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Silencing citizens: A clumsy attempt

May 08. 2012 6:26PM

The Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee has recommended some appalling changes to House Bill 1704, a bill to make a few simple and needed adjustments to state election laws that govern political contributions.

The worst of the Senate committee amendments was the introduction of a new section titled 'Reports of Spending on Information Critical of General Court Members.' It's as chilling as its title suggests. The section states that any political committee that spends $500 or more on 'distribution of information critical of a member of the general court...shall file an itemized statement with the secretary of state not later than 24 hours after such spending.' That statement must include the name of the legislator targeted, the name and address of the person paid, and the purpose of the payment.

It is a clear attempt to chill political speech critical of incumbent legislators. Such burdensome requirements would not apply to any committee spending money in praise of a member of the Legislature or engaging in any other political speech.

This provision has been incorrectly attributed to Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry. The amendment she proposed to the committee did not contain that section. It was added in committee.

Other committee amendments are problematic, but none is so egregious as the one above. Senate Republican leaders say they will remove that provision. That's good, but other Senate changes make the House bill worse, not better. The Senate should pass the original House version, which sensibly eliminates a legal advantage given to candidates who agree to silly campaign spending limits, clarifies the law regarding donations made for primaries, and requires earlier reporting of campaign reports.

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