Georgia House Republicans have hijacked a Senate bill dealing with ethics fines for elected officials and candidates by adding provisions that would allow for unlimited contributions to party caucuses while placing new restrictions on paid issue advocacy within 180 days of an election.
When it was introduced in February, SB 127 was a fairly mundane, three-page piece of legislation dealing with outstanding ethics fines for elected officials and candidates running for office. A substitute version of the bill passed the state Senate last month with little opposition.
Members of the House Rules Committee, however, had other plans for the bill. They’ve pushed a substitute version through the committee that could have startling ramifications for free speech.
Section 19 (p. 13-14, lines 426-469) of the latest version of SB 127, which is now in conference for representatives from both chambers to work out their differences, appears to place new restrictions on paid issue advocacy communications in print, by phone or on the Internet (blog posts, online ads, etc.) within 180 days of an election. (It’s worth noting that the Senate Ethics Committee included this language in HB 370.)
The onerous bill was approved by the House on Tuesday with little opposition.
If an organization wants to criticize a legislator on a policy issue within 180 days of voters heading to the polls, say, for “voting for a massive transportation tax increase” or even praise them for “taking a step to solve traffic congestion in Georgia,” they may fall subject to disclosure reporting requirements.
These communications aren’t express election advocacy, but rather education on where a lawmaker may stand on a specific individual issue — be it “religious liberty,” taxes, the minimum wage, and so on — or a set of issues. Obviously, it’s meant discourage local and national organizations from getting involved in races through issue advocacy in which elected officials may have primary challengers.
Issue advocacy communications have long been criticized by the political left. The New York Times’ editorial board, last year, penned a screed in which it blamed the 2010 Citizens United decision for such ads and backed an attempt by the Internal Revenue Service to place severe restrictions on nonprofits that run them and produce other educational information, such as congressional scorecards.
Though it backed down, the IRS recently announced that it is considering a new, similar regulatory proposal that could negatively impact issue advocacy by nonprofits. Basically, the targeting that nonprofits were subject to by the powerful tax collection agency would be institutionalized under these regulations.
Interestingly, Section 21 (p. 15, lines 509-513) of SB 127 also includes language that would allow a “party caucus of the House of Representatives or the Senate” to receive contributions over the maximum contribution limit.
So while the House Republican Caucus would be lying on a pile of cash like Huell from Breaking Bad to defend incumbents or defeat those, including some from their own party, they don’t like, organizations looking to provide issue-based information to Georgia residents may be necessarily discouraged to engage because of SB 127.
What a way to end a session.
Disclosure: Jason is the Director of Messaging and Director of Justice Reform at FreedomWorks. This post was researched and written on his personal time and would have been written regardless of where he works. Because free speech.