March 7, 2007
Regaining Lost Ground
By Perry Willis
Today's Downsizer-Dispatch . . . began life as (RCR). RCR opposed incumbent protection laws, disguised as do-gooder campaign finance laws. Our crowning achievement was assembling a group of plaintiffs (led by Congressman Ron Paul) to challenge the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA, a.k.a. McCain-Feingold). We took our unique, Constitutionally-grounded case, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. We lost, but four of the Justices seemed to resonate with our particular arguments. Now, we have an opportunity to regain some of the ground we lost to BCRA. Other groups challenged BCRA on the basis of free speech, but we challenged BCRA based on the "freedom of the press." We argued that every American has a "free press" right, not just the established corporate news media. One Justice echoed our argument, warning the mainstream media that BCRA set a precedent that might someday result in the loss of some of their rights. There are two new Justices on the Court, and the court has agreed to hear a new challenge to part of BCRA. This new challenge only makes a "free speech" argument. It would be greatly aided if our "free press" argument was also heard. An amicus (friend of the court) brief is being prepared to make these arguments. We want to add our name to this brief, and help get it filed with the court. This would be a project of the Downsize DC Foundation, not, but the Foundation doesn't have the budget for this right now. We aren't the only ones funding this brief, so it won't cost much, but what it does cost, we don't have. If you make a TAX DEDUCTIBLE contribution of $60 or more (or $5 per month, or more, credit card pledge) to the Downsize DC Foundation for this purpose, we'll send you a copy of the amicus brief, and thank you in the Downsizer-Dispatch (unless you choose not to be mentioned). You can contribute here. ONE OF THE WORST THINGS ABOUT BCRA WAS a restriction on the rights of groups, whether officially organized or loosely and temporarily drawn together. Under BCRA, these groups could no longer simply mention candidates by name in radio and TV commercials in the 30 days prior to any primary election, and the 60 days prior to any general election. This category was part of the electioneering communications rules. John McCain colorfully referred to these issue ads as "sham issue ads." But, at best, the sham is in the eye of the beholder. If a group of citizens gathers 45 days before a federal election and Congress is, at that very moment, considering legislation that is important to this group, our opinion is that they should be able to pass a hat to fund the broadcast of an ad about that issue, and mention the members of Congress responsible for that legislation. This little group should be able to act as a press, just like the established corporate media, which can talk about legislation and mention candidates by name at any time without any legal restriction. But in effect, for these non-media groups, their free press rights have been licensed. That's right, in America you need the equivalent of a license to participate in your democracy. * You must first pick a Treasurer who will assume full legal responsibility for any and all actions taken by your group. * The Treasurer must register your cause with the government. * Then, your Treasurer must report to the government -- using complicated accounting procedures and even more tortuous electronic reporting tools -- reporting who gave by name, address, and occupation, as well as how much they gave. * It's not uncommon for the Treasurer to get fined for a technicality. Then, and only then, you're issued a number and approved! It's no wonder we keep electing incumbents even though everyone is so dissatisfied with them. * Would you want to be the Treasurer? * Do you think people hesitate or fail to give to good causes because they don't want their names published? If you're not registered, the station cannot accept your advertisement. They will get in trouble. You will get in trouble if they accept your ad anyway. No license? No First Amendment rights. And that's what we call a "prior restraint" on Free Press rights. AN OPPORTUNITY HAS COME UP TO TAKE BACK IMPORTANT CONSTITUTIONAL GROUND. On April 25th, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Wisconsin Right to Life v Federal Election Commission (WRTL v FEC). WRTL has challenged the provisions that permit this prior restraint on independent, non-partisan groups -- essentially banning them from the airways 30 days before a primary and 60 days before an election. WRTL's arguments are more traditional free speech arguments. For a variety of reasons, Court watchers, reading tea leaves and smoke signals, believe that the odds WRTL will win this case are decent, if not good. If WRTL won, that would mean a virtual end to these silly and unconstitutional periods where the First Amendment is no longer operable. With two new justices on the Court, maybe it would signal a change in direction on these unconstitutional restrictions. We need to find out. WE WANT TO HELP THIS CASE SUCCEED. That's why we want to help file this amicus brief. This brief would provide additional ammunition to the case, and possibly get our Free Press argument rooted in a Court opinion -- laying groundwork for the future. Drafting of this brief has already begun. Even better, other groups have already stepped to the plate, so we don't have to fund this alone. Most days, I write you on behalf of a educational project. But this is a Downsize DC Foundation educational initiative. And the significance of that is that contributions are tax-deductible to those who itemize. One time contributions are encouraged. It would be ideal if someone who is passionately angered by the unfairness of these incumbent protection laws would step forward with $1,000. But we need contributions of all sizes so we can help generate a successful outcome in this case. If you make a TAX DEDUCTIBLE contribution of $60 or more (or $5 per month, or more, credit card pledge) to the Downsize DC Foundation for this purpose, we'll send you a copy of the amicus brief, and thank you in the Downsizer-Dispatch (unless you choose not to be mentioned). You can contribute here. Please join us. Please, give generously. And if you know anyone who has labored as a challenger, independent, or minor party candidate, who might share our resentment of this unfair, unconstitutional law, please share this message with them. Jim Babka President Downsize DC Foundation
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