by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
This month an unnamed private family foundation, apparently concerned with the integrity of elections, paid for 145 billboards in Ohio and Wisconsin. The boards featured a picture of a judge’s gavel and a simple message: “Voter Fraud Is a Felony — up to 3½ years and a $10,000 fine.” That’s it.
But liberal activist groups went into frenzy mode, claiming the billboards were part of a voter-suppression scheme. Beginning this week, the billboards’ owner, Clear Channel, will start to remove the signs. For a few days, Clear Channel had withstood the pressure, claiming it didn’t have the right to censor political speech. Then it claimed it “made a mistake” by signing a written contract to rent the billboards without forcing the sponsor to identify itself. Then it knuckled under completely by saying it would insist the sponsor either reveal itself — thus shifting all the protests and intimidation toward the sponsor — or remove the billboards. The sponsor declined to become a piñata, so the message will disappear. As penance, Clear Channel will donate ten signs of its own in the Cleveland area that read “Voting Is a Right. Not a Crime!”
This country has a long tradition of free speech and anonymous political commentary, starting with the Federalist Papers. How have we reached a point where political speech can be so muzzled?