Category Archives: free speech

Federal Elections Commission dysfunctional and not doing its job

The Federal Elections Commission is clearly dysfunctional and not able to do its job. It is helping to foster public cynicism and disgust with the current political process. Comprised of two Republicans and two Democrats it is gridlocked in partisan politics and seems like a deer caught in the headlights – unable to move or respond. It’s decisions are repeated tie votes or no action.

One of the recent glaring examples is their continued non response to what are called “ghost corporations” funneling money into political campaigns and skirting public disclosure of donors and public accountability. The Washington Post in several recent articles has focused light on the issue arising out of the 2011 US Supreme Court corporate “Citizens United” decision which opened the floodgates on money in elections.

A March 11, 2016 Washington Post article entitled “How ‘ghost corporations’ are funding the 2016 election” by Matea Gold and Anu Narayanswany  outlines the situation:

“The 2016 campaign has already seen the highest rate of corporate donations since the Supreme Court unleashed such spending with its 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision.
One out of every eight dollars collected by super PACs this election cycle have come from corporate coffers, including millions flowing from opaque and hard-to-trace entities, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal campaign finance filings.
So far, 680 companies have given at least $10,000 to a super PAC this cycle, together contributing nearly $68 million through Jan. 31, The Post found. Their donations made up 12 percent of the $549 million raised by such groups, which can accept unlimited donations.

The main problem is that many of these PAC donations are untraceable and allow donors to be anonymous while making multi-million dollar donations. The ghost corporations in question making the donations  only list a corporate name and an agent, leaving the public with no idea who is trying to influence the election.

This is a reason why the US Supreme Court’s corporate Citizens United decision needs to be overturned. Sixteen states so far have urged Congress to amend the US Constitution to say that money is not free speech, corporations do not have the sames rights as people and all campaign money must be regulated and disclosed.

Washington State this November is voting on Initiative 735 to become the 17th state to urge Congress to amend the US Constitution to overturn the corporate Citizens United and othed decisions which have opened the anonymous floodgate of corporate and other dark money in elections.

Two recent cases provide clear evidence that the Federal Elections Commission is broken

Two recent decisions by the Federal Elections Commission provide clear evidence that the Commission is broken and nonfunctional just like Congress. On split partisan votes it took no action on two separate cases.

As the Washington Post reported in an article entitled, “FEC deadlocked on allegations that Gingrich used 2012 campaign to sell books“:

“Former House speaker Newt Gingrich will not face a Federal Election Commission investigation into allegations that he broke federal law by using his 2012 presidential campaign to promote books that he and his wife wrote, documents released Friday show.

…The FEC’s top attorney recommended in 2013 that the agency investigate Gingrich, but the case languished and the six-member commission eventually deadlocked along partisan lines in June, with the three Republican commissioners voting against an inquiry.

The general counsel’s initial review found evidence of seven violations of campaign finance laws, the FEC documents show. Among the findings: Gingrich’s campaign staff and the employees of his production company at times swapped duties as the then-candidate was holding concurrent campaign rallies and book-signing events….

The general counsel also found evidence that the campaign’s resources benefited Gingrich personally, noting that his campaign website included more than 80 links to the Gingrich Productions website, along with blog entries promoting book signings and movie screenings. Many of the links went to pages urging supporters to buy books written by Newt and Callista Gingrich.”

The second case also was decided on a split partisan vote, meaning no action was taken on what clearly appeared to be political action and avoidance of reporting of campaign donations. As the Washington Post reported “How a film about Obama’s communist ‘real father’ won at the FEC “ was also won because of a partisan split. It is a revisit of the Hillary Clinton case that was decided in the so called “Citizens United” decision by the US Supreme Court which opened the floodgates on money in elections since then. The film in that case mailed also right before the election was  “Hillary:  the movie”

As the Washington Post post reported:

“Four years ago, voters in Ohio and a few other swing states opened their mailboxes to discover a documentary they’d never ordered. “Dreams From My Real Father” posited that the president of the United States was not the son of Barack Obama Sr., but of Frank Marshall Davis, a Communist activist and poet who moved to Hawaii late in life ….

