FEC Chairman Lee Goodman - A Champion in Protecting the First Amendment

Last spring, the RNLA was thrilled to have Federal Election Commissioner (FEC) Lee Goodman speak on a panel at the 2017 National Policy Conference at the National Press Club.  The panel, titled, "Election Law Update: Vote Fraud Commission and Campaign Finance"featured Commissioner Goodman, Don Palmer, formerly of the Virginia Board of Elections, and Hans von Spakovsky, of the Heritage foundation.

Commissioner Goodman began his presentation by noting the importance of the First Amendment within the FEC:

"This agency was created to regulate in an area permeated in everything it does by the solemn First Amendment rights of American citizens to associate and speak.  So, if I am to be criticized honestly for a restrained approach, my critics should at least acknowledge the profound importance of the First Amendment and what I am trying to do when I am trying to strike a balance between regulation and First Amendment freedoms."

He also went on to discuss the three major First Amendment issues facing the Commission currently.  The first of the First Amendment issues facing the FEC is free speech and the the rise of the internet.  In 2006, the Commission adopted a rule that exempted the internet from their regulation for those individuals and entities using personal, at-home-computers (with and exception being paying a fee on a third party's website, where the Commission would intervene and regulate).   He notes:

"Fast forward to the past two or three years and my Democratic colleagues at the Commission have begun to rethink the breadth of that freedom on the internet.  And in case after case we are splitting our votes 3-3 with the three Republicans observing the exemption - a robust interpretation of the exemption under the 2006 rule-making - and our colleagues voting to find nooks and crannies of regulation on an otherwise broad exemption."

The second point Commissioner Goodman points a lack of sensitivity of free press rights of press publishers.  He pointed to the example to the Fox News debate in 2016 where Fox News added an undercard debate of lower-polling Presidential candidates.  A suit was filed (by a candidate that failed to make either debate) claiming that Fox News made "unlawful corporate contributions to the 17 candidates by changing its criteria."  Goodman states of his colleagues:

"The office of General Counsel at the FEC recommended a finding that Fox News made illegal corporate contributions.  Three Democrat Commissioners concluded that Fox News had violated the law.  Two of my Democrat colleagues voted to punish Fox News, to impose civil penalties on Fox News for violating the law, despite the existence of a press exemption that exempts the press from our regulation altogether - an exemption that has been there since 1974."

The third and final point that Commissioner Goodman makes are associational privacy or what is known as the "dark money" debate.  He states:

"If you read popular press, you'll believe that our nation's federal elections are a wash in dark money flooding the airwaves.  Dark money is spending by groups that do not have the major purpose of being a political committee. 

 We are engaged in an ongoing debate over the of where your associational privacy ends and our regulatory jurisdiction begins.  If my Democratic colleagues have their way, every little political thing you do ... will evidence your political purposes broadly defined and you will be swept into the federal jurisdiction of the federal government and you will surrender your associational privacy."

The RNLA thanks Commissioner Goodman for leading the fight to protect our First Amendment.  On Wednesday, January 17, the RNLA D.C. Young Lawyers Chapter will be hosting an exclusive reception featuring Commissioner Goodman.  To RSVP to this event, please click here.

To view the video of Commissioner Goodman's panel from the 2017 National Policy Conference in its entirety, please click here.