Saturday, January 21, 2012

2012-01-21 "'The First Amendment: It's there for a reason" from "Vallejo Times Herald" 
Politicians, take note. You have the right to remain silent.
Campaign contributors, take note. When you give a politician money, your life may no longer be completely private.
Politicians and campaign contributors, take note. Asking questions, or answering them -- take your pick -- are protected activities under the First Amendment. It's called freedom of speech, and while it can be uncomfortable at times, it's atop the Bill of Rights for a reason.
And, we might add, it shares that honor with freedom of the press.
Which brings us to our topic of the day. (Take note: Freedom of the press doesn't require us to get to the point immediately.)
Anyway, it seems that last fall, a so-called citizen journalist called a couple of campaign contributors to Benicia Councilman Alan Schwartzman's mayoral bid. The writer later wrote a critical opinion piece for Benicia Patch about Schwartzman's campaign that outlined his ties to the real estate and business communities.
The councilman apparently was strongly suspicious the source for the online column was from his opponent's camp. We can't imagine such nefarious goings on during a political campaign, but we digress.
Well, this writer apparently wanted to know why these two people had each given $500 to Schwartzman's campaign.We weren't privy to the conversations, but however they responded -- agreeing to answer questions, or not, would fall under the First Amendment. Under it and other amendments you have the right to answer any questions. You also have the right to refuse to answer any questions. Even suspected criminals know that.
Schwartzman doesn't see it that way. Feeling that such calls constitute harassment, he wants an ordinance prohibiting anyone other than the candidate or campaign treasurer from contacting contributors to Benicia political campaigns. (Ironically, some might feel more harassed getting a call from a political candidate or his/her campaign treasurer than one from a member of the public. After all, a potential donor might be hit up for more money, asked if he/she has any other friends with loose change, or both.)
Despite this nonsensical and clearly unconstitutional prohibition, Schwartzman, too, is exercising his First Amendment rights in offering it. No one should assume his proposal constitutes harassment, even though some might argue he is attacking their freedoms.
Happily, some weighed in at Tuesday's Benicia City Council meeting that such a ban is not only probably unconstitutional, but unenforceable as well. Regardless, surprisingly -- and regrettably -- the council also has agreed to waste more time on this at some future meeting.
We neither defend the phone calls to Schwartzman's donors, nor condemn them. Nor should he. But we understand why politicians would try to stop them. For one thing, donors might think twice about shelling out money to candidates if they felt a contribution would lead to a reporter's phone call. More likely, however, instead of a call from a reporter, the donor would receive calls from other candidates seeking similar cash gifts.
In either case, donors have a simple First Amendment tool to deal with such scenarios. They can simply say, "Yes" or simply say, "No."
We urge the Benicia City Council to embrace the latter response when and if this silly idea resurfaces.  

No comments:

Post a Comment