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SC Senate President Wants To Regulate Political Speech




We knew influential S.C. Senate president Hugh Leatherman wanted to shut down dissent within his own chamber … we didn’t know he wanted to extend the silent treatment into the broader marketplace of political ideas.

The uber-liberal Leatherman – by far and away the most powerful figure in South Carolina politics – has introduced legislation aimed at imposing far-reaching regulations on all manner of political speech in the Palmetto State.

Leatherman’s bill – S. 255 – was filed earlier this week and referred to the Senate’s judiciary committee, which is chaired by another “former” Democrat, S.C. Senator Luke Rankin.

The legislation calls for a host of new definitions and reporting requirements – beginning with the establishment of new definitions and rules for so-called “independent expenditure committees.”

According to Leatherman, such committees would be defined as “two or more individuals, or a person other than an individual who is not organized or operating for the primary purpose of supporting or opposing candidates or ballot measures or influencing the outcome of an election, that engages in election communications in excess of five hundred dollars during an election cycle.”

So yeah … the law would apply to pretty much anybody seeking to weigh in on a political race.  Or any public policy issue for that matter.

“Election communications” are subsequently defined in Leatherman’s bill as messages intended “to support or oppose a clearly identified candidate or ballot measure, or to influence the outcome of an election.”

Such communications are enumerated in the bill as follows …

(a)    a paid advertisement broadcast over radio, television, cable, or satellite;

(b)    a paid placement of content on the internet or other electronic communication network,

(c)    a paid advertisement published in a newspaper, in a periodical, or on a billboard; or

(d)    a mailing or other printed materials

Anyone engaging in such communications would be required to file quarterly reports with the S.C. State Ethics Commission (SCSEC) – reports disclosing their “committee’s” contributions, donors, expenditures, employees, vendors and “any other information required by the State Ethics Commission necessary to fully disclose the disposition of funds.”

Sensing that his bill may run into constitutional problems – like previous South Carolina laws that unduly targeted political speech – Leatherman included language intended to preemptively address such challenges.

“If any section, subsection, paragraph, subparagraph, sentence, clause, phrase, or word of this act is for any reason held to be unconstitutional or invalid, such holding shall not affect the constitutionality or validity of the remaining portions of this act,” his bill states.

In other words he knows free speech advocates will fight tooth and nail against this measure … as they should.

(Click to view)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Leatherman’s bill is a constitutionally dubious attack on political speech.  It’s not “campaign finance reform.” It’s not “transparency.  It’s not “ethics reform.”

Its purpose is simple: To suppress criticism of public officials by giving them the tools they need to retaliate against their critics.

In fact, it’s sort of like trying to get a reporter to rat out their sources, if you think about it …

We understand that there are legitimate concerns about the dangers of so-called “dark money” in politics, but isn’t it far more dangerous to rig the public discourse in favor of powerful officeholders like Leatherman?

Yes … which is why we staunchly oppose this bill and will support any constitutional challenges to its legitimacy in the event it passes the S.C. General Assembly this session.

(Banner via Travis Bell Photography)