October 18, 2012 The Egalitarian Assault on Free Speech
I believe this is one of the more important articles I’ve written. I explain how the egalitarian left, as a logical extension of its assault on property rights, is now seeking to censor political speech. Please also see my collected commentary on Colorado Amendment 65, the local effort to move toward censorship.
Update: The police have made an arrest in the Jessica Ridgeway murder. Remember that due process matters, the evidence matters, and suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Yet, the possibility that this may be the guy, and that the perpetrator might now be off the streets, is a huge relief. Thank you, law enforcement, for your diligence.
Dear Westminter Neighbors,
The murder of Jessica Ridgeway has horrified the residents of the city.
Although we read about horrific crimes daily in the paper, this crime struck close to home. I have taken my nephews to play at Witt Elementary, the very school that Jessica attended. My wife and I vote at that school. My wife has walked alone on the very trails where a man tried to abduct a woman earlier in the year—the same man police suspect is responsible for Jessica’s murder.
We all want the perpetrator caught.
But not all means are justified toward that end.
When a neighbor told me that police asked to search her house, without cause, merely as part of a fishing expedition, I was surprised. I was proud of her for respectfully declining.
When I saw a claim on Facebook that police were swabbing people for DNA, I was shocked. And yet, “Investigators have gathered DNA samples from about 500 people as they search for Jessica Ridgeway’s killer, 9Wants to Know has confirmed.”
I hate to state the obvious here, but if the police have 500 “suspects,” that means the police have no suspects.
Although it is a reasonable guess that the perpetrator of this heinous crime is still in the area, apparently the police have no idea where the perpetrator lives, whether he ever resided in the area, or whether he is still in the area.
Now, I suspect that the real value to the police in asking for DNA samples is simply in observing how people respond to the request. (I don’t know whether the police actually have DNA from the perpetrator collected from the crime scene; I hope so.) Honestly, I have a hard time thinking badly of police officers who resort to this tactic; the desperation to arrest the perpetrator is palpable.
However, I do urge my neighbors—including members of the Westminster Police Department—to remember their Fourth Amendment rights and responsibilities. This is an excellent time to review the language of that important amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
If the police ask to swab your cheek for a DNA sample, or to search your house without cause, the only appropriate answer by any self-respecting citizen is “no.”
We are citizens of a free republic, not subjects of a police state.
If the price of capturing a heinous murderer is to surrender our basic rights, then the price is too high.
However, as a practical matter, generally the police do far better to conduct a real criminal investigation rather than to go on fishing expeditions. Seriously, how many hours have the police wasted swabbing and testing (if the testing is even done, which I doubt) essentially random men in the area? Police officers could have spent that same time employing other, and likely more effective, means of investigation.
I am fully aware of the danger posed to the community by a callous and cowardly murderer—a man who brutalizes innocent and defenseless children—who may still be in the area. However, a far greater threat to our lives and safety would be the creation of a police state. America’s Founders hardly were ignorant of the evils of which men are capable. And yet they learned, by the examples of history as well as by their own hard experiences, that the police powers must be restricted. The Fourth Amendment is not some utopian scheme that prevents the police from doing their jobs; it is a needful recognition of our basic rights and of appropriate limits of police power.
In a previous article I used the term “civilian” to distinguish those who are not police. Someone appropriately corrected me. The police too are “civilians.” They are civil servants. Properly their job is to protect people’s rights, to act as peace officers. For the most part, based on what I’ve read in the media, I’ve been impressed by the way the police have approached this difficult and painful case. These police officers are our neighbors, too. We respect the rights-protecting work you do. I ask the police, as their neighbor and fellow citizen, that you stay focused on your mission of protecting individual rights, and not lose sight of the letter or the sprit of the Fourth Amendment.
If by some chance the perpetrator of this heinous crime reads this post, I say to you this: We are not your neighbor, we are your sworn enemy. We are watching, and we will do what we can to bring you down. Now, I cannot speak for the prosecutor, but I suspect that, if you voluntarily turn yourself in and throw yourself on the mercy of the court, you will have a better chance of avoiding the death penalty, as richly as you deserve it.
I do hope my neighbors remember that nearly everyone around us is a good, hard-working, family-loving person. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the horror of a crime such as this one. But the goodness of humanity is revealed all around us, every day. Let’s remember that.
Does it strike anyone but me as ironic that those wanting to “get big money out of politics” are spending big money to promote their political agenda?
Three groups are registered “Issue Committees” to promote Amendment 65, the Colorado ballot measure seeking a U.S. amendment allowing politicians to restrict campaign spending (i.e., censor political speech).
