School boards and parent organizations should be really boring stuff, but it’s been pretty heated in Williamson County, TN in the past year. A local parent organization called Williamson Strong was fined $5,000 dollars recently when it was decided that they were operating as an unregistered Political Action Committee (PAC). They are appealing the decision and, in fact have a federal case against Tennessee’s PAC laws. The following is a from a Tennessean article on the lawsuit:
State law defines a “political campaign committee,” commonly known as a PAC, as “a combination of two (2) or more individuals, including any political party governing body, whether state or local, making expenditures, to support or oppose any candidate for public office or measure, but does not include a voter registration program.”
State law defines “expenditure” in pertinent part as a “purchase, payment, distribution, loan, advance, deposit or gift of money or anything of value made for the purpose of influencing a measure or the nomination for election or election of any person to public office.”
In case the absurdity of how much that limits free speech that isn’t immediately ridiculous, let me ask this:
If my kid & I borrow some poster board and paint to make a sign to support our neighbor who wants to run for school board, should we first register as a PAC in Tennessee?
The Registry of Election Finance, who issued the fine, indicated that the amount of money spent wasn’t at issue. Basically, if any two people spend any amount of money, they could be fined thousands of dollars with no way to give their side of the issue? And school board member Susan Curlee1 has shown that she is nothing if not tenacious and vindictive, so who would risk that sort of thing? It absolutely is the sort of thing to put a hold on political free speech.
I cannot believe it, but I’m actually glad of the Citizens United case ruling and hope this Williamson Strong case is overturned and the law is found to be a violation of the First Amendment. I believe in campaign finance reform and limit the insane amounts of money spent on influencing elections, but that’s no where near the sort of thing we’re discussing here. Some e-mail lists and a website domain registration aren’t likely anyone’s definition of large campaign expenditures, even in a local school board race.
- But just to CMA, this site and its contents are completely paid for by myself and I’m not yet currently making any public recomendations for school board members. [↩]