In 2014, a progressive activist named Loren Collins filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against Gilbert, arguing that the filmmaker had a responsibility to disclose his donors. The FEC finally weighed in last month, and in a typical 3-3 split decision — by law, the FEC is perpetually split between Democratic and Republican commissioners — Gilbert’s DVD mailing was considered “press,” not subject to donor disclosure, comparable to any political documentary.

“With the right framing, even the most dishonest, smear-mongering attacks can skirt FEC regulations under our current regulations,” said Collins. “His mailing cost at least $1 million, and that could’ve been paid for by Mitt Romney or Donald Trump, and there’s no way to know. Taken together with [the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision], this could have very serious negative ramifications. The general counsel’s report might as well be an instruction manual on how to avoid the transparency that comes with public disclosure of financiers.”

Asking a Commission composed of partisan politicians divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats in a clearly highly charged partisan Washington DC atmosphere is a sure way to have more gridlock. If anything the decisions need to be made by those without a direct stake in a partisan outcome. Time to restructure the FEC to  enable it to make decisions. The simplest  solution is to add a fifth member chosen by the other four members. Another alternative is to remove partisan politicians  and to have the issues decided by a panel of judges. Clearly the current  system is broken.


Press Release – Initiative 735 Passes 254,000 Signatures, Moves Closer to Qualifying

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

Contact Gabe Meyer                                                                                              Campaign Director, WAmend                                                                                                   or Steve Zemke
Field Director, WAmend

SEATTLE — WAmend, the sponsor of Initiative 735, announced today that supporters have now collected over 254,000 signatures to get on the 2016 ballot in Washington State. A minimum of 246,273 signatures are required by December 31st to file with the Secretary of State. WAmend is aiming to submit 320,000 signatures to cover duplicate and invalid signatures and assure success in qualifying. Continue reading

Press Release – Initiative 735 Passes 239,000 Signatures 12/1/2015

For immediate release:
For more information:
Gabe Meyer – Campaign Director
Steve Zemke – State Field Director
Campaign phone – 206-547-9961
Initiative 735 Passes 239,000 Signatures

 Supporters of Initiative 735 in Washington State have now collected over 239,000 signatures on Initiative 735. A minimum of 246,273 valid signatures is required to file with the Secretary of State by December 31, 2015. WAmend (Washington Coalition to Amend the Constitution), the sponsor of Initiative 735, is targeting to get 320,000 signatures to cover duplicate and invalid signatures.

Continue reading

Initiative 735 to Amend the Constitution to Overturn the Corporate “Citizens United” Decision Builds Momentum

Supporters of Washington State  Initiative 735 have now gathered over 179,000 signatures as of October 20, 2015. The minimum number of valid signatures needed to be filed with the Washington Secretary of State by December 31st, 2015 is 246,372.

The campaign target goal is to gather 320,000 signatures to cover duplicate and invalid signatures, including those who signed who are not registered voters. Two measures which made it onto the Nov 2015 ballot had invalid rates of 10% (I-1366) and 14% (I-1401). There have been other initiatives that have had as high as 20% which is why I-735 is targeting getting a minimum of 320,000 signatures.

The official ballot title and summary of I-735 as written by the Washington State Attorney General is below:

Ballot Title
Initiative Measure No. 735 concerns a proposed amendment to the federal constitution.

This measure would urge the Washington state congressional delegation to propose a federal constitutional amendment that constitutional rights belong only to individuals, not corporations, and constitutionally-protected free speech excludes the spending of money.

Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]

Ballot Measure Summary
The measure would urge the Washington state congressional delegation to propose a federal constitutional amendment clarifying that constitutional rights belong only to individuals, not corporations; that spending money is not free speech under the First Amendment; that governments are fully empowered to regulate political contributions and expenditures to prevent undue influence; and that political contributions and expenditures must be promptly disclosed to the public. The measure would urge the legislature to ratify such an amendment.

