10/02/2008 The Obama campaign is demanding that the Justice Department bring criminal charges against a non-profit advocacy organization and one of its donors because they have the audacity to sponsor a television ad criticizing the close connection between Obama and unrepentant former terrorist William Ayers.
The campaign is also threatening the license of television stations; and is enlisting state law enforcement officials for partisan prosecutions, all for running political ads that Obama claims are misleading and false.
These actions should cause every American to ask, can Obama be trusted with the powers of the Justice Department, the Federal Election Commission and the Federal Communications Commission?
This is a man who wants to criminally and economically punish opponents for engaging in political speech that is the heart and soul of the First Amendment.
Obama’s attack is aimed at the American Issues Project and one of its donors for “knowing and willful” violations of the federal campaign finance law.
AIP sponsored an ad criticizing Obama’s judgment and character for associating with domestic terrorist William Ayers, who participated in bombings of New York City Police Headquarters in 1970, of the Capitol building in 1971, and the Pentagon in 1972. The funds for this ad apparently came from billionaire Harold Simmons, who, if he wanted to, could spend as much of his own money independently as he wants to criticize Barack Obama. To Obama’s obvious chagrin, the First Amendment still prevents the campaign reformers from limiting the independent political expenditures of individuals.
Yet if Simmons donates that same money to a nonprofit issues organization like AIP that has no connection to a candidate so it can make the same independent expenditure, he and the organization are supposedly engaging in criminal conduct under the applicable federal campaign finance law.
Obama’s campaign has also sent a letter to television stations demanding that they not air an ad produced by the National Rifle Association about Obama’s long anti-gun history because it is supposedly false and misleading. The campaign tells the stations that their failure to prevent the airing may be “probative of an underlying abdication of license responsibility,” a not very subtle threat to go after their licensing if they do not comply.
And in Missouri, a local television station is reporting that Obama’s campaign is organizing something called the Barack Obama Truth Squad. It is made up of local prosecutors and sheriffs who say they will target anyone who “lies” or runs a ‘misleading” TV ad about Obama during the presidential campaign. Of course, this has happened at the very same time that the Justice Department gave into demands from the political Left that no federal prosecutors be used as observers on Election Day because of claims they could “intimidate” voters. I guess “intimidation” of Obama’s political opponents is not a serious concern.
All of this tells us that Barack Obama sees nothing wrong with using the power of government to criminally prosecute his political opponents and to use the regulatory authority of federal agencies to threaten businesses to achieve political objectives -- such as winning an election.
Such prosecutions have happened before against American citizens for expressing their political opinions. In fact, the first case of this kind to come before the courts was the conviction of Luther Baldwin of New Jersey for wishing that a wad from the presidential saluting cannon would “hit [John] Adams in the ass.” It is clear that Obama does not like the political ads that have hit him in the ass.
There is no threat against television stations or a demand by Obama to criminally prosecute NARAL or other liberal organizations that are no different from AIP or the NRA except, of course, that they have spent millions of dollars for independent ads attacking John McCain and supporting Obama. This dichotomy provides a frightening example of just how partisan and politically-biased the Justice Department and other federal agencies would be under an Obama administration, criminally prosecuting political opponents while turning a blind eye to supporters like NARAL.
John Adams lost the 1800 election in part due to the revulsion that many Americans felt towards the Alien and Sedition Acts, a law that restricted their ability to engage in fundamental political speech and activity and that enabled government prosecutors to persecute political opponents.
We seem to have forgotten too much about the dangers of government suppression and regulation of political speech and political liberties. Not only is there no such revulsion in 2008, but instead we have “reform” organizations actually applauding Obama’s demands and calling for the Justice Department to fire the head of its Election Crimes Branch for saying publicly that he is not going to initiate a criminal prosecution of organizations like AIP.
Too bad there probably will not be a similar reaction by American voters as there was in the election of 1800 to a candidate’s support for government persecution of his political opponents.
Hans von Spakovsky is a former member of the Federal Election Commission and a former Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Justice.