Wednesday, December 17, 2003 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

First Amendment's Big Loss

Before too much time passes, the passing last week of some of our First Amendment freedom should be mourned, especially by someone sitting here at The Progress & Freedom Foundation. The decision upholding most all of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act ("BCRA") was one of the longest on record (almost 300 pages), and you can read all of it if you are so inclined.

In essence, the Court said it was necessary to defer to Congress's judgment concerning the need for new restrictions on political speech because there had been a "meltdown" in the campaign finance system by virtue of the exploitation of loopholes in the system. I say better that meltdown than the damage inflicted on free speech by the Court.

There's much to criticize in the Court's opinion. But the decision to affirm the congressional restrictions on broadcast issue ads run by independent groups that even mention a candidate in the period before an election is especially troublesome. Now, the restrictions apply to broadcast ads because Congress considered broadcasters to have the most influence on the public. But Howard Dean and others have shown the Web can be a pretty effective means of reaching people in a campaign. Now that the Court has given Congress such broad discretion to fashion loophole-closing provisions, it is easy to imagine independent ad restrictions being imported to the Net. (How much longer are we going to think of our "TV" screens and our "computer" screens as devices delivering different information, anyway? Not too much longer.)

Oh, and while "media" companies are exempt in the current form of "campaign reform" from the speech restrictions, once the National Rifle Association carries out its plan to buy traditional media outlets, Rupert Murdoch better watch out. And ABC, NBC, CBS, and the Washington Post too.

posted by Randolph May @ 5:48 PM | General