Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
That would be the First Amendment. Remember it? That little thing the Founders gave us to ensure that our speech could not be stifled by the iron hamfist of overwhelming bureaucratic powergrabbage?
If you’re a bureaucrat in Florida, the answer is probably no. Behold:
Sarasota-area residents Nathan Worley, Pat Wayman, John Scolaro and Robin Stublen talk politics once a week as part of an informal political group. But in 2010, a proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution prompted them to stop talking and take political action. They want to run a simple radio ad, urging the public to vote “no” on Amendment 4.
This sort of spontaneous political speech should be easy. As IJ Staff Attorney Paul Sherman said, “In America, the only thing you should need to talk about politics is an opinion.”
Unfortunately, Florida’s campaign finance laws make speaking out far more difficult than it should be. Under Florida law, anytime two or more people join together to spend more than $500 to advocate the passage or defeat of a ballot issue, they become a fully regulated political committee.
As a result, before they can even publish an ad, the group would have to register with the state and comply with a host of regulations the Florida Secretary of State admits are “complex,” and the U.S. Supreme Court recently called “burdensome” and “expensive” even for corporations and unions. This includes appointing a treasurer, opening up a separate bank account, and tracking and reporting every single penny that goes through the organization.
The bureaucracy admits the regulations are complex (which is code for, “we gave up after the first page of definitions.”)
The SCOTUS bench, which is comprised of some of the smartest people on the planet, admits that even large corporations would have trouble complying with these laws.
And yet here we are, looking Nathan Worley straight in the eye and telling him he can’t purchase an ad on public radio because he hasn’t the resources to hire a battalion of lawyers to defend himself against the legislators who were hired to work on his behalf.
We all know what’s going on here. We’re not stupid, and neither are the politicians who drafted this garbage. They know that they’ve put the muzzle on political “outsiders,” all in the name of “reform” and “transparency” and “unicorns” and “the warm fuzzies I feel when I realize I’m going to be in office for the rest of my corrupt, morally bankrupt life.” They know that the sick, twisted laws they helped write will not only quash the free speech of grassroots activists, but will also make it nearly impossible for those activists to reach out to fellow voters in an attempt to have the laws repealed.
Lucky for us, there are those who are willing to fight this on behalf of people like Nathan Worley, Pat Wayman, John Scolaro and Robin Stublen. The Institute for Justice has launched the Citizen Speech Campaign in an effort to resuscitate the free speech rights of citizen activists in Florida; a lawsuit on behalf of Worley and his friends is only the first step.
22 states currently impose “contribution limits” on donations to independent political groups. This means that it is illegal for anyone to exceed the government-mandated donation cap when giving money to a private organization. This should scare the crap out of you. This should send you running to the internet to make sure your representatives aren’t doing to you what Nathan Worley’s representatives are trying to do to him. Whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to be silenced by bureaucrats so terrified of an “astroturf” movement that they would rather trample the Constitution—a document and an idea they once swore (with their fingers crossed) to protect—than actually attempt to defend their policies.
Remember—if you remain silent, they win.