View Complete Text PDF

Initiative 735 is an initiative to the Washington State Legislature. The Legislature according to the Secretary of State has 3 options:

“Initiatives to the Legislature, if certified, are submitted to the Legislature at its next regular session in January. Once submitted, the Legislature must take one of the following three actions:

    1. The Legislature can adopt the initiative as proposed, in which case it becomes law without a vote of the people;
    2. The Legislature can reject or refuse to act on the proposed initiative, in which case the initiative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election; or
    3. The Legislature can approve an alternative to the proposed initiative, in which case both the original proposal and the Legislature’s alternative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election.”

Supporters of I-735 expect that I-735 will not be passed by the Legislature but will go onto the November 2016  ballot. The states of Montana and Colorado have both had similar measures on the ballot which passed by 74% of the voters. Fourteen other states have passed measures by their Legislatures.

Washington is trying to be the 17th State to urge Congress to put a constitutional amendment back to the states to vote on that would overturn the corporate Citizens United decision. It takes a 2/3 vote of Congress and a 3/4 vote by the states to pass a US Constitutional amendment. It is not  easy to pass a constitutional amendment but so far there have been 27 added to the Constitution.

You can read more about the campaign and volunteer to help get signatures or make a contribution to support I-735 by going to The initiative is using volunteer signatures gatherers and needs more help. If you want to help overturn the corporate Citizens United decision this is how you can help.


Volunteer Signature Gatherers are Collecting Signature for Initiative 735

A grassroots volunteer signature gathering effort is underway in Washington State for Initiative 735. Initiative 735 is sponsored by WAmend – a coalition of citizen groups working for a US constitutional to overturn Citizens United and other US Supreme Court decisions that have unleashed a flood of money by large donors and special interest groups and corporations.

WAmend is pushing tor an amendment that would declare that corporations are not people and money is not free speech under the US constitution. It wants all political donors to be disclosed and not kept secret and wants the US and states to have the power to regulate money donated in political campaigns.

Volunteers are collecting signatures in 2015 to place Initiative 735 before the Washington State Legislature next year. Valid voter signatures from  8% of those who voted in the last Governor’s race are required to qualify an initiative. That is 246,372 for this cycle.  I-735 is targeting to collect 330,000 signatures by the end of the year to cover invalid signatures, including those who sign more than once or who are not registered voters.

If the Washington State Legislature does not enact I-735 it will be placed on the Nov 2016 General Election Ballot. The Legislature can place an alternative on the ballot and voters would vote first to pass an initiative and then pick one of the two versions.

If you would like to sign the initiative you can go to the I-735 website at and request a petition be sent to you if there is not a location nearby where you can sign. You can also volunteer to join the campaign and help collect signatures. Volunteers are critical to the success of this effort and are greatly appreciated.

The official ballot title, summary and a link to the actual initiative is below:

Ballot Title
Initiative Measure No. 735 concerns a proposed amendment to the federal constitution.

This measure would urge the Washington state congressional delegation to propose a federal constitutional amendment that constitutional rights belong only to individuals, not corporations, and constitutionally-protected free speech excludes the spending of money.

Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]

Ballot Measure Summary
The measure would urge the Washington state congressional delegation to propose a federal constitutional amendment clarifying that constitutional rights belong only to individuals, not corporations; that spending money is not free speech under the First Amendment; that governments are fully empowered to regulate political contributions and expenditures to prevent undue influence; and that political contributions and expenditures must be promptly disclosed to the public. The measure would urge the legislature to ratify such an amendment.

View Complete Text PDF

Initiative 735 is in response to the big money in our election process. Big corporations, wealthy individuals and other special interest groups through the sheer impact of possessing lots of money have the ability to dominate the electoral process in our country . Initiative 735 asks that Congress help end this dominance of the electoral process by big money by passing a resolution to the states for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and other court decisions. Three quarters of the States would need to ratify a constitutional amendment for it to be valid.

Right Wing Tea Party Koch Brothers Trying to Buy the LA Times and Other Papers

As reported by  Think Progress  and others last month, the right wing Tea Party supporting billionaire Koch Brothers are exploring buying newspapers in an obvious attempt to use their fortune to get a mouthpiece to voters.

