South Carolina bill attacks free speech

As seen in PJ Media

On Tuesday, South Carolina’s Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing about S.255, a measure to change state campaign finance law which would crack down on individuals’ free speech to criticize politicians. The law would allow the state government to access personal information — names, addresses, occupations, and employers — of the citizens of South Carolina in order to uncover the causes they privately support.

“Veterans sacrificed for the right for all of us to stand up and speak freely about the issues we care about. But if S.255 passes, South Carolinians could be intimidated from supporting a cause or making a statement,” Nate Anderson, deputy director at Concerned Veterans for America, said in a statement on the bill. “This is America — no one should be forced to report their private information to the government and fear retaliation for their beliefs.”

This bill is one of a number of disclosure laws which seek to fight “dark money” by requiring the disclosure of donors to issue-focused nonprofit groups which speak out on political issues. By regulating certain avenues of public speech, like radio, television, Internet, and other forms of advertising, governments are demanding the disclosure of people who support issue-focused organizations.

Chillingly, the state officials most supportive of S.255 are the ones whose legislative initiatives have been opposed by advocacy groups in the past. In other words, this bill is arguably a retaliation. Such measures tend not to stand up in court.

Last April, a U.S. District Court judge shot down a California regulation demanding the disclosure of donors to the conservative group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), after the group demonstrated that donors would be subject to threats and intimidation were their names made public.

America’s founders championed anonymous political speech — Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison published The Federalist Papers anonymously. Citizens have the right to support organizations they agree with, and bills like S.255 have a chilling effect on such speech. South Carolina should not make it more difficult for citizens to speak out on issues which are close to their hearts.

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