-By Warner Todd Huston
Well, folks, this is bound to happen more and more as time rolls onward in this New Media world of ours. A blogger is in trouble with local Ohio officials who are trying to Shut him down using a badly applied campaign finance law all because he has been critical of county officials on his blog. That’s right, a county board is trying to silence the free political speech of a local Ohio blogger because he is critical of them.
The Geauga County Board of Elections has filed charges against the owner of the Geauga Constitutional Council blog, independent blogger Ed Corsi. The Board claims that Corsi’s pseudonymously published blog violates O.R.C. 3517.20(A)(2), a code meant to assure that political campaign publications, signs, and handouts have their source transparently identified.
The reason the Board is going after Corsi is because he publishes on his blog critical assessments and lists of local officials that he calls “R.I.N.O.S.” Board officials feel that because he does not affix his name to his blog posts he is violating the transparency rules. However, Corsi is just an independent blogger and is not a paid operative of any party or campaign and all his blogging expenses are paid for with his own funds. The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law and the Rutherford Institute, non-profit legal advocacy firms, filed arguments with the OEC on behalf of Corsi saying that the Board of Elections overreached the application of the law in this case.
“This case has the potential to severally limit free speech in Ohio,” said 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “Should independent bloggers in Ohio be subject to registration, political disclosure laws, and fines simply because they discuss Ohio politics, and are critical of certain politicians? The Constitution says otherwise.”
“When applied to Corsi’s activities, the law violates the First Amendment right to anonymous political speech,” said Thompson. “It places an impermissible prior restraint on core political speech. And, it applies an overbroad regulation and/or prohibition on political speech that is not express advocacy.”
Clearly the Board is reaching in this case. This code is meant to make sure that politicians don’t get the unrevealed assistance of secret financial backers in elections and is not meant to quash the free speech of lone citizens like Corsi that have a blog and want to spout off about local politics.
But as time moves on we will begin to see more of this sort of stuff all across the country as government officials everywhere eye ways to shut down bloggers that are critical of them putting First Amendment rights are at risk.
It should be pointed out that political speech was the very sort of free speech that the founders of this country were talking about when they crafted the First Amendment. The founders did not envision that people could just say any old thing they wanted on any subject, but they did mean to make sure that citizens of this county could indulge any political speech they wanted. That is what was meant by “free speech.”
You see, in the founder’s terms “speech” was traditionally that of the English Parliament, not “the people.” So when the founders created the free speech clause they meant to safeguard the free political speech of the nation. It was only later that “free speech” began to be applied to all other arenas of public life.
Anyway, another one of the reasons we will see these sort of legal challenges mount is because the law is nearly silent about bloggers. The phenomenon is so new that the law has not caught up with it. There are very, very few cases and precedents set for the law to have determined what a blogger is and how he fits into the legal scheme of things. So, as governments try out their iron-jack-booted power to quash bloggers, the law has to catch up to the whole concept of blogging and free political speech on the Internet.
Look for more of these sorts of cases, folks. And don’t ignore them because they will eventually come to govern what we do here! It is just another potential lost freedom if we don’t pay attention.