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Should newspapers have to file campaign finance reports?

Free speech. Anonymous speech. As American as apple pie.

The First Amendment is quite clear on the whole free speech thing “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …” And the Founding Fathers were quite clear on the anonymous speech thing, with James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay authoring the Federalist Papers under aliases.

And yet for the past several years, Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller has been on a crusade to stifle free speech by trying to force non-profit organizations to disclose the identities of their donors which could, as has happened in the past, subject those supporters to harassment, intimidation and outright threats.

Fortunately, in a lawsuit Miller filed against Americans for Prosperity, Senior District Judge Robert Estes recently ruled against Miller and declared that AFP is “neither required to register with the Nevada Secretary of State nor report contributions and expenditures” to the government.

This is an important ruling, especially since Miller has sued my organization, Citizen Outreach, in a similar case. A different judge ruled against us last summer, but we’re appealing that decision, especially in light of the AFP decision.

Clearly, different folks of reasonable mind can come up with different interpretations as to whether certain advertising constitutes “express advocacy” or “issue advocacy,” making it painfully obvious that that there is enough ambiguity in the law to make it virtually impossible for the average citizen to know what the heck the campaign finance rules are these days.

Equally troubling, however, is how some members of the media have responded to the AFP decision; siding with Miller and championing “transparency” (which is not in the Constitution) over free and anonymous speech. With all due respect, these folks might want to rethink their position because…they could be next.

Indeed, there is no special carve-out in the First Amendment for the press. If the government can successfully force disclosure of donors to non-profit organizations, what’s to stop it from forcing similar disclosure reporting of the financing for newspapers (which outright endorse candidates), columnists and blogs?

Indeed, if the argument is that someone is trying to influence an election by contributing money anonymously to a non-profit organization, who’s to say someone isn’t trying to influence an election by “advertising” (wink-wink) in a newspaper or paying a blogger or columnist?

Of course, I’m totally, unalterably opposed to the idea that newspapers, columnists and bloggers should have to fill out campaign finance reports and submit them to the government for public scrutiny. But that’s the slippery path we’re treading if we continue to allow Secretary Miller to continue eroding the same privacy protections the authors of the Federalist Papers enjoyed.

What’s next? Eliminating secret ballots in elections? (Oh snap … unions are already doing that!)

Mr. Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a conservative grassroots advocacy organization. He can be reached at www.MuthsTruths.com.

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