Right-wing funders and business industrialists David and Charles Koch may purchase the Tribune Company newspapers, which include the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, and the Los Angeles Times. The brothers are “interested in the clout they could gain through the Times’ editorial pages,” the Hollywood Reporter notes. Responding to the report, a spokesperson for Koch told the website that the brothers are “constantly exploring profitable opportunities in many industries and sectors”  

Daily Kos and others have entered the fray by purchasing an ad in the LA Times, after initially being rejected. They did so by refiling the ad, linking their statements to articles printed in the LA Times that noted “the Koch Brothers bankrolled the Tea Party, denied global warming and bought politicians.”

The Los Angeles Times advertising department has reversed its earlier decision to reject an advertisement from Daily Kos and the Courage Campaign urging the Chicago-based Tribune Company not to sell the 132-year-old Times to the billionaire Koch brothers. The ad will run in the main news section of Wednesday’s edition of the Times….

Tribune, whose merger in 2000 with Times-Mirror Corp., the Times’s owner at the time, made it the second largest newspaper publisher in the nation, has been reported to be considering selling the Times, the nation’s fourth most widely read newspaper, to the ultra-right-wing Kochs.

The Hollywood Reporter first broke this story on March 13, 2013. The Tribune Company has recently emerged from bankruptcy proceedings and is  looking for a buyer for their newspapers. As the Hollywood Reporter points out, the Koch Brothers represent right wing politics in the extreme. They are billionaires and  own Koch Industries which is currently the second largest privately owned company in the US.

The Koch brothers have long dominated American industry; their holdings include Georgia Pacific paper products as well as major fertilizer, refinery and oil pipeline companies. More recently they have become known for their financial support of Republican candidates, especially those from the Tea Party, and the fight against regulations and legislation aimed at curbing climate change.

The Koch Brothers involvement in the Tea Party however  goes far beyond just supporting them. As Brendan DeMille of the Huffington Post in February wrote in an article entitled, “Study Confirms Tea Party was Created by Big Tobacco and Billionaire Koch Brothers“:

A new academic study confirms that front groups with longstanding ties to the tobacco industry and the billionaire Koch brothers planned the formation of the Tea Party movement more than a decade before it exploded onto the U.S. political scene.

Far from a genuine grassroots uprising, this astroturf effort was curated by wealthy industrialists years in advance. Many of the anti-science operatives who defended cigarettes are currently deploying their tobacco-inspired playbook internationally to evade accountability for the fossil fuel industry’s role in driving climate disruption.

The Koch Brothers represent a threat to the free exchange of news and information and obviously have a history of trying to push their extreme right wing philosophy and politics at any cost and by any means. Their involvement and purchase in any newspaper or other media ownership poses a real threat to a free press, which we know is an ideal, yet special interests pushing their own extreme political biases over objectivity because they have the money and resources to own the media threatens  our society and basic democratic values  and principles in our country and the world.

Eyman’s Initiative 517 Certified for November 2013 Ballot

Tim Eyman’s Initiative 517 was certified on January 23rd by the Washington Secretary of State’s office.  I-517  is an initiative to the legislature. If, as likely, the legislature chooses not to act on it, it will be placed on the November 5, 2013 ballot. The legislature has an option to put an alternative on the ballot with it.

The official ballot title and summary for I-517 is:

Ballot Title
Initiative Measure No. 517 concerns initiative and referendum measures.

This measure would set penalties for interfering with or retaliating against signature-gatherers and petition-signers; require that all measures receiving sufficient signatures appear on the ballot; and extend time for gathering initiative petition signatures.

Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]

Ballot Measure Summary
This measure would define terms concerning interfering with or retaliating against petition-signers and signature-gatherers, and would make such conduct a criminal misdemeanor and subject to anti-harassment laws. The measure would require that all state and local measures receiving enough signatures be placed on the ballot, limiting pre-election legal challenges. The measure would also extend the time for filing initiatives and gathering signatures from ten to sixteen months before the election when the vote would occur.

