Some people don’t get the connection between funding and free speech. They don’t see how the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects a citizen’s right to spend money to be heard, whether individually or in association with others.
They seem to think that free speech means costless speech and that it applies only to individuals on street corners or in other public forums, and not to messages delivered –- often at great expense — through modern media.
Granted, no radio or radio advertising existed when our Founding Fathers drafted and ratified our Constitution and Bill of Rights, nor were there any telephones, television, or internet.
Nevertheless, early Americans most certainly did spend money to make their views known, publishing pamphlets and political tracts and printing broadsides to tack on the walls of taverns and general stores.
The use of modern media to express support or opposition to particular candidates and policies is merely a time-honored extension of this constitutionally-protected practice.
The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this right two years ago when it declared in Citizens United that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited by law.
Apparently, some legislators and law enforcement officials in our state missed this extensively reported and historic decision. Having not got the memo, they continue to place arbitrary and capricious limits on the free speech rights of West Virginians.
One political action committee (PAC) is fighting back.
Along with potential donors, an unaffiliated independent expenditure PAC called “Stay the Course West Virginia” has filed suit in U.S. District Court against Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and West Virginia’s 55 prosecuting attorneys, claiming that some of the state’s election laws and policies violate First Amendment rights.
Which just goes to show that free speech isn’t always free. Sometimes you have to pay for it and sometimes you have to fight for it, but it’s always worth the struggle.