PAC Insanity

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.

  1. 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. []