Nice Doggy?

February 19, 2015

Inside Insight

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THEY WOULDN’T, WOULD THEY?

When some South Carolina lawmakers say “ethics reform,” they don’t mean the restraint and punishment of bad behavior by politicians. They mean the restraint and punishment of (as they see it) bad behavior by citizens. Case in point: Both in 2014 and this year, lawmakers debated complicated 40- and 50-page “omnibus” ethics bills that – among other equally outrageous things – cracked down on non-partisan, non-political groups that criticize politicians. How? By redefining the legal term “electioneering” to include groups that send out “communications” – emails, letters, blog posts, whatever – mentioning a political candidate’s name within a certain period before an election. If such a group were held to be electioneering under this stricter definition, it would be required to disclose its top donors. And that, in turn, could give unscrupulous politicians the chance they need to bully and harass the organization’s financial supporters.

Think politicians wouldn’t dare try such a thing? Well, they have.

For more detail, read the S.C. Policy Council’s analysis of this year’s legislation (skip to the section “More scrutiny for non-political citizen groups”), or read The Nerve’s report on last year’s failed ethics bill. And while we’re on the topic of scaring citizens away from criticizing politicians, don’t forget this story.