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Threat to 1st Amendment Free Speech Cloaked as Financial Transparency ... Don't Be Fooled!

When we became aware of this sneeky amendment to HB1201/SB1005 last week, we sent out an Action Alert. More updates have been posted in our Legislation Action Group HERE, but we also feel it deserves a Blog Post.

While this moy not seem to impact a group such as ours that does not endorse nor financilally support political candidates, it DOES seem to stifle our right of free speech. If a candidate supports anti-constitutional legislation, then we will speak up about that candidate's position and should feel absolutely FREE to do so at ANY time.

Sadly, our area Senator, Ed Jackson doesn't seem to realize the threat this is to our free speech, falling for the '[transparency' line. Please read and study what I've excerpted here. Read the complete article at this link from Tennessee Stands/ Gary Humble.

Call the office of BOTH of our Representatives asking them to vote AGAINST HB1201, up for a vote in Finance Ways and Means tomorrow, 4/19.

Rep. Chris Todd: 615-741-7475

Rep. Johnny Shaw: 615-741-4538


"This bill is NOT about transparency. This bill is about protecting incumbents during a contentious election cycle.

This bill is unconstitutional. And this bill has one purpose – to encumber the free speech of grassroots conservative organizations in Tennessee and silence political opposition during an election. Tennessee Stands, Americans for Prosperity, Tennessee Firearms Association, and the Beacon Center have all vocally and publicly opposed this bill.

One small section of the 12-page bill actually has nothing to do with campaign finance, but the activities of 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations. If passed, the bill would significantly limit the speech of grassroots conservatives across the state by requiring these organizations to register as a PAC at the mere mention of the name of a candidate for office or the use of their likeness 60 days prior to both primary and general elections. Meaning that every two years for a total of four (4) months, Tennessee Stand’s efforts to simply inform voters on the actions of their legislators leading up to these important elections would be significantly hindered. Apparently, Tennessee Republican leadership does not believe that voters have a right to be informed as they show up to the polls.

In a most rare occurrence, Speaker Sexton showed up at a committee hearing to lobby in favor of the bill and urge members of the committee to vote yes. He went through significant effort to disparage groups, who according to him, have been spreading misinformation about the bill. We can only assume that he is affectionately referring to Tennessee Stands.

The Speaker directed the committee’s legal expert to state to the committee that this bill would not in any way require a 501(c)(4) to divulge its donor list as part of the reporting requirements in the bill, but only the organization’s expenditures. In his estimation, that requirement is reasonable and does not inhibit the free speech of these organizations. Upon that recommendation, the bill passed in committee.

The problem with that is the Supreme Court does not agree with that argument, especially upon review of Citizens United v FEC (2010). Here are just a few quotes from that court opinion.

“Because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy — it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people — political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it by design or inadvertence.” “Political speech is ‘indispensable to decisionmaking in a democracy, and this is no less true because the speech comes from a corporation.’” “First Amendment protections do not depend on the speaker’s ‘financial ability to engage in public discussion.’” “The First Amendment does not permit laws that force speakers to retain a campaign finance attorney, conduct demographic marketing research, or seek declaratory rulings before discussing the most salient political issues of our day.” “In MCFL, the Court found unconstitutional § 441b’s restrictions on corporate expenditures as applied to nonprofit corporations that were formed for the sole purpose of promoting political ideas, did not engage in business activities, and did not accept contributions from for-profit corporations or labor unions.” “`First Amendment freedoms need breathing space to survive.'” “[T]he concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment”

These are just a few statements from SCOTUS in relation to campaign finance and the necessity to uphold our First Amendment rights of free speech at all costs. If we are to err, we must err on the side of our Constitution."

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