View Complete Text PDF

Initiative 517 is not needed and should be rejected by both the Washington State Legislature and the voters.

Initiative 517 – which Tim Eyman calls the “Protect the Initiative Act” is really the “Protect Tim Eyman’s Profit Machine Initiative“.   Tim started initiative efforts in 1995 and by 1999 they had become his primary business.  This is an initiative meant to increase Tim’s business of putting right wing conservative measures on the ballot in Washington State.

I-517 is Tim Eyman’s attempt to increase his initiative business to a year round activity, guarantee more markets for his initiatives by requiring cities and counties to put them on the ballot, and eliminate any opposition to people signing his measures by expanding anti harassment laws to try to unconstitutionally limit free speech rights of others.

As explained on the website opposing Initiative 517:

Initiative 517 has three main provisions:

  • It would double the period of time permitted for signature gathering for an initiative to the people, allowing Tim Eyman and his associates, Jack Fagan, Mike Fagan, Edward Agazarm and Roy Ruffino to make collecting signatures for initiatives to the people a more profitable and lucrative year-round business.
  • It attempts to prevent Washingtonians from exercising their First Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly in a “Decline to Sign” campaign by making it a misdemeanor to maintain an “intimidating presence” within “twenty-five feet of any person gathering signatures or any person trying to sign any initiative or referendum petition”.
  • It dubiously requires leaders of cities, counties, and other local jurisdictions that provide for their own initiative process to place any initiative with sufficient voter signatures on the ballot for a public vote at public expense, even if the initiative in question concerns a matter that exceeds the lawful scope of the local initiative power.

Laws already exist to deal with harassment within our state. What Eyman is proposing is to expand those laws so that anyone opposed to his initiatives would be prevented from coming with 25 feet of a petitioner. This is a violation of free speech. Because words like intimidation and harassment can take on many common meanings, the first amendment rights of citizens opposing a measure, such as merely urging people to read a measure  before signing it, could cause them to be subject to arrest. for instance says the following about harassment, which should give any free speech advocates cause for concern regarding giving petitioners special rights superior to those of other citizens.

“Harassment is governed by state laws, which vary by state, but is generally defined as a course of conduct which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms, or puts a person in fear of their safety. Harassment is unwanted, unwelcomed and uninvited behavior that demeans, threatens or offends the victim and results in a hostile environment for the victim. Harassing behavior may include, but is not limited to, epithets, derogatory comments or slurs and lewd propositions, assault, impeding or blocking movement, offensive touching or any physical interference with normal work or movement, and visual insults, such as derogatory posters or cartoons. 

Now the problem is that of course anyone who stands say 5 feet away from a petitioner with a sign that says “Read this initiative before you sign it. It is a terrible initiative” or something to that effect would obviously “annoy” a petitioner. The petitioner could consider it a “derogatory poster”. The petitioner could consider it a “hostile environment”. But if the sign holder is not physically assaulting a petitioner or blocking a petitioner from having people sign a petition, why should the sign holder lose his right of free speech. Why should he be harassed and threatened with being arrested. Tolerance and fairness is required on both sides. Free speech for all is guaranteed under the US Constitution, not just those on one side of an issue.

Eyman wants to create a special class of free speech rights for paid petitioners so he can, without public debate, more easily secure a place on the ballot. It is his business and he is asking for special rights for helping his business put more money in his pocket. Next he will be claiming that only his side should be able to speak publicly at public forums regarding the merits of an initiative since anyone speaking against his initiative  is “harassing”him.

As former Secretary of State Sam Reed wrote in his official statement in 2012 on the secretary of state’s website regarding “Filing Initiatives and Referenda in Washington State”

“Do I have the right to urge people not to sign a petition?
Yes, as a matter of freedom of speech. Opponents of an initiative or referendum can certainly express the opinion that it would not be a  good idea for a voter to sign a petition. An opponent, however, does
not have the right to interfere with the petition process. In fact, it is a gross misdemeanor to interfere with somebody else’s right to sign a petition, and there are also laws against assaulting people. You can certainly express your opinion, but you must remember that other people have rights to their opinions as well, including the right to sign petitions you may not like.
This principle works both ways, of course. Neither side of an initiative or referendum campaign has the right to prevent the other from expressing opinions.”   

