Clear the Censorship

I am utterly astounded that so many Colorado “conservatives” endorse censorship. Let’s get this straight, friends: if you endorse censorship, you are an enemy of liberty. This is just not a negotiable issue.

Amendment 54, a campaign censorship law passed by (bare) majority last year, thankfully has been suspended by a Denver court. This is not a surprise, given the measure violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and contradicts Article II, Section 10 of the Colorado Constitution, which states:

Freedom of speech and press. No law shall be passed impairing the freedom of speech; every person shall be free to speak, write or publish whatever he will on any subject, being responsible for all abuse of that liberty; and in all suits and prosecutions for libel the truth thereof may be given in evidence, and the jury, under the direction of the court, shall determine the law and the fact.

This is hardly ambiguous text.

I was therefore surprised to read an article at Clear the Bench Colorado endorsing Amendment 54. The article reminds us that the measure “passed by a vote of the citizens of Colorado.” So what? Since when do Republicans endorse pure democracy? The entire point of constitutional government is to protect individual rights from mob rule.

Here is the central argument from Clear the Bench:

Once again, a judge has acted on the behalf of special interest groups intent on “gaining favor and contracts from public officials” through political contributions — “probably triggering a flood of campaign contributions” from those seeking to curry favor while the ‘temporary injunction’ remains in effect.

The same argument could apply to McCain-Feingold. Does Clear the Bench also endorse the federal censorship law and decry the Supreme Court’s limitation of it?

The purpose of Amendment 54 (now part of Article 28 of the Colorado Constitution) is to prevent recipients of no-bid government contracts from contributing to campaigns. The reasoning behind the restriction is obvious enough: people who benefit from tax dollars ought not influence the spending of those tax dollars. But while that reasoning points to a legitimate problem, it does not justify censorship.

With governments at all levels spending so much money through forced wealth transfers — about 45 percent of the total economy — political pull is just the way things operate. The only real way to solve that problem is to cut government spending and restore a free market. Until that happens, campaign censorship laws only further violate our rights without addressing the fundamental problem.

At a less fundamental level, if there is a problem particularly with no-bid contracts, then the solution is to restrict or eliminate no-bid contracts (and open contracts to bidding).

If we were to extend the argument that people who receive government funds should be censored, that would apply also to every student who takes government-backed loans, every senior citizen who accepts Social Security or Medicare, every employee and contractor of the government, and so on. In other words, given today’s mixed economy and high rate of government spending, the logical conclusion of Amendment 54 is near-universal censorship.

Amendment 54 is shockingly broad; its limitations extend far beyond any direct connection between a no-bid contract and related taxes. Consider the details:

* Amendment 54 prevents contractors, “for the duration of the contract and for two years thereafter,” from contributing to any political party or state or local candidate. There need be absolutely no connection between the political race and the contract.

* A contractor cannot “induce by any means” a campaign contribution “on behalf of his or her immediate family member.” An “immediate family member” is defined as “any spouse, child, spouse’s child, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, stepbrother, stepsister, stepparent, parent-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt, niece, nephew, guardian, or domestic partner.” In other words, a contractor cannot seek to persuade these people that they ought to financially support any candidate. To be enforced, the measure requires thought police.

* The measure also prohibits campaigns from “intentionally” accepting funds proscribed by the measure. What is “intentional?” How is that proved? What this does is allow big-moneyed interests to go after candidates they don’t like, discouraging potential candidates who can’t afford a team of lawyers from running.

Amendment 54 is bad law. It is unjust law. It is unconstitutional law. It deserves to be thrown out.

Conservatives need to learn that the opposite of “judicial activism” is not mob rule. Judges play a legitimate role in protecting the rights of the individual from the whims of the majority.

It is a shame that Clear the Bench, which has undertaken a good and noble cause in advocating courts that uphold the rule of law, has muddied the waters by endorsing censorship. Let’s hope that organization and conservatives more broadly correct that failing.