Those groups (and their leaders) are Coloradans For Equal Opportunity (Mary Phillips), Coloradans Get Big Money Out of Politics (Elena Nunez), and Fair Share Committee to Get Big Money Out of Politics (Kirsten Schatz). (There is no group registered against the measure; obviously a few individuals, including me, have spoken against it.)
The first group hasn’t raised much money. The other two groups, however, have raised and spent significant funds. Following are the amounts raised, as reported by the Secretary of State:
October 1: $5,300 monetary contributions plust $6,799.14 non-monetary contributions, mostly from Common Cause. (A number of individuals made monetary contributions.)
September 17: $4,795.48 non-monetary contributions, mostly from Common Cause.
September 4: $35,371.04 monetary contributions plus $1,002.15 non-monetary contributions. This includes $12,921.04 in monetary contributions from Common Cause and $15,000 from People for the American Way of Washington, DC.
August 1 (amended): $81,881.96 monetary contributions plus $31,867.77 non-monetary contributions, mostly from Common Cause.
July 2: $165 non-monetary contribution from Colorado Common Cause.
* * *
In sum, two main groups, Fair Share Alliance and Common Cause, have dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars—mostly “secret” money funneled from one group to another—into the Amendment 65 campaign to “get big money out of politics.” Interesting tactic, that.
I just released a short (2:45 minute) video summarizing my case against Amendment 65. The transcript, from which I strayed only slightly, follows. See also my main document on Amendment 65.
Colorado Amendment 65 asks politicians to support “an amendment to the United States Constitution that allows Congress and the states to limit campaign contributions and spending.”
Why is this a truly horrible idea?
1. Amendment 65 would impose censorship, giving government power to forcibly restrict who may speak, how they may speak, or what they may say.
2. Amendment 65 would, for the first time in the nation’s history, repeal a portion of the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment begins, “Congress shall make no law” restricting free speech. Amendment 65 says Congress should make such laws.
3. Amendment 65 threatens to violate people’s right to speak out on political issues, whether alone or as part of a group, such as a corporation or a union.
4. Any censorship law will leave so-called “loopholes,” leading to calls for additional restrictions. The logical and inevitable result is the censorship of documentaries, books, and newspapers, in addition to flyers and television ads.
5. Amendment 65 would give incumbent politicians the power to silence their critics. That is inherently corrupt.
6. Amendment 65 would give powerful interest groups a means to silence their opponents with less political power.
7. Amendment 65 would create bureaucratic hurdles for small groups to speak out, while large groups with tons of money would just hire more attorneys to find the loopholes and comply with the bureaucratic rules.
8. Although it is true that “money isn’t speech,” we must spend resources to publicly advocate our ideas. Censorship by restricting how people may spend resources on speech is still censorship.
9. It is not true that people who spend more “drown out” others’ voices. For example, Pat Stryker, who is worth $1.4 billion, has spend millions on Colorado politics, yet she has not restricted my ability to speak at all. The only party who can restrict my ability to speak is the government censor.
10. You have a brain! We have the ability to think independently about political ads. We don’t need to forcibly restrict them. I’m as annoyed as anyone by these political ads, but the price of free speech is that we have to put up with speech we find annoying or even abhorrent.
I regard the Colorado ballot measure Amendment 65 as a threat to freedom of speech. Here I collect my writings, talks, and videos on the matter. See also the information about Amendment 65 at the Secretary of State‘s web page or in the Legislative Council’s “Blue Book.”
Amendment 65 . . . asks the foxes to guard the hen house. It asks incumbent politicians and their appointed bureaucrats to restrict the very speech that criticizes them. . . .
You have no right of free speech if you cannot spend your resources how you want on speech. With the possible exception of shouting over panhandlers on a street corner, every form of speech requires the expenditure of resources. . . .
Amendment 65 claims that, somehow, censorship will establish “a level playing field” for speech. But small groups are the ones that tend to get ensnared in speech restrictions, while big groups pay legions of attorneys to guide them through the inevitable loopholes. . . .
It is the government’s proper job to protect each individual’s right to speak freely, whether alone or as part of a group, not to forcibly silence some voices so that others face less competition.
On September 27, I spoke briefly at a forum in Wheat Ridge:
On October 2, I joined Amy Oliver on 1310 am to discuss Amendment 65. The complete audio file is available. One of the points I make is that, based on the premise that money corrupts politics, the last thing we should want to do is put corrupt politicians in charge of censoring speech.