Here is part of the  language Eyman is proposing to add

(1) A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if the person: …

(e) Interferes with or retaliates against a person collecting signatures or signing any initiative or referendum petition by pushing, shoving, touching, spitting, throwing objects, yelling, screaming, being verbally abusive, blocking or intimidating, or other tumultuous conduct or maintaining an intimidating presence within twenty-five feet of any person gathering signatures or any person trying to sign any initiative or referendum petition. (2) Disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor. 

So most of the language would fall under current harassment law but “the maintaining an intimidating presence within twenty-five feet of any person gathering signatures or any person trying to sign an initiative or referendum petition” is so vague and subjective that it can easily be abused by any petitioner who wants to stop anyone opposing them .  This proposed initiative is not needed and is a threat to free speech.  It is frankly unconstitutional .

Montana High School Cancels Climate Talk by Nobel Laureate.

It seems that a high school in Choteau, Montana thinks the best way to educate its students is to deny them the unique and rare opportunity to hear what a Nobel laureate has to say about global warming. What are they afraid of – that some students might actually be persuaded that global warming is real? Are they afraid that some students might come to question why more isn’t being done to protect their future from climate change?

The New York Times today reported that Nobel Laureate Steven W Running’s scheduled talk before 130 high school students was canceled after a few local conservative citizens complained to the school board and school superintendent.

Dr Running is a Professor of Ecology at the University of Montana. He was “a lead author” of the Report on Global Warming done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won the Nobel Peace Prize 2007. The IPCC shared the Nobel Prize with Al Gore.

As noted by the Norwegian Nobel Committee in selecting the Intergovernmental Committee on Climate Change to receive its Nobel Peace Prize for 2007:

“Indications of changes in the earth’s future climate must be treated with the utmost seriousness, and with the precautionary principle uppermost in our minds. Extensive climate changes may alter and threaten the living conditions of much of mankind. They may induce large-scale migration and lead to greater competition for the earth’s resources. Such changes will place particularly heavy burdens on the world’s most vulnerable countries. There may be increased danger of violent conflicts and wars, within and between states.

Through the scientific reports it has issued over the past two decades, the IPCC has created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming. Thousands of scientists and officials from over one hundred countries have collaborated to achieve greater certainty as to the scale of the warming. Whereas in the 1980s global warming seemed to be merely an interesting hypothesis, the 1990s produced firmer evidence in its support. In the last few years, the connections have become even clearer and the consequences still more apparent.”

Most high schools would view the opportunity to hear a Nobel Laureate speak as a great educational learning experience. And certainly most speaking engagements give an opportunity for students to ask questions. But if schools operated on the principle that if anyone in the community disagreed with a proposed speaker, he or she couldn’t speak, then the probability is that schools would never be having any guest speakers.

Sticking your head in the sand on global warming isn’t going to change the reality. Some people in Montana still need to realize that global warming will affect them also – that the world global means just that. Like it or not, it includes Montana. Global warming, if not brought into check, will have major impacts on Montana farmers and ranchers and conservatives. Global warming will not discriminate as to whether someone is conservative or liberal. It will affect us all.

Surprise? Right Wing Supreme Court Refuses to Hear McDermott’s Appeal

Is it any surprise that the right wing US Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal of Congressman Jim McDermott’s First Amendment case? Congressman McDermott case seems simple enough and the Supreme Court actually ruled on a similar case previously. But for a US Supreme Court that had seen fit, among other things, to appoint George Bush President; ignoring first amendment rights of a liberal Seattle Democratic Congressman is just small potatoes.

Congressman McDermott’s sin was that he released a cell phone conversation between Rep John Boehner, Newt Gingrich and other Republican leaders. Eli Sanders has a good account of the circumstances in an excellent in depth story he wrote last year for the Stranger entitled, “The War on Jim McDermott”.

