Should the Federal Election Commission require more disclosure of political contributions? Should it go further to regulate political speech? What about on the Internet?
The public had until Jan. 15 to weigh in on those money-in-politics issues as the FEC ponders whether to pass new rules ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign. And according to FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, the agency received a whopping 32,000 public comments from individuals and groups.
Public comments, especially when drafted by professional interest groups, can often be a little dry. But thousands of passionate, opinionated individuals used the opportunity to let the FEC know exactly what they thought. Weintraub said about 24,000, or 75 percent, favored more regulation by the FEC. About 5,000 comments weighed in on regulating political speech on the Internet, though there is nothing specific on the table the FEC is pursuing on that front.
“I’m really interested in the individual comments,” Weintraub, a Democrat, told the Loop. “What I think is most interesting is the level of passion we’re seeing from the general public on these issues. People really do care about this, that they’re getting a raw deal and that their democracy is taken away from them from people who are more wealthy.”
We have not read all 32,000 comments — a number Weintraub called “unusual” for the FEC — but a quick read of several showed many individuals want more information about who is paying for elections, while many others don’t want the government regulating Internet speech. (Read them yourself here.)
Here are a few standouts:
- “The infringement on our constitutional rights of “free speech” is an extraordinary over reach of power!!! It says in the Bible the TRUTH will set you FREE!! To stifle this truth is to put us back to the day when only the kings and noble men had the access to certain books and knowledge, the common people were not allowed and were not free!! We can’t believe our eyes and ears is this Nazi Germany?!! Dear God save us from this disaster! Our company depends on the ability to advertise and sell on the internet. We no that if this rule would be in place it’s just a matter of time when the next items are governing individual companies and persons from the freedom of speech and commerce!!! We ask you to please stop this lawlessness now for the sake of our children and grandchildren, for the sake of all the men and women who lost lives and loved ones for our freedom we ask you to STOP!!!!!”
- “I want to know who is buying our democracy.”
- “The Citizen United ruling basically legalized Bribery. I think that the people of the united states at least deserve to know who is doing the Bribery. Put an end to the secrecy. Every donation should be public. Donor, Donee, and amount. I want my country back.”
- “Please stop trying to stifle free speech. There is no difference in an opinion piece, whether in a newspaper, magazine, or on line as either a blog or YouTube short. By passing this REG you would be putting this country on a slippery slope of political repression of divergent opinion. This is clearly an attempt to surreptitiously encroach upon our First Amendment rights. Leave media alone! and keep the internet free.”
- “Keep your elitist thinking little self serving rules and regulations off all Americans’ Rights to Free Speech in regard to “regulating the internet.” Do not touch! It regulates itself very well, Thank you. What I and my Fellow Americans care to say, without slandering each other (established law regulates slander), is none of your little governmental bureaucratic business!
- “You congressmen should be a shame of trying not to let people know how much and from who the gangsters money is coming from. We want the Disclose Act. You have not worked for the people in 6 years and need to be impeached. All of you are sorry and disrespectful and think you above the law.”
- “I am opposed to this new regulation. America was founded on the priniciple (sic) to get govt the hell out of our lives, literally. hell means being investigated just because someone posts a blog or video denouncing this worst president obama as a communist traitor, a hypocrite constant liar, a marxist socialist bent on destroying america. every amercian (sic) should have the right to espress (sic) their thoughts on the internet, as long as they do not specifically write or talk of or encourage illegal acts. if you dont like this country as is, move someone else. i’m sure russia would love to invite you to stay there.”
- “I feel it absolutely discouraging to know that public elected officials are bought and paid for by the most affluent people an big business to do their bidding for them and majority of citizens vote and have no representation .DISGUSTING !!!!!!”
And this, from a letter from a high school student:
- “I am an ardent defender of the Constitution, but reject the idea that money is free speech. Is there free speech if the voice of the people is completely muffled by countless ads? Americans are losing their ability to make a difference politically. This, to me, is the real violation of free speech. My sense of political efficacy steadily dissolves each time I see a campaign’s fiances. How is the average American to compete with that? Right now, they can’t. I can’t buy time with a candidate. I can’t donate enough to earn myself a private meet-and greet. I have lost the chance to express myself in the ways others can, simply on the basis of my wealth. 99% of Americans are in my exact situation, desperate to be heard yet unable to bypass the financial entryway. In solidarity, we stand silenced.”