NYT: Free Speech for Some, Not Others

By April 24, 2008Media Relations

From today’s New York Times editorial page, “Dragging Big Business to Disclosure“:

Resisting every inch of the way, the powerful National Association of Manufacturers has finally agreed to follow Congress’s new ethics law and disclose which of its members have been funding its lobbying operations on Capitol Hill.

Welcome to the sunshine club. Like other lobbying groups, the trade association must disclose to Congress and the taxpayers which of its 11,000 members have been essential to developing lobbying strategies or contributed payments of $5,000 or more each quarter to the effort. Until this week, N.A.M. has refused to do so, arguing that such disclosure somehow violates its privacy rights and its rights to free speech.

Tracking the quid pro quo money flow in Washington is an urgent priority and long overdue. Last year, Congress tightened disclosure requirements for lobbyists’ war chests — but only after a raft of scandals. It is encouraging that the courts have so far rejected N.A.M.’s arguments. The law was plainly written to smoke out stealth lobbying organizations, not to protect Washington insiders.

From a New York Times editorial, April 24, 1995, “Protecting Anonymous Speech“:

Acting in its free-speech tradition, the Supreme Court has upheld the right of a lone pamphleteer to distribute anonymous political campaign literature. It struck down an Ohio election law and called into question similar laws in other states, but probably only to the extent that the states threaten the rights of gadflies like Margaret McIntyre.

Mrs. McIntyre, a constant critic of fiscal practices in the Westerville, Ohio, school district, was fined $100 for passing out unsigned leaflets opposing a school tax increase. She opposed the fine in every available court, and after she died last year her husband took over her appeal.

The high court caught her spirit, finding her anonymity “a shield from the tyranny of the majority,” honored by the Founding Fathers themselves when they didn’t sign their right names to the Federalist Papers. The Court thus protects unpopular people who might not voice their views if forced to identify themselves.

Our emphasis. Seems like a principle that warrants consistent First Amendment application.

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