“The Republican legal crusade against McDermott has its roots in a 1996 ethics charge that bedeviled former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. At the time, McDermott was the ranking Democrat on the House ethics committee and Gingrich, the mastermind of the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” which gave Republicans control of Congress for the first time in 40 years, was facing complaints over his use of a college course for political purposes. To settle the complaint, Gingrich agreed to pay a $300,000 fine and promised not to publicly minimize, or “spin,” the charge against him.
“That was the genesis of this phone call,” McDermott says, referring to a conference call that Gingrich held in secret with Republican leaders shortly after the settlement. “Essentially, he was encouraging them to figure out how to spin it,” McDermott says—a direct violation of his agreement with the ethics committee….

Gingrich’s secret conference call involved several members of the Republican House leadership, and as it happened, one of those leaders, Boehner, the congressman from Ohio, was driving through Florida at the very moment his colleagues needed him to be on the phone. So Boehner pulled into the parking lot of a Waffle House and joined the conference call on his cell. The date was December 21, 1996.
Not far away, a Florida couple, John and Alice Martin, were messing around with their police radio scanner and happened to pick up the call as the Republicans were talking about how to spin Gingrich’s ethics charge. Being Democrats who followed politics, they realized whom they were hearing and decided to make a tape for posterity. Then, realizing what they had heard, they decided to tell their congresswoman, Karen L. Thurman. She, in turn, encouraged them to give the tape to McDermott because of his position on the ethics committee .
What the Martins had done—recording a private cell-phone conversation and distributing it to others—was illegal. (Indeed, they were later prosecuted by the Justice Department, pleaded guilty to intercepting private electronic communications, and paid a $500 fine.) But the Martins’ illegal behavior had produced information that was of public importance: a recording of congressmen plotting to get around an agreement with the House ethics committee. To get it out to the public, they turned to their representatives in Congress, and in that sense, this was not all that different a scenario than the common one in which a whistleblower, in violation of the law, makes a copy of a secret government or corporate record and then provides that record to another person, often a journalist, who has the power to make sure the document is widely read.
“I felt people ought to know right now,” McDermott says, explaining why he did what he did next, which was leak the tape to the New York Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The story of the tape, which hit the front page of the New York Times on January 10, 1997, proved to be a political sensation, and when it came out that McDermott was behind the leak, Republicans reacted with fury. McDermott, however, believed he had a First Amendment right to leak the contents of the tape, just like the journalists who wrote about it had a right to quote from it; none of them, after all, had participated in the illegal behavior that led to the creation of the tape in the first place. …. Boehner decided, in March of 1998, to file a civil suit against McDermott seeking $10,000 in damages for the disclosure of his private phone call.
It was the first time one congressman had sued another in civil court, and it marked the beginning of a draining legal fight that has gone up and down the federal court system for the last eight years, costing each side well over half a million dollars.

There is more to the story of course. Sanders noted that many members of the news media sided with McDermott regarding the first amendment issues. Sanders goes on to cite a similar case the Supreme Court decided.

“…the Supreme Court’s ruling in a similar 2001 case that, just like McDermott’s, involved a damning audiotape that had been made by illegally intercepting a cell-phone conversation. That tape was passed on anonymously to a Pennsylvania radio station, which then broadcast the recording. In its ruling, a majority of the Supreme Court sided with the radio station, writing: “It would be quite remarkable to hold that speech by a law-abiding possessor of information can be suppressed in order to deter conduct by a non-law-abiding third party.”

The PI headline reads McDermott loses appeal, and must pay lawmaker I think this is the wrong headline. A more accurate one would be someting like “Jim McDermott Denied Hearing before Supreme Court because he Belongs to the Wrong Political Party” or ” Supreme Court Sides with Appeals Court Against First Amendment Rights” or Supreme Court Supports Secrecy over Public’s Right to Know”

You can read more about the case and McDermott’s legal arguments by going to “The Jim McDermott Legal Expense Trust” There is also a link here that will allow you to make a contribution to help pay McDermott’s legal fees incurred in his First Amendment defense.