FEC Chairman sounds alarm to Hot Air: There’s a ‘move afoot to constrict press freedoms’

posted at 2:41 pm on July 24, 2014 by Noah Rothman

Federal Election Commission Chairman Lee Goodman issued a stark warning on Wednesday when he suggested that political speech and press freedoms were under assault by federal regulators.

In August, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) will engage in a bus tour promoting his new book, The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea. This was revealed in the release of a letter from the FEC following a request from Ryan’s attorneys to ensure that the House Budget Committee chairman remained in compliance with campaign regulations. Ryan’s team asked for and received permission to use campaign funds to purchase his own book in order to disseminate it as political literature.

While the FEC advisory opinion endorsed Ryan’s right to author and promote this work, the commission failed to answer whether Ryan’s publisher, Grand Central Publishing, would be immune from federal regulation under a standard “media exemption” – the same provision which exempts media outlets like newspapers, television networks, and online outlets from regulation.

“By failing to affirm this publisher’s constitutional right, statutory right, to disseminate a political book free from FEC conditions and regulations, we have effectively asserted regulatory jurisdiction over a book publisher,” Chairman Goodman, one of three Republicans on the six-person FEC board, warned in a commission meeting on Wednesday.

“That failure reveals a festering legal uncertainty and chill for the free press rights of books and book publishers to publish and disseminate political books free from government regulation,” he continued.

“The question is whether Grand Central Publishing and its book are exempt from regulation by the Commission on the same basis as newspaper publishers, magazine publishers, television stations, and online publishers,” read a concurring opinion authored by Goodman and two of his FEC colleagues, Commissioners Matthew Petersen and Caroline Hunter. “The answer is clearly yes.”

The Commission’s opinion here recognized that Grand Central Publishing has a historically limited, highly conditional exemption to market and sell political books. Instead of subjecting press entities to content-based restrictions and inquiries, the Commission should have granted the Requestors the affirmative protection of an advisory opinion based upon the threshold determination that the publisher is a press entity entitled to the media exemption when it publishes, markets, and disseminates its book.

One of Goodman’s Democratic colleagues, Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, strongly objected to the implication that the commission’s failure to achieve consensus on the Grand Central Publishing’s eligibility for a media exemption was “motivated by partisan bias.” She said that this suggestion was both “not appreciated and untrue.”

“I want to categorically deny that,” Weintraub added. “No one is banning books.”

That may be true but, in a conversation with Hot Air on Thursday, Goodman warned that the commission’s ambiguity on the issue of whether Ryan’s publisher was eligible for a standard media exemption from federal regulation will have a deterrent effect on other press outlets when considering whether to engage in political speech in the future.

“To me, that was the most significant failing of the commission in responding to this advisory opinion request,” Goodman said. “I believe it was incumbent on the commission to answer that question forthrightly and clearly.”

As a result of the FEC’s failure to achieve consensus on that issue, Goodman said, “Grand Central Publishing received no direction at all on whether the commission would respect its free press rights as a press entity.”

In Wednesday’s contentious meeting, Weintraub accused the FEC chairman of using “overheated language” and added that the public most likely did not “care a whole lot which exemption we use.” She also noted that the particular exemption applied to Ryan’s publisher was the same one applied to Michael Moore and his media company.

“What we call the media exemption, oddly enough, doesn’t use the word ‘media’ and doesn’t use the word ‘press,’” Weintraub said. “The exemption itself says the term expenditure does not include any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication.”

“I don’t know why Congress wrote the word ‘periodical publication’ in there, but they did, and we are constrained in interpreting that particular provision — to interpret that particular provision and the words that it uses,” she added. “That doesn’t mean that we’re banning books. That doesn’t mean that we’re regulating books.”

Goodman disagreed. “If that is true, and if books and book publishers are not protected by the press exemption in our law, than the Federal Election Commission is free – or, excuse me, is empowered – to regulate book publishers like it would any other corporation,” Goodman told Hot Air.

“The specter of what this commission has the power to do to corporate speech is quite ominous,” he warned.

According to a report, the Democratic members of the FEC were so put off by the events that transpired on Wednesday that they refused to participate in follow-up meetings. When asked if this was true, the FEC chairman refused to comment, but sources within the FEC confirmed that subsequent meetings were cancelled.