Also on October 2, Mike Rosen spent his first hour discussing Amendment 65. He mentioned my Denver Post op-ed but spent most of his time discussing why the measure has no legal force.
I debated Gordon October 4 at an event hosted by AFGE 3607 Union. (My presentation begins at minute 16:56.) One lady asked about my views of mandatory disclosure. I answered her in brief following the formal presentation; you may read my more complete statement in an op-ed I wrote for the Colorado Springs Gazette last year. Here is the entire 44 minute debate:
October 6: Although overall I was pleased with my case when debating Ken Gordon, I decided that, on one point, I needed to further clarify my position. So I wrote an article for The Objective Standard blog, “When Politics Corrupts Money.” Here is an excerpt:
In hindsight, I should not have conceded, as I did, that “money corrupts politics” in some cases. True, some interest groups spend money on campaigns in the hope of receiving special government privileges, such as corporate welfare subsidies or coercive “protections” against their competitors. However, to concede that “money corrupts politics” wrongly implies that the modern political system is pure and noble until it is corrupted by money.
The proper way to describe the problem is that, within modern government, politics corrupts money.
October 7: The Denver Post published three letters, two critical of me. Neither of those letters is remotely responsive to the arguments I made in my Post op-ed. Near the end of the first hour of his radio show on October 8, Mike Rosen discussed these letters and reiterated his reasons for opposing Amendment 65. Also, on October 11 the Post ran Rosen’s column criticizing the measure as “absurd and ineffectual.”
October 10: The Colorado Social Legislation Committee and the League of Women Voters of Colorado hosted a Denver forum on state ballot issues. As part of this forum, Elena Nunez of Colorado Common Cause and I debated Amendment 65:
October 11: I might mention a couple other Denver Post op-eds that support Amendment 65, one by Stephen Justino and another by Elena Nunez and Danny Katz, the primary sponsors of the measure. They do not raise any arguments that I do not address in my talks and articles. Luis Torro writes a tangentially related article in which he asks why the government should not impose “a consumer protection law for campaign ads.” The basic answer is three-fold. First, there are many ways to combat campaign deception, such as the newspaper article Torro cites. Second, libel law already does (or should) provide the legal remedy for egregious lies. Third, and perhaps most important, putting politicians and bureaucrats in charge of deciding which speech about politicians and bureaucrats is “truthful” is incredibly dangerous and inherently prone to abuse.
October 15: The October 12 edition of Westsider features a column by Andrea Doray, who contrasts free speech in America with oppression in various other nations. She writes:
When I tire of hearing the ads, especially the negative ones, I try to remind myself that free speech and freedom of the press make this knowledge available to me, and that I am able to make my own decisions and vote for the candidate of my eventual choice.
On October 13 I had the opportunity to debate Danny Katz of COPirg, one of the sponsors of Amendment 65, in front of the Jefferson County Democrats. I’m not sure the audio turned out well enough for me to release the video; but, anyway, I didn’t really cover any issue I haven’t covered elsewhere.
October 16: Watch Dave Kopel debate Elena Nunez. Kopel argues: “The fundamental point is that the First Amendment protects the right of everyone to freedom of speech. Whenever the government gets in the business of limiting freedom of speech, it will be to the benefit of the incumbent politicians.”
October 18: Today The Objective Standard published my article, “The Egalitarian Assault on Free Speech.” I explain why the left’s egalitarianism in the realm of economics has led it to advocate censorship in the realm of political speech.
Also, my debate with Ken Gordon about money in politics and Amendment 65 is now online:
October 21: This is a secondary issue, but I do think it’s an interesting detail that two main groups, the Fair Share Alliance and Common Cause, have dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into their campaign to “get big money out of politics.” See my write-up.
October 31: The Denver Post‘s Vincent Carroll offers an excellent critique of Amendment 65, pointing out it could also lead to restricting how much money individuals may spend on their own races. He writes, “Amendment 65 is a quixotic attempt to take politics out of politics by trampling on our freedom.”
November 1: In preparation for discussing campaign finance with a University of Denver class taught by Andrew Romanoff, I prepared some notes. Also, the New York Times has compiled the basic statistics about spending on the presidential race this year. Honestly I was surprised to find that the overwhelming amount of spending came from the campaigns themselves, while PACs played a relatively small role.
Also, I thought Dave Kopel aptly summarized the nature of Amendment 65 for a Collegianarticle: “Amendment 65 is a blank check for government censorship of political speech.”
November 2: Please watch this excellent video from Learn Liberty on campaign spending restrictions: