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Friday, July 8, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Editorial

In support of free speech, and KVI

Judge Christopher Wickham of Thurston County Superior Court trod dangerously on the First Amendment last week.

He ruled that Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson of KVI Radio had pushed the gas-tax rollback initiative so zealously on the air that it amounted to advertising. Therefore, he ruled, the campaign had to report their support as a political contribution.

The campaign duly estimated the value of Wilbur's and Carlson's support at $10,000 each for the month of May, and reported it to the government.

See what is being done here. The judge is following a simple syllogism:

All political contributions may be regulated;

Speech is a political contribution;

Therefore, speech may be regulated.

A supporter of the ruling might say the regulation only requires disclosure, and that the people have a right to know about the activities of Wilbur and Carlson (even though the people can find out by tuning in to KVI-AM). But the government's assertion of power implies more than disclosure.

Though state law sets no spending limits on initiative campaigns, it does set a limit of $1,375 per contributor to state election campaigns. Suppose, then, that Dino Rossi ran for governor again, that Wilbur and Carlson strongly supported him, and that the Rossi campaign were required to report it as a $20,000 in-kind contribution by Fisher Broadcasting.

In that case, Fisher would have violated the law. And how? By speaking on political topics during an election campaign.

Two years ago, when the federal campaign-finance law reached the U.S. Supreme Court, dissenting justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas warned that something like this would happen. We doubted it; it seemed clear to us that the law applied to ads, not editorial content. We thought Thomas was over the top when he said campaign-finance law was leading toward "outright regulation of the press."

Judge Wickham has made a step toward just that. It is a dangerous, unconstitutional ruling. The losers need to appeal it and the appellate courts need to reverse it.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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