by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef’s latest Forbes column highlights a particularly egregious case of regulatory abuse.
The First Amendment is supposed to protect Americans’ right to speak freely against any governmental interference, but in our increasingly politicized climate, we’re finding that regulators who don’t like what you say can and will abuse their power to make you shut up.
A Tea Party activist in Nebraska has found that out and so far his efforts at obtaining justice have come to naught.
For many years, Robert Bennie had been a successful financial advisor working at the Lincoln, Nebraska firm of Linsco Private Ledger (LPL). LPL’s business falls under the regulatory domain of the Nebraska Department of Banking and Finance (NDBF), which is supposed to protect the public against dishonest or unethical dealing by banks and financial service companies.
Following the election of Barack Obama, Bennie became one of the key players in the Tea Party in Lincoln. An outspoken advocate of free enterprise and the Constitution, he wrote critically about politicians in both parties and especially President Obama. One article in particular caught the attention of three top NDBF officials. In it, Bennie contrasted himself and Obama, writing, “I’m a freedom-loving American and he’s a communist. I’m an honest man and he’s dishonest. He didn’t tell us all of what he was going to do. I believe he’s an evil man.”
That and other actions by Bennie aroused the ire of those officials, especially Director John Munn. He and two others decided to use their regulatory clout to retaliate against Bennie for daring to speak out against Obama. In an email, one of them wrote, “Bob Bennie is always seen wearing a cowboy hat, so I say, ‘Hang Him High.’”
To do that, the three abusive bureaucrats targeted LPL. They threatened to make trouble for the firm unless it “addressed this type of activity” (meaning Bennie’s political speech) and provided “some comfort to the Department” that would be “in the best interest of the public.”
Translation: Nice little company you’ve got there – be a shame if something were to happen to it.