Washington Examiner: When it matters most, Americans can’t speak freely right before Election Day (In the News)

Washington Examiner: When it matters most, Americans can’t speak freely right before Election Day

By Eric Peterson

Oppose or support the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, it seems everyone has an opinion about him. Yet at this crucial time when the public wants to speak their minds and be heard by their elected officials, obscure regulations stand in their way.

Because Election Day is now less than 60 days away, something called “electioneering communication” regulations add red tape for groups that urge citizens to contact any senator up for election in November.

Any other time, speakers can mention a lawmaker’s name in radio or TV ads and urge them how to vote on key issues. No paperwork, just free speech.

Of course, other rules apply for ads that urge the election or defeat of candidates. Advertisements like “Vote against Jane Doe” or “Support Representative Jones” are regulated as election campaign expenditures every day of the year.

Electioneering communication regulations trigger burdensome government reporting requirements. These kick in when an expenditure is made “for the purpose of furthering” a communication that mentions a candidate for federal office. The reports require that any donation to a group for that communication be disclosed to the public. This means paperwork for those who wish to speak. It also means violating the privacy of their supporters. Many simply choose to remain silent

As the controversy around Kavanaugh shows, the business of governing doesn’t just stop when candidates hit the campaign trail. When major issues are being decided, everyone should be free to speak their mind to those making the decisions, even if that includes mentioning a lawmaker who is up for re-election.

Electioneering communication requirements silence speech on key issues when it matters most. In the name of informed citizenship and freedom of speech, we should make these restrictions a thing of the past.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.