FEC Republican Blasts Commission for Chilling Free Speech

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Lee Goodman, one of three Republicans who sit on the Federal Election Commission, says that the three Democrats on the FEC – if left unchecked – would destroy the free American press. In a statement criticizing the Democrats for their vote last month to punish documentary filmmaker Joel Gilbert, Goodman said that if Ann Ravel, Steven Walther, and Ellen Weintraub had their way, sites like the Drudge Report would become relics of the past.

Their votes, wrote Goodman, “signal an active regulatory effort within the agency, caution press organizations to look over their shoulders, and chill the free exercise of press activity.”

Meanwhile, the Democrats claim that by supporting Gilbert’s film, Republicans are essentially throwing campaign finance regulations to the wind. “Press entities do not act as press entities when they distribute millions of free DVDs immediately before an election solely in electoral swing states,” said Weintraub.

The subject of the vote was a film called “Dreams From My Real Father,” a free documentary that was distributed to voters in Ohio prior to the 2012 presidential elections. The film made the claim that Barack Obama’s real father was a Communist named Frank Marshall Davis whose radical activism shaped the young president’s worldview. Two years later, Loren Collins filed an FEC complaint against Gilbert.

“With the right framing, even the most dishonest, smear-mongering attacks can skirt FEC regulations under our current regulations,” said Collins. “His mailing cost at least $1 million, and that could’ve been paid for by Mitt Romney or Donald Trump, and there’s no way to know. Taken together with Citizens United, this could have very serious negative ramifications.”

But Goodman and other Republicans argue that it’s better to err on the side of freedom than on the side of censorship. “Freedom of the press isn’t so free when three government commissars vote to punish a filmmaker for distributing a documentary film,” said Goodman in an interview with the Washington Examiner. “Conservative documentary films have faced tough sledding at the FEC, no matter how the films are distributed.”

According to Goodman, the position of the Democrats on this issue could lead to a slippery slope where internet news sites and even newspaper editorials could be subject to federal censure. “In short, the premise of the legal violation articulated by Commissioner Weintraub is that free dissemination of otherwise protected press speech by a bona fide press entity immediately before an election in a particular geographical location is unlawful.”

Conservatives and liberals alike have cause to be concerned about money in politics, but there are ways to go about reforming the system without dismantling the Constitution. And if it comes down to a choice between “too much money” and “too little freedom of speech,” well…that’s no choice at all.