Goodman, who has been sounding the alarm about restrictions on political speech long before he joined the FEC in October, 2013, said he did “not believe this is the first step” in a process aimed at chilling corporate speech via federal regulatory agencies.

“I believe this is a step in a long series of steps where we are seeing an effort to constrict press rights within the commission,” he said. “I took issue with another step several months ago when this commission asserted regulatory jurisdiction over WCVB-TV Boston.”

At issue then was a complaint by a third party candidate who claimed he was illegally excluded from participating in a debate hosted by that network on a regularly scheduled Sunday morning news program. “The FEC looked at the case,” Fox News journalist Judson Berger reported in May, “because of allegations the treatment of the other candidates was tantamount to a contribution.”

“David Gregory and George Stephanopoulos should be concerned,” Goodman wrote in a February op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. “The same Federal Election Commission that represented to the Supreme Court that it could ban books now claims the authority to censor Sunday-morning news programs.”

“The commission proceeded to sit in judgment of the editorial criteria that WCVB used to pick the two candidates to appear on its show and to judge whether or not those editorial judgments complied with FEC regulations regarding debates,” Goodman said to Hot Air. “It was my position that we didn’t even have jurisdiction.”

That case was ultimately dismissed, but Goodman warned that this outcome was nevertheless problematic. “Inherent in the power to dismiss is the power to regulate,” he asserted.

When asked if the FEC was opening itself up to legal challenges by failing to provide political publishers with the freedoms accorded them in law and the Constitution, Goodman suggested that this was a possibility.

“I believe that if the FEC moves to enforce campaign finance regulation against bona fide press organizations like WCBV and Grand Central [Publishing], the FEC will lose any challenge brought by those organizations in court under our statute and under the free press clause of the First Amendment,” he said.

The onerous burden of having to mount a challenge in court in order to affirm the rights accorded to most media outlets is itself chilling, and Goodman is leery of the precedents being set by the FEC.

“I don’t think there is any question that the FEC regulates speech,” the chairman conceded. “The question in this case was whether or not the press is going to be regulated along with all other speakers.”

The Federal Election Commission chairman closed with a foreboding message. “There is a move afoot to constrict press freedoms along with everybody else’s freedoms within this agency,” he warned.


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No shit sherlock…

oscarwilde on July 24, 2014 at 2:44 PM

Mystery solved……..thank you Mr. Fife.

antipc on July 24, 2014 at 2:47 PM

In Wednesday’s contentious meeting, Weintraub accused the FEC chairman of using “overheated language” and added that the public most likely did not “care a whole lot which exemption we use.” She also noted that the particular exemption applied to Ryan’s publisher was the same one applied to Michael Moore and his media company.

What an illiberal hag.

The leftist thugs all deserve to have their rights trampled, first.

Schadenfreude on July 24, 2014 at 2:48 PM

political speech and press freedoms were under assault by federal regulators.

Of course these are under assault. To be expected from leftist tyrants in power who prefer not to be opposed in any way, shape or form and will use every means available to squelch such freedoms.

hawkeye54 on July 24, 2014 at 2:48 PM

The onerous burden of having to mount a challenge in court in order to affirm the rights accorded to most media outlets is itself chilling, and Goodman is leery of the precedents being set by the FEC.

Most US media no longer earn, and, thus, no longer deserve their 1st Amendment freedoms.

Schadenfreude on July 24, 2014 at 2:50 PM

If the press actually wanted to do something other than fawn over King Putt and kiss his royal butt and faithfully repeat whatever he tells them, I might be concerned….

dentarthurdent on July 24, 2014 at 2:50 PM

Ok, this story is total click bait. After slogging through the full story, I didn’t see any real evidence that anyone is “moving to restrict press freedoms”.

Paperclips on July 24, 2014 at 2:51 PM

To prove the point

Schadenfreude on July 24, 2014 at 2:51 PM

he suggested that political speech and press freedoms were under assault by federal regulators

If the Left would use the IRS to do it, is there any doubt they’d use the FEC to do it?

tommyboy on July 24, 2014 at 2:51 PM

Good reporting Noah.

