20/20 Reveals Free Speech Violations

20/20 ran a powerful segment on campaign censorship laws. Becky Clark, a Coloradan who was sued for putting up yard signs and getting politically active in her community, is featured in the segment. The upshot is that the laws benefit insiders and raise hurdles for true grass-roots activism. These laws are unjust, and they must be repealed.

Update: I’ve since learned that her full name is Becky Clark Cornwell. Earlier this year, she wrote a Speakout for the Rocky Mountain News about her ordeal.

ABC News has also published John Stossel’s review of campaign finance laws.

Becky Clark’s Fight for Free Speech

Gus Van Horn alerted me to an important Colorado story that, somehow, I’d missed till now. Becky Clark got sued for exercising her right of free speech without filling out the right bureaucratic forms.

While I have not independently checked her story yet, Clark tells a fascinating tale:

Way back in the early part of 2006 our little unincorporated neighborhood of about 300 houses in Parker, Colorado was all abuzz over the efforts of two of our neighbors who thought it would be a good idea to annex into the town. After my husband and I studied the facts and talked to our neighbors, we decided we were against annexation for a variety of reasons, the most important to us being the huge sales tax increase we’d be hit with.

So, because we own a printshop and can make signs, we made a couple that said “No Annexation” and “Annexation is a permanent tax increase” and planted them in our front yard.

Our neighbors kept stopping by asking if we’d make some for them, so we did. Pretty soon the neighborhood was filled with these signs and it was pretty clear most everyone held the same opinion that we did. …

[In July] six of us, and our printshop, were slapped with a lawsuit by two of our neighbors, the two who were for the annexation. …

They said we were not in compliance with campaign finance laws and we needed to register as an issue committee. I had no idea what that meant and I’d never even heard the phrase “issue committee” before. …

They wanted to shut us up. The litigation was clearly an attempt to intimidate us.

We had no choice but to file as an issue committee… It fell to me to do the paperwork, and let me tell you, it’s no picnic. …

These campaign finance laws need to be changed so no one can try to shut up the people who oppose them. After all, free speech — to me — is the free exchange of differing ideas and the right to voice them without the fear of harassment and intimidation.

What has happened to our society that people are so threatened by an honest difference of opinion that they can file suit against anyone who speaks with an opposing voice?

I think I should be able to stick a political sign in my front yard without my neighbors slapping a lawsuit on me. And I think you should be able to also.

In a follow-up, Clark talks about “September 2008 when the judge finally ruled on our lawsuit. The federal judge said we should not have been sued for our speech opposing the annexation, BUT the ruling did nothing to stop future abuses of campaign finance laws in Colorado or elsewhere. The decision also lets stand the burdensome red tape required under Colorado law for grassroots groups that simply want to speak out about issues on the ballot.”

Clark also reports that she’s been interviewed by 20/20 for a story that will air October 17.

Stay tuned. I need to read a lot more about the details of this case, but so far Clark’s account squares with my understanding of Colorado’s campaign finance laws. Could Clark be to free speech what Kelo was to property rights?

Can you imagine somebody like Sam Adams filing “issue committee” paperwork with the government?

Who’d have thought that America’s Republican candidate for president would join forces with the socialist left to impose censorship — or that the American people would let them get away with it.