It did not take long for governments to get carried away with campaign finance "reform" laws (from the Wall Street Journal):
... a decision by Superior Court Judge Chris Wickham, who in 2005 ordered KVI radio hosts John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur had to place a monetary value on "campaign contributions" they made when they argued in favor of Initiative 912, a ballot measure to repeal a 9.5-cent-a-gallon increase in the state's gasoline tax. The antitax measure ultimately lost by 6% of the vote, in part because its opponents outspent its supporters by 20 to 1.
But the "unofficial" support of the measure by talk-show hosts such as Messrs. Carlson and Wilbur, who went so far as to actively tell listeners how they could sign petitions to get I-912 on the ballot, infuriated the self-styled Keep Washington Rolling coalition, which backed the gas tax hike. The coalition convinced a local prosecutor in San Juan County, along with the cities of Kent, Auburn and Seattle, to sue KVI radio demanding that it be brought under the state's campaign finance laws.
In siding with the localities, Judge Wickham insisted he was not restricting speech, merely requiring the reporting of "in kind" contributions to the antitax campaign. But in fact he was equating speech to money, for these "contributions" consisted entirely of speech.
But the radio guys took their case to Washington's supreme court.
Washington's largely liberal Supreme Court agreed that political free speech was jeopardized by the attempt to regulate media outlets under campaign finance laws. Writing in concurrence, Justice Jim Johnson noted, "Today we are confronted with an example of abusive prosecution by several local governments. . . . This litigation was actually for the purpose of restricting or silencing political opponents." The court took the unusual step of sending the case back to the trial court to determine the nature of any constitutional violations the prosecutors who brought the case committed and whether the Initiative 912 supporters have a right to collect attorneys' fee from the local governments who sued them.
And now the new and improved Supreme Court is taking up a similar case
Also last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case involving a Wisconsin pro-life group that ran afoul of McCain-Feingold restrictions on ads run by advocacy groups within 60 days of an election. Court observers believe the oral arguments went well for those challenging the law, and there is cautious optimism the court will pare back its pro-regulatory view of political speech.
More than anything else he's done in office, this is what angers me most about President Bush. McCain has 1st amendment blood on his hands, too, as the legislation bears his name. So does, it pains me to say, Senator Thompson who is supposedly contemplating running for the Presidency.