J.B. Say on July 24, 2014 at 2:53 PM

LilliPutin just grins, again.

Schadenfreude on July 24, 2014 at 2:53 PM

The HA trolls will all denounce this.

Schadenfreude on July 24, 2014 at 2:53 PM

“There is a move afoot to constrict press freedoms along with everybody else’s freedoms within this agency,” he warned.

Obama’s Amerika…

… It is Paradise, No?

Seven Percent Solution on July 24, 2014 at 2:55 PM

The Chicago Way.

I’m waiting for the Jimmy Malone part.

formwiz on July 24, 2014 at 2:57 PM

“I want to categorically deny that,” Weintraub added. “No one is banning books.”

That would be a bit like saying “No one is banning a religion” if the IRS were to remove the tax exemption granted to a religious organization, because the IRS people in charge were in opposition to that religious organization’s beliefs (this scenario is assuming their religious practices are legal and the organization would otherwise qualify for the tax exemption under the laws of the USA).

The statement would be true that “No one is banning a religion”, but it would be essentially an action by government showing preference for one set of religious beliefs, which should not pass muster in the SCOTUS, but if Obama were to get a couple of appointments prior to leaving office, who knows how that decision would turn out?

There is certainly a precedent for the Obama IRS granting tax exemptions or denying them to political organizations, based on the political beliefs of the organization’s members.

s1im on July 24, 2014 at 2:59 PM

“The question is whether Grand Central Publishing and its book are exempt from regulation by the Commission on the same basis as newspaper publishers, magazine publishers, television stations, and online publishers,”

yes they’re exempted because all the others are based on fiction.

Renee on July 24, 2014 at 2:59 PM

The FEC has no such authority because Congress doesn’t have the authority. See: First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law” clause.

And if Benedict Roberts claims Congress does, slap him silly with a herring.

ConstantineXI on July 24, 2014 at 3:01 PM

The USA, sadly, has lost the moral authority on the world stage.

Schadenfreude on July 24, 2014 at 3:07 PM

Was it Jim Wright whose campaign bought a gzillion copies of his book? Whose bigass donors bought his book by the thousands, a slim volume of 100 or so pages with large type that cost $25? Did Wright make a royalty on those sales? Does Ryan? Because if so, it sounds like money laundering.

Akzed on July 24, 2014 at 3:12 PM

“No one is banning books.”

Why ban books when it’s easier to kill their authors and threaten their families , right Idi ?

burrata on July 24, 2014 at 3:15 PM

Freedom of movement is being restricted, too. It’s awfully hard to move with one’s kneecaps busted.

Rix on July 24, 2014 at 3:15 PM

A related problem is that Ryan’s lawyer asked for permission from the FEC (I know it’s what lawyers do). Why is a congressman asking permission from an entity that is a creation of Congress, while at the same time the government exists by the will of the people. This smacks of going to the king for a “by your leave”.

Nutstuyu on July 24, 2014 at 3:23 PM

A related problem is that Ryan’s lawyer asked for permission from the FEC (I know it’s what lawyers do). Why is a congressman asking permission from an entity that is a creation of Congress, while at the same time the government exists by the will of the people. This smacks of going to the king for a “by your leave”.

Nutstuyu on July 24, 2014 at 3:23 PM

Of course it does. But we’ve been living like this since Watergate, which was several years before I was a sparkle in my dad’s eye.

gryphon202 on July 24, 2014 at 3:25 PM

Was it Jim Wright whose campaign bought a gzillion copies of his book? Whose bigass donors bought his book by the thousands, a slim volume of 100 or so pages with large type that cost $25? Did Wright make a royalty on those sales? Does Ryan? Because if so, it sounds like money laundering.

Akzed on July 24, 2014 at 3:12 PM

Have books by other candidates, including our current President, received the same treatment?

It is worth noting that Ryan has requesting a ruling from the FEC prior to spending any campaign funds on it. The fact that they decided to be ambiguous about he decision is worrying. It leaves the door open to civil or criminal action against Ryan or his publisher in the future, which helps produce a chilling effect.

Perhaps this is a one-of-a-kind situation, but it doesn’t sound like it.

