Jeb Bradley is a primary sponsor of New Hampshire Senate Bill 120.
Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley is proposing changes to New Hampshire’s election laws so voters will know who is paying for negative television campaign ads and material mailed to their homes.
That’s the sell for the low information voter, but the Boston.com article even had a bone for the blogosphere.
Bradley said he set the $5,000 threshold for the independent groups to protect the free speech rights of those spending a small amount. The bill wouldn’t cover bloggers, he said.
‘‘They are not intended to be caught in the net,’’ he said.
I wonder why he felt it necessary to add that point?
Was it because of all the electrons I’ve employed in the course of exposing the risk SB 120 presents to the general public? I can only hope someone is listening, and not just to reassure me, though I confess that I am less worried about the affect of SB 120 on my hobby; given that I have logged somewhere between three and four thousand posts over a number of years, my presence is clearly more opinion based journalism. I could probably argue for the same exclusion afforded the print and television media. No, my concern is for small business owners and more casual practitioners of political punditry. I am also weary of professional politicians exercising legislative authority over speech.
Regarding the former, small business owners in this state are the people who pay the bulk of the taxes. They deserve to be able to exercise their free speech rights without having to dodge bureaucratic hurdles or worrying about being accused of violating the ‘Law.’ Despite any number of so-called ‘protections, this bill will still suppress political speech.
While that is more than enough in my mind to kill it, there is one other thing it will likely do. Business owners will still be on the hook fiscally. The bureaucracy will not stop driving up the cost of doing business. It will still be in their interest to have their voices heard so they will have to find a way to do so that limits their chances of accidentally violating the new law. They will need to limit their legal exposure to lawsuits and fines. And how do businesses communicate with the governments that tax them when other avenues become difficult or are closed? They hire lobbyists.
If they cannot afford a lobbyist on their own they will form associations and pool their resources to hire speech-professionals. These costs will be significantly less than the risk of failing to dot an ‘I’ or cross a ‘T.’ And a lobbyist will inoculate them from the infection of legal challenges from professional activist groups who will be trolling the public discourse for any opportunity to make an example of someone with the new law in force.
SB 120 will institutionalize the act of engaging with the legislature by placing more of it in the hands of paid professionals acting in the interests of their ‘employers,’ That means more full time lobbyists competing for the attention of lawmakers–with expense accounts.
So SB 120 does not just run the risk of inadvertently silencing people who are fearful of stumbling over the law. It increases the odds of more free lunches for state Senators being wooed by lobbyists, while making it more likely that your voice will not be heard as clearly or as loudly.
They’ll deny it, but reality sings a different tune.
The growing mass of lobbyists representing special interests in DC over the decades is a direct result of the Federal government accumulating more power and influence over everything that happens. As long as you have to travel to the nations capital to control how you will be taxed and regulated, those being taxed and regulated the most will find a way to be heard. It is no different at the state level. So SB 120 not only creates a potential risks for speech amateurs–effectively silencing some of them in the process, it shifts influence away from those less connected or able to afford to get connected and into the hands of paid professionals and the interests they represent.
And once more and more of those paid professionals are in Concord, plenty of people with the resources will find plenty of other things for them to lobby.
Lobbyists and special interests also provide avenues and opportunities for more and larger sums of money–all documented sweet as you please–to find their way into the campaign coffers of the best listeners in the legislature.
SB 120 may sound like some docile effort at transparency, but what it really does is open a door that only benefits the well connected and those already elected.
Go ahead and deny it now, but do not deny that you were warned. Speech is not the only thing at risk here.
Steve has been recognized as the Americans For Prosperity Blogger of the month for December 2012