In the most critical sense, however, the goal is the same. Whether the means involve Federal Election Commission disclosure requirements, Securities and Exchange Commission rules on shareholder resolutions, or simply tagging those with opposing views as “hate groups,” the object is clear: to limit debate by forcing one side off the playing field.

For a long time, the prevailing idea was that you encourage free speech with regulations ensuring full transparency. While this may sound fine in theory, in practice these requirements can conflict with the right of people to come together in free association. Certainly that was the Supreme Court’s understanding in 1958, when it rejected the state of Alabama’s demand that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People turn over its membership list.

In like manner, Bradley A. Smith says that what he saw as head of the Federal Election Commission under George W. Bush led him to conclude that some of our government requirements limit rather than encourage free speech. “Today we have too many people saying not only ‘I disagree with you,’ but ‘I hate your message and you shouldn’t be allowed to say it,'” notes Mr. Smith, who now runs the Center for Competitive Politics. “The more ruthless then use disclosure laws to seek out and target those who hold contrary views.”