Let free speech reign

by The West Virginia Record |
Oct. 24, 2008, 5:37am

He may make some of the rules in West Virginia. But Darrell McGraw's demands don't take precedence over the U.S. Constitution.

Federal Judge Thomas Johnston issued a ruling this week that, in effect, denied McGraw's bid to stay the First Amendment between now and Election Day. We're glad the judge had the intestinal fortitude to stand up to our attorney general.

McGraw is angry that he's being bashed in television ads. He doesn't like the ones calling attention to the way he snaked and spent $10 million in taxpayer funds, giving the money to his trial lawyer pals while splurging the rest on self-promotional pet projects. The ads ring true, of course, and the truth has been known to hurt.

Rather than answer the criticisms and explain how his spending of that $10 million of our money was in the people's interest, McGraw tried to throw a counterpunch in the courthouse. He tried and failed to use West Virginia's new, blatantly unconstitutional "campaign advertising disclosure" laws to help his campaign.

Championed by McGraw as a means of making easy identification of his detractors this campaign season, the contested legislation required groups that spend a certain amount on political advertising in West Virginia to disclose their donors.

Perhaps McGraw and his staff don't remember First Amendment Day from law school. The amendment says government "shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or ... to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.'"

Government includes him.

The mere specter of these illicit laws may have changed the political landscape in West Virginia this fall, Judge Johnston shrewdly observed.

"The (Charleston Gazette) has reported just this week that virtually no independent expenditures have been made this fall in West Virginia's Supreme Court race, contrasted with nearly $800,000 in the 2008 primary," Johnston wrote in his 56-page opinion. "Could this be the autumn chill of unconstitutional laws? Or could it be that this year in West Virginia there is just less interest in our political discourse?"

"Less interest," Darrell McGraw would like. And that's the point. When all is quiet, incumbents thrive at the polls, like this old pol wishes. Time to turn up the volume and bring some heat to his race.

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