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September 13, 2007

Election Laws Not Implicated by MoveOn Ad (UPDATED)

As irritating as it is to see a liberal group like MoveOn get favorable treatment by the "newspaper of record," it is not a violation of election laws for the New York Times to run an ad of that type at reduced rates.

James Hanson at Blackfive has written a complaint to the FEC about the ad. Uncle Jimbo's letter to the FEC says:

This ad also says "Cooking the books for the White House" making it political communications and subject to FEC regulations.

His premise is that political advocacy is limited by the FEC for groups like MoveOn or maybe for the New York Times.

In general, Uncle Jimbo is right. The FEC regulates political advocacy. But he ignores the limitation placed on the FEC that it only regulate speech as it relates to federal elections.

Yes, the MoveOn ad makes reference to the White House. However, that reference cannot be said to include any candidate for federal election. As we frequently remind Democrats, George Bush is not running for election in 2008.

In fact, I cannot find any reference to an upcoming election (let alone a specific candidate) at all in the MoveOn ad.

The real issue here is freedom of speech. I support the right of conservative groups and individuals to demand reduced rates for their ads in the Times. But I deplore any attempt by conservatives to use the FEC to shut down political speech.

Newspapers can advocate for a cause all they want. It is grossly progressive to try and convince the government to restrict that advocacy.

On the other hand: Moron-commenter km raises the possibility that the discount on the ad may have constituted a contribution to MoveOn Political Action. Contributions to PACs by corporations are prohibited by law.

Incidentally, I also oppose that restriction on political speech. If the NYTimes broke the law by contributing to a PAC, sure they're fair game. But I don't have to like it.

UPDATE: Moron-commenter km has stayed on this and discovered that the NYTimes may be in more trouble than previously thought. He looked in the FEC handbook and found:

If a corporation or labor organization sells goods or services to a political committee at a price below the usual or normal charge, a prohibited contribution results in the amount of the discount. 100.52(d). A reduced price is not considered a contribution, however, if it is offered by the vendor in the ordinary course of business and at the same amount charged to nonpolitical clients.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 03:57 PM

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