Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, December 14, 2007

If Only Political Speech Were As Free As Pornography

Isn't it sad that Larry Flynt's speech is less regulated than Dino Rossi's?

It is not hard to imagine the horror that would erupt from liberals if someone were to propose stricter pornography regulation. Sadly, I did not have to imagine the silence emanating from left and right when Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission and the state’s Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz recommended greater restrictions on political free speech in Washington. Both proposed that the legislature close the “loophole” that had permitted Dino Rossi to commit political advocacy since losing the 2004 gubernatorial race to Christine Gregoire.
In the interval between the 2004 election and the announcement of his candidacy, Dino Rossi founded and led the Forward Washington Foundation, an economic development think tank. In that capacity, Dino Rossi traveled the state, listening to the concerns of the people who make Washington’s economy work and advocating solutions to government created impediments to economic progress.
Considering that the Corporation for Enterprise Development recently ranked Washington dead last among the fifty states in new business survival and 42nd in “business vitality,” Washingtonians should be thankful that someone is taking the state’s economic health seriously. Certainly the state’s current political leadership does not.
In the process of representing the Forward Washington Foundation, Rossi certainly kept himself in the political limelight during a time when few had any doubt that he intended to renew his challenge to Governor Gregoire’s throne in 2008. When he formally announced that intention, his time as president of the Forward Washington Foundation had kept his name and face fresh and familiar to Washington’s voters and served as a constant reminder of the shady vote counting that put Gregoire in the governor’s office.
So what could possibly be wrong with that? As Attorney General, Christine Gregoire exploited the celebrity of her office to giver her gubernatorial campaign a running start. She even used her office to stroke and groom future political allies and donors. And as governor, she is spending taxpayer money on a Hillary Clintonesque “listening tour” that, except for the source of funding, nobody could distinguish from a campaign.
Nevertheless, Christine Gregoire filed a formal complaint against Rossi, claiming that he had exploited the Forward Washington Foundation as a vehicle to conceal the names of donors who were funding his shadow campaign. She even employed operatives to follow Rossi around on his tours, recording on videotape every one of his events to use as evidence against him.
After reviewing the evidence, the staff of the Public Disclosure Commission found insufficient evidence that Dino Rossi was campaigning for governor while serving as the Forward Washington Foundation’s president and recommended that the governor’s complaint be dismissed. The Public Disclosure Commission itself wasn’t so sure and dismissed the complaint by the narrowest of margins, 3-2.
"There's concern on the part of all commissioners that the statute as written does not address all of the political activity that is taking place today ... with Forward Washington. ... None of them were totally comfortable with the activity that occurred," complained Vicki Rippie, the PDC’s executive director.
Is Ms Rippie uncomfortable with private citizens engaging in political advocacy without strict control? Until he declared his candidacy, Dino Rossi was just that. He was a citizen of Washington State who advocated reforms that would facilitate economic growth.
The truth is that people who run for office are often political activists. It’s the nature of the beast. To suggest that political activists be regulated is an appalling thought. And, it’s particularly offensive as it would never be applied equally. I guarantee that neither Ms Rippie nor Dwight Pelz would be offended if the spokesman for a gay rights organization or the chapter president of the Seattle NAACP launched a political campaign from those positions.
It’s ironic that in Washington, the political free speech rights of private citizens are less secure than the rights of a pornographer. For that matter, the United States Supreme Court has been more protective of pornographers than political candidates. I don’t think that’s what the Constitution’s authors had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment.
After the PDC’s vote, Dino Rossi showed his talent for stand up comedy and asked Governor Gregoire for an apology. Christine Gregoire responded with a cackling laugh. She was either taking yet another page from Hillary Clinton’s playbook, or she was the only person who got the joke.
I’m sad to say, that it was probably the latter.

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