This General Assembly Session is moving fast, and one thing the leaders are good at is rushing through bills they like or don’t like, depending on whether or not they want to quickly pass them or kill them without drawing our attention to it before it’s too late for us to do something about it. [read_more]I like to say, “The Session has started, so watch your wallets,” but now I’m going to add, “and watch your individual liberty, too.”
Senator Ralph Smith should be commended for his continued efforts to protect the people against a consolidation of power by incumbents. He introduced Senate Bill 1255 which removes the long-time incumbent protection act and properly places the power of the nomination method with the people. What so many of these elected leaders forget is it is not “their” right to hold office. They hold our proxy.
Yesterday, SB1255 was killed in the Senate Privileges and Elections by an 8-7 vote. Even though Republicans have the majority, yes, you guessed it, we were betrayed once again by a Republican when the “designated hitter,” newly elected Senator John Cosgrove, voted with the Democrats to kill this bill.
But you still have a chance to weigh in on something even more egregious that’s coming up today at 5 p.m. in the House Privileges and Elections Sub-Committee on Campaign Finance. Freshman Republican Delegate Jeff Campbell has introduced House Bill 1330 which will prohibit candidates for General Assembly seats and state wide seats from fundraising during Session. Currently, only elected statewide officials and General Assembly members are barred from raising funds during a regular legislative Session.
The constitutional case can be made that the state has an interest in ensuring that those who are charged with enacting the laws should avoid all question of a conflict of interest while doing so. But Delegate Campbell’s bill prohibits a private citizen who doesn’t have any vote on legislation before the General Assembly from raising money while the legislature is in session. This is a limitation on the political speech of that private individual.
The Supreme Court has held that a person’s First Amendment rights cannot be curtailed without a compelling state interest, and where such a restraint is narrowly tailored to advancing that interest. One example of such a compelling state interest is limiting what sitting lawmakers can accept when any money would be in such close proximity to their votes in the General Assembly, thus enhancing both the actual and perceived integrity of the legislative process.
But Del. Campbell’s bill goes way beyond that justification when it places limits on the political speech of a private citizen who has no vote on legislation before the General Assembly. Instead, it is just a naked suppression of speech that incumbents don’t like.
Supporters of this legislation will argue that the state has an interest in “leveling the playing field” between incumbents and challengers. But this is a red herring. The playing field is always tilted in favor of incumbents, and would simply be tilted in their direction even more if Campbell’s bill succeeds. Just look at what happened to Sen. Smith’s bill, which would have truly taken a step toward fairness in our elections by taking away an incumbent’s power to erect electoral barriers for his opponents.
The only check on an incumbent’s power — and it really is only a small check — is the ability for the people (challengers) to challenge the officeholders in an election. If this bill passes into law, it tips the scale 100% toward the incumbent. Sadly, it’s a Republican who is leading the effort to strengthen the power of the government officials and limit our free speech.
Republicans should be spending more time undoing laws that burden our liberties, not working to enact them.
If we say nothing then we are allowing our own right to freedom of political speech to be infringed upon. Call the members of the House Privileges and Elections Sub-Committee on Campaign Finance now and let them know you oppose this unconstitutional limitation of our free speech.
The hearing is at 5 p.m. today. We are reminded on a daily basis that our Republican leaders want to restore the trust of the people. What better way to do it than to protect our individual liberty?
Delegate Mark Cole
• (804) 698-1088
• email: DelMCole@house.virginia.gov Delegate
• (804) 698-1011
• email: DelSRasoul@house.virginia.gov
Delegate Rob Krupicka
• (804) 698-1045
• email: DelRKrupicka@house.virginia.gov
Delegate Joseph Yost
• (804) 698-1012
• email: DelJYost@house.virginia.gov
Delegate Israel O’Quinn
• (804) 698-1005
• email: DelIOQuinn@house.virginia.gov
Delegate Riley Ingram
• (804) 698-1062
• email: DelRIngram@house.virginia.gov
Chairman of the Sub-Committee John O’Bannon
• (804) 698-1073
• email: DelJOBannon@house.virginia.gov