Rep. Cameron Henry triggered an interesting debate about political speech with his prefiled HB 151, one which may present the politicians called upon to enact it and to enforce it a false dilemma.
The bill would make political campaigns subject to the state’s Do Not Call requirement, where almost all unsolicited telephone calls are prohibited. Calls from campaigns currently are exempt, but the bill would remove that and allow households to opt out through the registry that is kept and violations of enforced by the Public Service Commission, initiated by the household.
Its practical impact would be to chill slightly political speech. Having to police their lists, political marketing firms will raise the price of voter contact, pricing some campaigns out of this tool. But government has done this for years, with local authorities empowered to restrict campaign signage, for example.
That government does something, however, does not give it moral justification to do so. One could argue that this restriction of political speech would impair the public’s ability to receive information about candidates that could assist them in their vote choices, and/or represents government inserting itself too far into regulation of speech. Yet this ignores the fundamental understanding of free speech in general – that you may have the right to express it, but you do not have the right to intrude on others to make them hear it. Creating a means for a voluntary opting out allows the exercise of freedom and does not prohibit the speech, at minimal government intrusion.
The larger question remains whether politicians will be willing to put this restriction on themselves. Few ever want to limit their abilities to pick up votes, but maybe they will recognize that the person who would voluntarily put his number on the do not call list likely would get irritated at these kinds of calls and possibly take it out on the campaign initiating them by voting for somebody else (assuming not everybody in the contest utilizes calling strategies). With that in mind, potentially Henry can muster majorities to succeed here.
Campaigns have plenty of means available to make voter contact, in a campaign environment that increasingly permits the voter to seek out information on his own volition rather than having it packaged and delivered at times not chosen by him. This change neither is unduly restrictive of nor allows illegitimate government encroachment on political speech.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 12:30