George Will

WASHINGTON -- Ugly locutions often crop up in the promotion of ugly politics. Consider the threat of "scrutinization."

It has been made against some residents of Parker North, Colo., who expressed a political opinion without first getting their state government's permission for political activity. Herewith another example of what is being done around the nation in the name of political hygiene, as that is understood by "campaign finance reformers," those irksome improvers whose animating ideology is McCainism.

Parker North is a cluster of about 300 houses close to the town of Parker. When two residents proposed a vote on annexation of their subdivision to Parker, six others began trying to persuade the rest to oppose annexation. They printed lawn signs and fliers, started an online discussion group and canvassed neighbors, little knowing that they were provoking Colorado's speech police.

One proponent of annexation sued them. This tactic -- wielding campaign finance regulations to suppress opponents' speech -- is common in the America of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. The complaint did not just threaten the Parker Six for any "illegal activities." It also said that anyone who had contacted them or received a lawn sign might be subjected to "investigation, scrutinization and sanctions for campaign finance violations."

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of association, "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." The exercise of this right often annoys governments, and the Parker Six did not know that Colorado's government, perhaps to discourage annoyances, stipulates that when two or more people associate to advocate a political position, and spend more than $200 in doing so, they become an "issue committee."

As such, they probably should hire a lawyer because even Colorado's secretary of state says the requirements imposed on issue committees are "often complex and unclear." Committees must register with the government; they must fund their activities from a bank account opened solely for that purpose; they must report to the government the names and addresses of all persons who contribute more than $20; they must also report the employers of plutocrats who contribute more than $100; they must report non-cash contributions such as lemons used for lemonade, and magic markers and wooden dowels for yard signs.

An issue committee is defined as one that opposes or supports "a ballot issue or ballot question." Well.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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