Judge’s Unconstitutional Ruling Troubling: Calls Facebook Post a Campaign Contribution

Judge’s Unconstitutional Ruling Troubling: Calls Facebook Post a Campaign Contribution

This ruling cannot be allowed to stand. It sets a ground breaking, unconstitutional precedent. A state judge in Colorado has ruled that a Facebook post by a school amounts to an illegal campaign contribution to a candidate. If allowed to stand, this could have a very chilling effect on freedom of speech in politics. It is straight out of Cass Sunstein’s playbook. Basically this will bring forth the Fairness Doctrine once more and the implementation of it will be enforced on web sites… specifically social media, news sites, aggregators and blogs. They are redefining articles as valued in the same vein as monetary contributions to candidates. I believe this was intentional. It was a trial balloon for instituting controls on political free speech.

Bob Schaffer

Bob Schaffer

From the Coloradoan:

A state judge has ruled that a Facebook post by Liberty Common School amounts to an illegal campaign contribution to a Thompson School District board candidate.

In August, the Fort Collins charter school shared with its Facebook followers a newspaper article about a parent of a student running for a board seat in the neighboring school district. Liberty Common’s principal, former Colorado Congressman Bob Schaffer, then shared the post and called candidate Tomi Grundvig an “excellent education leader” who would provide “sensible stewardship” of Thompson.

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Liberty Common has 566 followers to its Facebook page. Schaffer, who lost a 2004 bid for U.S. Senate, has more than 3,900 “friends” on his personal page.

Administrative law judge Matthew E. Norwood called the violation “minor,” and ruled that “no government money of any significant amount was spent to make the contribution.” He also focused on the post to the school’s specific page, not Schaffer’s personal page.

“The school’s action was the giving of a thing of value to the candidate, namely favorable publicity,” Norwood wrote in his Oct. 14 ruling, which became public Wednesday. “It was given indirectly to her for the purpose of promoting her election.”

University of Colorado law professor Scott Moss called that point “troubling” for its implications on political speech.

“I don’t buy that under the First Amendment speech about a candidate can be deemed a contribution,” Moss said after reading the ruling. “Is speech valuable? Yes. But that’s not a basis for restricting core political speech.”

Moss called the initial post to the school’s page nonpolitical community news; politics got involved when people shared the post and the judge seemed to ascribe their beliefs to the school, he said.

Moss described the judge’s understanding of social media as having “a Grandpa Simpson element” with “a tone of amazement and befuddlement about social media and opinion.”

“If a neo Nazi shares this article, does that make me a neo Nazi? Of course not,” Moss said.

The judge noted that most of the people who saw Liberty Common School’s post presumably live in the Poudre School District and are unable to vote for Grundvig. Nonetheless, “the posting had the effect of drumming up support for the candidate; the reach of Facebook is very wide.”

Gil Barela, who filed the complaint and is the campaign manager for Grundvig’s rival for the seat, Pam Howard, said he was pleased the judge agreed with his conclusion that the post equaled a campaign contribution by a tax-funded entity. He said the post gave Grundvig an unfair advantage over Howard. He also had harsh words for Schaffer.

“He’s a former congressman. He should know the law and he just took the whole thing lightly,” Barela said. “And that’s fine, if that’s the way he wants to take it. But this is a serious matter as far as I’m concerned, and I believe the person he endorsed had an unfair advantage.”

Schaffer said he found the ruling “preposterous” and echoed many of the points raised by the CU professor, chief among them, that the ruling apparently held his school culpable for other people interacting with its Facebook page.

Barela initially asked that a follow-up post be made to the Liberty Common School’s page clarifying that it does not support any particular candidate, that it list all candidates running in the Thompson School District election and link to articles about them.

The court struck Barela’s requests down and suggested that Liberty Common delete the offending post and let the matter rest.

“Posting such statements and links on the school’s Facebook page will bring about more ‘liking,’ ‘sharing’ and commenting and will further embroil the school in election politics,” Norwood wrote. “The less said on the school’s Facebook page about candidates and elections, the better.”

Schaffer doubts the school will appeal the ruling, though Moss, the professor, thinks they’d have a great chance at success. But, the school has already spent about $2,000 and Schaffer’s and staff’s time to get this far and now faces almost no punishment, he said.

“Even though I think this judge’s decision is unreasonable, and I think probably would be ripe for overturned, given the zero practical consequence, is it worth it?,” Schaffer said. “It’s probably not.”

It most certainly is worth it. It is a political trap. If allowed to remain intact, this ruling could spread from school to school, institution to institution, site to site, city to city and state to state. Social media would be heavily and tightly regulated. That would negate free speech and the First Amendment which is exactly what the Progressives have in mind. The school should appeal this ruling immediately and aggressively. Writing and speech are not the basis for unfair political advantage. But the censorship of such, certainly is. That judge is either complicit, corrupt or has no regard for constitutional law. They will try to make each of us responsible for what others say concerning what we write and who shares it. That’s fascist and totally un-American.

Liberty Common School Facebook complaint

Terresa Monroe-Hamilton

Terresa Monroe-Hamilton is an editor and writer for Right Wing News. She owns and blogs at NoisyRoom.net. She is a Constitutional Conservative and NoisyRoom focuses on political and national issues of interest to the American public. Terresa is the editor at Trevor Loudon's site, New Zeal - trevorloudon.com. She also does research at KeyWiki.org. You can email Terresa here. NoisyRoom can be found on Facebook and on Twitter.

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