us, others find it can't figure it out. Hence you have fox news, talk radio, and numerous far right websites spewing false propaganda daily. If it didn't work they wouldn't be doing it.

oldhomey

Thanks, martian. I was going to respondto new2, but you did it for me and everybody else on here who sees through him and his Major Hoople bloviating.

DMoney

Of the thousands of issues we have.... THIS is a priority??? This is why our politicians are corrupt scum, ladies and gentlemen gents....

PhysicsIsFun

Yeah, I sort of think that fair elections that are not corrupted by big money are a priority. The big money in politics is why so many politicians are corrupt scum.

DMoney

To career politicians its a move towards job security, plain and simple. They should call it the "Pelosi self-preservation bill". Why are they not devoting 100% of their time and attention towards clear issues facing this country?

oldhomey

Nancy Pelosi has one of the longer careers in Congress these days, D. I am very relieved that this is the case. She is head of the Democratic majority in the House, and she has long experience and a long memory. She has to ride herd right now on a lot of freshmen upstarts in her party who think it would be "cool" to bring Trump up on charges of impeachment. She knows the danger that would pose not just to the party, but to the nation and our political atmosphere for the next couple of decades. She knows how to step cautiously in these perilous times, and she knows the levers of power and how to get us from Point A to Point B on crucial matters of state, a particularly valued asset when we have a rash, brash, ignorant, self-serving president who does not know any of this. She is devoting 100 percent of her time to these problems, and you should be extremely grateful that somebody like her is in the position that she is in right now.

martian2

plus Pelosi knows how to handle Trump and his tirades. She's got him right where he should be. And she doesn't take any guff from the likes of donald.

johnnybragatti

President Pelosi looking pretty good right about now.
Compared to the total lowlife that we now are danged with.
Most Americans would agree.

DMoney

Troll

martian2

Lowry talks about acts of persuasion, but what he is really talking about is propaganda. Everyone knows what a mess our election process is and it needs to be cleaned up. Lowry loves the fact that our politicians can be bought off with large contributions and super pac money. He must be ok with the fact that we have a plutocracy instead of a real democracy. Of course Lowry is ok with this corrupt and vile system, he works for a company that believes in it, and so must he if he wants a job. Transparency and financial limits on contributions are needed to clean up this mess. If the super rich want to exercise their free speech rights, they can do like the rest of us and write a letter to the editor or post their speech on blogs like this one.

A Veteran

Comrade martain it looks like you are jealous of the rich because you think they have more free speech than you do.Remember you do not believe in free speech do you COMRADE!!!!!!!!

martian2

oh poor veteran is feeling like a victim again. can't say anything half way intelligent or pertinent. Oh I love free speech especially when the likes of you and your fascist , racist, communist friends know how to be civil. But that day is a long way off for you.

A Veteran

COMRADE martain ---Looks like I hit a nerve,the truth always bothers you COMRADE. BTW you are the one with the communist friends,as I believe in free speech for ALL ,and you clearly DO NOT!!!!!!!!

martian2

oh I see you didn't disavow your fascist and racist friends I mentioned. You must be proud to be associated with them, being one yourself. If your fascism ever gets it way there will be no free speech, no free press, no freedom what so ever. good thing you are just another crack pot that no one cares about.

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