NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I like riding trains. The only cross-country trains in the United States are operated by Amtrak. Amtrak operates with a subsidy from the federal government.
By its very nature, Amtrak is political. The size, type, and schedules of the trains Amtrak runs are dependent on the size of the government subsidy.
Suppose that I would really like to see train service restored between Wausau and Chicago, as it was before 1972. What if I join four or five like-minded friends and we pool $500 each to begin running radio ads. Our message, “ask Congressman Obey to restore train service to Wausau.”
Under McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws, we couldn’t run those commercials within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. We’d have to register as a political lobbying group. We would certainly need an accountant and a legal advisor to navigate the Federal Elections Commission rules. And with our small budget of a few thousand dollars, we probably wouldn’t even bother.
You may not care about whether passenger trains even run in Wausau again. But the same rules apply to issues you do care about: gun control, abortion, the environment, taxes, health care, term limits. Should you and your friends be prohibited from pooling your resources and expressing your political opinions?
It is true that large corporations, national labor unions, and PACs worth millions are more likely to run issue ads than small groups of private citizens. But the size of your membership or your bank account doesn’t determine your free speech rights. And speech right before an election – when people are deciding who to vote for – is the most important speech.
In plain, unambiguous language our Founding Fathers wrote: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” McCain-Feingold doesn’t square with the Constitution. We should not mourn its passing after yesterday’s Supreme Court decision.
Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau