by Bruce Walker
Three Midwestern states scored best in the nation in analysis of laws restricting speech about government. Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa outranked every other state by wide margins.
That’s the conclusion of a report issued by the Institute for Free Speech, a national nonprofit research facility that focuses on First Amendment rights. Wisconsin’s score of 86% out of a possible 100% was followed by Michigan (77%) and Iowa (75%).
New York’s 15% was worst, just clipping Connecticut’s 18%.
“Federal campaign finance laws and regulations contain over 376,000 words, but as this Index shows, this statistic only scratches the surface,” IFP Chairman and Founder Bradley A. Smith wrote in the “Free Speech Index” forward. “Each of the 50 states has its own collection of campaign finance laws and regulations limiting the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and petition. Many of these state laws are poorly written, complex, or both.”
The 10 criteria examined for each state include:
• Laws on political committees.
• Grassroots advocacy and lobbying.
• Definition of campaign “expenditure.”
• Regulation of issue speech near an election (electioneering communications).
• Regulation of independent expenditures by non-political committees.
• Coordination regulations.
• Super political action committee recognition.
• Private enforcement of campaign laws.
States earned points in each category, scoring higher depending on whether laws minimally burdened voters First Amendment rights. According to IFP: “Such states make it easier for citizens to speak about issues and the government.” Conversely: “States receive no points if their laws fail these tests, heavily burdening the right of its citizens to speak about their government.”
A maximum 1,000 points was possible. Thirty-five states earned scores below 500 points; eight states were under 300 points.
“Despite advances in constitutional protections for speech in the courts over the last decade, our politics – and campaign finance law in particular – remains more highly regulated than at any time prior to the 1970s,” Smith said. “In some important ways, our speech has never been more highly regulated. Though campaign speech is often portrayed as a ‘wild west’ with no rules, in fact, arcane campaign finance regulations govern the minutiae not only of almost every campaign, but of what ordinary citizens and the groups they belong to can say and how and when they can say it.”
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Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.