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May 20, 201409:22 AMBlaska's Bring It!

with David Blaska

Reclaim free speech from the regulators

(page 1 of 2)

At the Newseum, Washington, D.C.

Until last week, if you’d wanted to practice free speech in Wisconsin you would have been well advised to hire a good lawyer. Not a divorce lawyer, not a tax lawyer, nor a real estate lawyer. Not a criminal lawyer — well, maybe a criminal lawyer, too. But you needed to hire a free speech lawyer. Yes, they exist and they charge upwards of $200 an hour.

Because that was the tangled rat’s nest of Wisconsin administrative law governing political speech until the May 14 decision by the U.S. Appellate Court for the 7th District swept away most of it. (Wisconsin Right to Life v. Barland.)

The court found “a dizzying array of statutes and rules, from Wisconsin’s ban on political spending by corporations to the interlocking definitions that determine state political committee status to the non-coordination oath and disclaimer requirements for independent political messages, to name just a few.”

The court was obliged to consume 88 pages to lay out its decision (“bear with us,” the court pleaded) in order to sort out the mess.

It’s not that Wisconsin regulators went hog wild; it is the nature of the beast. “Like other campaign-finance systems, Wisconsin’s is labyrinthian and difficult to decipher without a background in this area of the law.”

Suffice to say, the 7th District said:

At the low $300 statutory spending threshold (until recently, a mere $25!) ordinary citizens and interest groups are forced into the state PAC system — with all its restrictions and registration and reporting requirements — if their advocacy on public issues in the lead-up to an election also mentions a candidate. Failure to organize, register, and report as a PAC, as required by the rule, carries civil and criminal penalties. … This is a serious chill on debate about public issues.

At one point in the 88 pages, the court referenced a section of campaign law titled “Section 1uck.” (“You read that correctly!” Judge Diane Sykes interjected, writing for the court.)

To a hammer, everything is a …

Don’t blame the Government Accountability Board. Regulators regulate; that is what they do. Progressives handed them the keys.

M.D. Kittle, writing for Wisconsin Reporter, references Benjamin Barr, a Washington, D.C.-area election lawyer who has worked on a variety of election law cases, to say that Wisconsin:

“had an unaccountable bureaucracy in the Government Accountability Board cobbling together a hodgepodge of regulations and interpretations about what kind of speech they were going to regulate and how broad those regulations were going to be.”

Vague laws interpreted by bitter bureaucrats, perhaps the kind upset by Gov. Scott Walker’s reforms of public-sector collective bargaining, can lead to “predawn raids on people, allowing petty bureaucrats and bad government actors to decide who the enemies are,” Barr said. …

Barr said the Legislature has given the GAB too much power.

“The urge is never ask the barber if you need a haircut,” he said. “Campaign zealots … believe they’re doing the Lord’s work. That’s why you have to rein them in …  You’ve got to shackle these people, otherwise the trend time and time again is that they will go after innocent citizens and damage the First Amendment.”

Bring It’s Bottom Line: The appellate court implored the Legislature to rewrite Wisconsin campaign law. Here is what it needs to do: reduce the Government Accountability Board to the sole task of overseeing elections, maybe ethics and possibly lobbyists (it’s own free speech issue). But for God’s sake, take them out of the political speech business. Zero out all references to political campaigns.

Because attempting to separate issue advocacy groups from express advocacy organizations (e.g., Vote for Jones) from “organizations not engaged in express advocacy as their major purpose” is like separating the fly spots from the pepper. It’s certainly not required by the Constitution. Regulation’s biggest advocates are the socialists (i.e., Tammy Baldwin, John Nichols, Ed Garvey, Mike McCabe, et al.)

Trust the people to sift and winnow for themselves without bureaucrats regulating, restricting, rationing, and redistributing speech “for their own good.”


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Comments, page 1 of 3 1 2 3 Next »
May 20, 2014 11:01 am
 Posted by  Anonymous


give it a rest, this is old and tiring news.

as for the regulations biggest advocates, I'd have to say they have way more integrity than you ever thought you had.

as for the GAB, it was an appointed group, appointed by both parties. Correct?

Also both parties are represented among the GAB correct?

you get to say anything you want, so I guess free speech lives on.


May 20, 2014 12:26 pm
 Posted by  David Blaska

No, my family home has not been raided by armed sheriff's deputies in the pre-dawn hours; my computer has not been seized, I have not been held incommunicado or warned of criminal penalties if I complain. But others have. Are you suggesting we say nothing until it comes our turn? Some integrity, you coward.

May 20, 2014 12:47 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Post modern Liberals are all for freedom... their freedom to crush everyone else's, that is.

May 20, 2014 02:37 pm
 Posted by  John

How did censorship and the police state become pillars of "liberal" politics?

May 20, 2014 03:22 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous


still didn't answer how the GAB started and where their members came from.

It was easier for you to use your free speech to call names.

Also if there is a reason for a house too be raided than so be it.

Or maybe we should just forget about losers like yourself and hope they go away.

May 20, 2014 04:06 pm
 Posted by  DonF

Maybe you have covered this before but here goes. While you make a good case for getting rid of some of the byzantine nature of campaign finance law, do you support any limit on one citizen, based on their private income and interests, to so far outweigh every other citizen. If you fully support an oligarchy where a very few rule the country, with few if any checks and balances, so be it, but I thought that was one reason we left British rule.

May 20, 2014 08:37 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Oligarchy? How many times can the Koch brother vote? Perhaps we should ask Charles and David for their IDs when they show up at the polling place(s)?

May 20, 2014 10:28 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Leave it to old davie to call someone names when confronted by reality. Classic schoolyard bully behavior.

May 21, 2014 03:10 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

@Donf -

When the Constitution was being written, there was the ability for an individual to get a printing press and generate as many leaflets / essays as they could and distribute them - no? Was that method of speech at all limited based on my ability to fund the printing press? What is the difference today? Is it that a wealthy person can buy air time? Is it the scale or scope of the communication? And I am not talking about newspapers, but rather individuals presenting a view or views.

So by asking the question, it implies that you believe there should be limits. If so, why? As a citizen that can vote, am I so dense that I cannot see the issues for myself? Am I so easily swayed that my vote is only the result of the candidate / issue supporters that run the most commercials?

Personally, I think I can wade through the messages just fine without getting swayed by the sheer volume of commercials. Now excuse me while I lay in my Snuggie, water my Chia Pet and turn off the lights with my Clapper...

May 21, 2014 03:33 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

anoy may 21st 3:10 pm

Hopefully you can do what you say you can do.

But, the rest of wi voters I am not so sure of.

Especially for them to be smart enough to wade thru the lies and deceit.

Just look at how many still believe in fox news.

or the journals, owned by ruoert murdock. how many even know who he is?

case dismissed.

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About This Blog

Raised on a farm near Sun Prairie, David Blaska is a recovering liberal who spent 18 years in daily newspapers, including 12 at The Capital Times in Madison as a reporter and editor. He served Gov. Tommy Thompson as acting press secretary in 1998 and is a veteran and survivor of 19 years in state government. He served 12 years on the Dane County Board of Supervisors. From December 2007 to November 2011 he wrote the consistently popular "Blaska's Blog" for Isthmus online's "The Daily Page" until, he says, the intolerant liberals ran him off. He blogs from Madison.

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