The First Amendment protects the right of Americans to publish their political views against infringement by Congress. On this point the constitutional language is about as clear as language can be made. Yet the Supreme has hemmed and hawed and created purported exceptions that threaten to swallow the rule.
Brad Smith brings us the latest case study in the tyranny licensed by the Supreme Court. Consider the case of Ed Corsi:
In the winter of 2008, Ed Corsi decided that he was tired of stewing about the politics in his home of Geauga County, Ohio, and the country at large. He started a website, put Thomas Jefferson’s quote, “The price of freedom . . . constant vigilance” at the top, dubbed the site “Geauga Constitutional Council,” and set about blogging his thoughts on local and national politics. So began his life of political crime.
Over the next two years, Mr. Corsi and a few friends would sometimes gather to talk politics. He occasionally sponsored meetings featuring speakers (not political candidates) on public policy issues (not elections), and charged a nominal fee for seating to offset his costs. He and two friends passed out political pamphlets they made at the Geauga County Fair.
Mr. Corsi spent $40 a month to maintain his website, and perhaps a couple hundred dollars a year in other expenses. According to the state of Ohio, however, these activities are illegal under campaign-finance laws because Mr. Corsi did not first register with the state, report to the state on his activities, and subject himself to the regulations governing the operation of a state political action committee.
When he was summoned to a hearing before the Ohio Elections Commission in April 2011, Mr. Corsi asked, “Do I have to hire a lawyer to [do] these things?” Commission Chairman Bryan Felmet replied, “Yeah, I guess so. I think that it’s very complicated without going to those lengths.” The commission ordered Mr. Corsi to register and report his activities to the state.
Like all good case studies, this one has a point. Here it is:
It is inconceivable…that America’s founders thought the First Amendment would allow the government to routinely require citizens to report their political activity, and be subjected to such complex regulations. They wanted to prevent government from doing precisely this sort of thing. Yet Mr. Corsi lost in state court. Now he waits to see if the Supreme Court will agree to hear his case.
Professor Smith knows whereof he speaks. He is a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, and chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, which is representing Mr. Corsi at the Supreme Court (support the center here).