George Will

The two real rationales for laws regulating political activity are incumbent protection and the convenience of government -- discouraging the governed from activism. The proclaimed rationale is, however, the prevention of corruption or the appearance thereof. But corruption is understood in terms of quid pro quo transactions -- candidates corrupted by contributions. So, there cannot be corruption in ballot issue elections because there are no candidates to corrupt.

Undeterred by this detail, advocates of political regulation say compulsory disclosure of involvement even in ballot issue campaigns -- meaning compulsory denial of political privacy -- is inherently good because information always is, too. The regulator's motto is "Dirigo, ergo sum" -- I boss people around, therefore I am.

The Parker Six respond: We have secret ballots so government cannot compel voters to disclose how they vote in elections, so why should government compel them to reveal what position they take on ballot issues before voting? As the Supreme Court has said, anonymity is a shield from retaliation for unpopular opinions -- for or against stem cell research, same-sex marriage, etc.

In an experiment by a University of Missouri professor involving 255 participants, almost all of them college graduates, the average participant correctly completed only 41 percent of the reporting requirements on three states' political disclosure forms. Burdensome disclosure requirements and other regulations are, in effect, taxes on political speech. They deter political activism by small groups that are discouraged by the costs -- in money, time, nuisance and potential liabilities -- imposed by regulations.

John McCain bears principal responsibility for legitimizing the idea that government should have broad powers to regulate political activity in the name of combating corruption. If his wanderings take him to Parker North, he can make partial amends by congratulating the Parker Six on defeating annexation, and by endorsing their federal lawsuit, which is supported by the libertarian Institute for Justice, to overturn Colorado's regulations as unconstitutional burdens on the exercise of fundamental rights. That last might be too much straight talk to expect from the perpetrator of McCain-Feingold's restrictions on the quantity, timing and content of political speech.

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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