If Ryan is being denied equal treatment because of his politics, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time it happened during this Administration.

s1im on July 24, 2014 at 3:26 PM

It just seems kind of abstruse to me. He’s running a campaign which is buying his book, so campaign finance laws etc kick in, I just don’t have the energy to keep track of it all. I know I know, “First they came for the politicians, but I was not a politician so…”

Akzed on July 24, 2014 at 3:32 PM

If there’s any chance TMZ will be censored too, I might have to rethink this free speech thing…for a few minutes anyway. Oh all right, they can air their dumb salacious crap.

otlset on July 24, 2014 at 3:34 PM

How can there be restrictions on press freedoms when the U.S. hasn’t had a free press for 30 years?

bw222 on July 24, 2014 at 3:35 PM

We wouldn’t have all this controversy if the Pelosi/Reid Congress had just “deemed” that the 1st-Amendment was repealed.

Another Drew on July 24, 2014 at 3:41 PM

Then, if the left have their way with this, eventually, the traditional publishers will get the government to restrict who can publish books, since their money and power is being threatened by independent authors, like myself, who don’t want to be told what or how we should write.

cebj25 on July 24, 2014 at 4:10 PM

Then, if the left have their way with this, eventually, the traditional publishers will get the government to restrict who can publish books, since their money and power is being threatened by independent authors, like myself, who don’t want to be told what or how we should write.

cebj25 on July 24, 2014 at 4:10 PM

The government has no such authority. REFUSE to accept that this is a decision for them to make one way or the other. DO NOT accept the premise that just because some alphabet soup tentacle claims power that it has it.

ConstantineXI on July 24, 2014 at 4:13 PM

Why is a congressman asking permission from an entity that is a creation of Congress, while at the same time the government exists by the will of the people. This smacks of going to the king for a “by your leave”.

Nutstuyu on July 24, 2014 at 3:23 PM

Maybe to get them on record saying it’s ‘OK’ before hand?

It’s either that or have them conjure up some bull$hit, doesn’t matter what, and slam them with it.

“Paul Ryan ACCUSED of massive FEC violation!!!”

24/7 for a couple of weeks.

BigWyo on July 24, 2014 at 5:04 PM

“I don’t know why Congress wrote the word ‘periodical publication’ in there, but they did, and we are constrained in interpreting that particular provision — to interpret that particular provision and the words that it uses,” she added.

.
She justified the Halbig decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on the basis that “the law is what Congress enacts — the text of the statute itself — and not the unexpressed intentions or hopes of legislators or a bill’s proponents.” Keep it up, Komrade! “Right to keep and bear arms” is written in our foundational document the U. S. Constitution, as well. Nice to see you agree with us conservative citizens for once!

ExpressoBold on July 24, 2014 at 5:18 PM

The Federal Election Commission chairman closed with a foreboding message. “There is a move afoot to constrict press freedoms along with everybody else’s freedoms within this agency,” he warned.

Or at least those who are not willing Presstitute Organs who <expletive deleted> on command and only on command.

Steve Eggleston on July 24, 2014 at 5:30 PM

Federal Election Commission Chairman Lee Goodman issued a stark warning on Wednesday when he suggested that political speech and press freedoms were under assault by federal regulators.

Hell, political speech and press freedoms are under assault by the freakin’ press.

jbspry on July 24, 2014 at 6:12 PM

“I don’t know why Congress wrote the word ‘periodical publication’ in there, but they did, and we are constrained in interpreting that particular provision — to interpret that particular provision and the words that it uses,” she added. “That doesn’t mean that we’re banning books. That doesn’t mean that we’re regulating books.”

It matters not. The Constitution is supreme over any legislation congress may pass. Not that such matters to the fascists currently in charge.

Oh, and let me just enhance the quoted fascist’s words to reflect her true feelings….”That doesn’t mean that we’re banning books YET. But it won’t be much longer before we are.”

This has happened to every free society in history, and it will happen here as well.

runawayyyy on July 25, 2014 at 10:00 AM

If it comes off of a press, it falls under “Freedom of the Press”. Doesn’t matter if it’s a periodical publication, or a one-off.

And if the FEC squirms, DEFUND THEM.
We’re not paying for them to deny our rights.

ReggieA on July 25, 2014 at 5:10 PM