Censoring Scott McInnis

I imagine the last thought on Scott McInnis’s mind about Complete Colorado is “you complete me.”

McInnis, who appears headed into the Colorado governor’s race of 2010, appeared in scandalous-sounding headlines before even announcing his candidacy — something every candidate no doubt wishes to avoid — thanks to an April 30 exclusive story by Complete Colorado bearing the ominous title, “Voicemail Raises Ethics Questions for McInnis and His Probable Campaign for Governor.”

McInnis left a voice mail with a potential supporter in which McInnis mentioned, “We’ve got Sean Tonner on board… Sean’s doin’ our… 527.” Complete Colorado summarizes, “The mention of Tonner being on the team and also running a 527 could be problematic. It is illegal for a candidate committee to coordinate with a 527 ‘issues’ committee.”

Now that McInnis said the verboten word “527,” it is no doubt time for a full inquiry. All we need now is a smoking gun or a stained dress.

What this story actually illustrates is that the campaign finance “reform” laws are in fact censorship laws. Candidates cannot simply present their message to the public coordinating with willing donors and spokespersons: they can speak only within the confines of elaborate and arbitrary rules that only armies of lawyers can hope to decipher.

A regular person cannot run for office without consulting an attorney. If you want to run for political office, you must learn the politically-correct and lawyer-approved code language for announcing your candidacy and discussing supporters. If you violate these Speech Codes, you can land in deep trouble.

The campaign censorship laws help assure that only political insiders can navigate the election laws. Most normal people are frightened away from running for office or even becoming involved in political causes. The campaign censorship laws facilitate retaliatory lawsuits and campaigns of character assassination.

Meanwhile the campaign censorship laws obviously have not cleaned up politics or gotten “big money” out of politics. The laws have merely thrown the advantage to those with enough lawyers to game the legal system.

I find it astonishing that the recipient of the voice mail — presumably a Republican — sent the voice mail to a conservative/libertarian site in order to damage a Republican candidate. (Josh Penry is also headed into the race on the Republican side.)

A May 1 story by the Denver Post’s Jessica Fender offers useful context. Here is how McInnis defended the voice message:

McInnis, who verified that he left the message, pointed out that he has not officially announced his candidacy or formed a candidate committee, so the rules do not yet apply.

And what he really meant to say was that Tonner, president of consulting firm Phase Line Strategies, is a supporter and is answering questions about potential future 527s, he said.

“I should have said Sean Tonner is the one I’m looking to for answers on this,” McInnis said. “The law doesn’t prohibit you from discussions on ‘This is what’s going to be needed.’ “

So apparently candidates can discuss “potential future 527s” without coordinating with them. McInnis’s interpretation of the inherently ambiguous Speech Codes is as legitimate as any other.

These are in fact censorship laws, as Fender’s following passage illustrates:

McInnis may not have technically broken campaign laws, said Colorado Common Cause Director Jenny Flanagan, but there is one simple rule when it comes to 527s: Don’t talk to them.

“It’s certainly a violation of the spirit,” Flanagan said.

When the law prevents you from talking to others, that is censorship. Such laws violate the Bill of Rights and our fundamental human rights. They are an abomination that must be repealed.

That said, I am surprised that McInnis, a former member of Congress, did not script his message more carefully given his knowledge of the campaign censorship laws.

Complete Colorado did the right thing in running the story. It is important to know how the censorship laws are carried out in order to argue against them.

The fact that Complete Colorado has a political leaning does create a certain awkwardness surrounding the story, as illustrated by a headline above a story from the Daily Sentinel’s Gary Harmon, “McInnis’ voice mail posted at site run by supporters of possible rival.” Harmon notes that Complete Colorado “is owned by Todd Shepherd and Justin Longo,” both of whom work for the Independence Institute. Harmon writes, “CompleteColorado.com has nothing to do with the Golden-based Independence Institute, where he is employed to research government misdeeds, Shepherd said.” Still, awkward.

However, Harmon’s claim that Shepherd and Longo “are supporting McInnis’ likely intraparty rival, Josh Penry” is completely unjustified, as Shepherd demonstrates in a follow-up article. Shepherd points out that Harmon’s claim is based exclusively on the fact that both Shepherd and Longo “are listed on a Facebook page, ‘Draft Josh Penry for Colorado Governor.'”

But that Facebook association proves nothing. People often join internet lists, Facebook pages, etc. to gain information. Shepherd points out that he is also Facebook “friends” with Democratic Governor Bill Ritter. Moreover, the Daily Sentinel itself is friends with Penry (and I wonder whether this was merely the result of investigating the story).

So we have (fake) scandal and (fake) counter-scandal.

Unfortunately, few are talking about the real scandal: political activists in Colorado suffer under censorship laws and Orwellian Speech Codes. Perhaps journalists should spend a bit of time looking into that.

3 thoughts on “Censoring Scott McInnis”

  1. Ari:

    Excellent post.

    Your broader points that the McInnis tape shows that campaign finance rules have become to byzantine and are, in many cases, unconstitutional, are right on. I’m sure your post will be for some a starting point for the debate about how to undo the Gordian knot of campaign finance laws.


  2. Of course, the established parties know all about how to “work with” 527s without “coordinating” with them.

    The Democractic party benefited greatly from “illegal” soft money through George Soros’ shadow party, after many organizations that he funded worked very hard to get McCain-Feingold in place.
    We can guess as to his purpose by the results in the 2004, 2006, and 2008 elections.

    McCain-Feingold answered a problem that most voters were not even concerned about, and it was invented and passed for the exact reason you mentioned. To keep “outsiders” from messing with the taxpayer gravy train provided to the insiders.

    It must be repealed!

  3. “That said, I am surprised that McInnis, a former member of Congress, did not script his message more carefully given his knowledge of the campaign censorship laws.”

    Surprised? Why would you be surprised? McInnis is of the old republican guard. The rules don’t really apply to them….just ask them!

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