Democracy and disgust

Imagine a system that forced you to contribute $100 to the political campaign of the winner of each election. In 2016, you’d be compelled to donate to Trump; in 2008, to Obama; in 2000, to Bush.

You’d probably be offended. You might object to the fact that the program gives money to candidates with views that you find disagreeable. Why should a law force you to give money to Democrats if you’re a Republican and vice versa? In First Amendment terms, you’d say the law improperly discriminates on the basis of viewpoint.

But there’s another reason why you might be offended by the system I’ve described. What if you’re someone who doesn’t want to give money to politicians of any stripe? What if you found it just as offensive to be forced to contribute to the campaign coffers of a Republican candidate as being forced to contribute to the war chest of a Democrat? You’d think that you’d have the right to abstain from participating in the political process just as you’re free to stay home on election day. And a law that forces you to engage in political speech both compels speech and discriminates on the basis of content.

That’s the gist of our lawsuit against Seattle’s democracy voucher program. Under the program, property owners are forced to pay for four $25 vouchers that Seattleites spend on the candidate of their choice. That’s true even if the property owner disagrees with the views of the candidate to whom the money is directed (viewpoint-discrimination) and even if the property owner doesn’t want to engage in political speech (content-discrimination).

Earlier this year, we filed a First Amendment challenge to the democracy voucher program. Unfortunately, the trial court judge didn’t see things our way, and concluded that the program was constitutional because it did not (in the judge’s view) discriminate on the basis of viewpoint, and without addressing our objection that the program improperly discriminates on the basis of content.

The court’s decision is disappointing, but we’re in it for the long haul. My colleague Ethan Blevins has more in this podcast. You can also read about the case on Reason.

Forcing people to fill the war chests of political opponents in the name of “democracy”

Guest post by Ethan Blevins. Ethan graduated with a BA in political science from BYU-Idaho and a JD and LLM from Duke School of Law. He was a judicial clerk for Justice Don Willett of the Texas Supreme Court and is currently an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation. The views expressed in this post are his own.

Few subjects incite ire like campaign finance and the First Amendment. At a Trader Joe’s in Seattle not long ago, I was accosted by an activist seeking signatures for a petition to overturn Citizens United—perhaps the most notorious and misunderstood campaign-finance case of all time. Shoppers gladly signed his petition until he reached me.

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