Let’s make one thing clear, the First Amendment is not a “loophole.”
Politicians who want to avoid accountability want you to believe otherwise, and Montana’s media should be ashamed for going along with it.
The United States Supreme Court has made clear over and over the First Amendment affords the broadest protection to political expression. Its purpose is to assure the unfettered interchange of ideas for bringing about political and social change.
Sadly, this is something politicians and Montana’s press do not seem to understand when it comes to the First Amendment lawsuit Western Tradition Partnership has brought against politically-motivated Montana politicians who seek to suppress citizens who engage in dissenting speech.
WTP cannot sit back anymore and have incorrect assertions made against them time and time again. WTP always follows every letter of all applicable laws. That is why WTP has won every court challenge it has brought against rogue politicians.
The failure of Montana’s press to understand the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment is especially ironic. Like WTP they are corporations who speak about political issues each day. They do not have to file and register with the commissioner of political practices, and newspapers do not have to disclose their shareholders. They even expressly endorse candidates and express their opinion on how citizens should vote, which WTP does not do. If any corporation in Montana is trying to influence elections, it is clearly Montana’s newspapers. (Remember several years ago when the Billings Gazette printed a sample ballot in the paper with cut-out lines and their suggested candidates pre-selected for their reader’s convenience-all you had to do was cut this sample ballot out of the paper and take it to the polling booth)!
But that has not stopped the media from reporting the many falsehoods spread by political officials.
For one, the educational mailers political officials falsely claim were sent by WTP were in fact sent by a different political action committee, CEE, which was properly registered in the State of Montana. That PAC properly disclosed to the Commissioner of Political Practices who paid for the mailers, and the mailers stated on their face that the mailers were sent out by the PAC. The statements made by the Attorney General and the politically handpicked Commissioner are flatly false.
Yet, despite the facts, the Commissioner seeks to hold WTP responsible for the actions of a political PAC, a completely separate organization.
For the last two years, WTP has been subject to questionable “investigation” and regulation, and the source of numerous negative newspaper articles.
WTP did not ask for this case, but was forced into it when political officials made unsupported and false allegations just days after WTP won a landmark case against them.
The law is clear, and on WTP’s side once again. WTP is a 501(c)(4) organization and complies with all IRS and political laws applicable to it. Political officials refuse to recognize WTP is a corporation, not a political committee.
Now that the Commissioner has made unsupported allegations against WTP, and has violated WTP’s First Amendment rights to associate and speak, WTP has to defend itself. As part of this process, WTP is challenging clearly unconstitutional laws and regulations that improperly regulate and ban protected First Amendment speech and association activities. These cases are being brought not only to protect WTP’s constitutional rights, but to protect the constitutional rights of all Montanans to speak about issues of public importance without fear of the kind if political retribution brought against WTP.
Again, WTP always follows every letter of all applicable law, and that is precisely why WTP has won every court case it has ever brought or been involved in. The law and the Constitution are clearly on WTP’s side.
If political officials and the media want to find improper conduct, they need look no further than the political establishment in Helena.
However much the Commissioner of Political Practices, the Attorney General and the media try to spin the facts, the facts are clear. Political officials cannot regulate WTP for the actions of a completely separate entity and political officials cannot misapply unconstitutional laws and regulations in order to silence WTP’s constitutionally-protected activities.
WTP is confident the judicial system will, yet again, vindicate our right to engage in free speech and association, and it is our right to correct in the press the many politically motivated false assertions political officials have concocted in their attempts to silence citizens and avoid accountability. It is the public’s responsibility to support rational and limited government whose entire purpose is to insure the liberty, safety and independence of those consenting to be governed. Politicos are accountable to the public trust.
Doug Lair is American Tradition Partnership – Montana’s director.