Judge Christopher Wickham of Thurston County Superior Court set the stage for a First Amendment showdown last summer in a ruling regarding Fisher Communications' KVI-AM radio station. This week, he avoided the showdown by not carrying his ruling to its logical conclusion.
Fisher can broadcast freely. Unfortunately, the precedent still stands.
Under our federal and state constitutions, political speech cannot be regulated by the government. But Americans have decided to regulate gifts of money and things to political campaigns, on the theory that money is not speech. But some things are both, which means drawing a line.
The line has been drawn at advertising. Paid speech can be regulated — not by what it says, but by limiting the money available to buy it. Unpaid speech cannot be regulated.
Then came Initiative 912 to roll back the gas tax. The governments of San Juan County and the cities of Seattle, Kent and Auburn — governments in the two most liberal counties in the state — argued in court that two conservatives, John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur, were using talk-show time to campaign for I-912.
Judge Wickham ruled that the shows were "in-kind contributions" of advertising, subject to government regulation under the campaign-finance law.
The shows were on air time that was not for sale. They were not advertising. That they sounded like advertising was immaterial; political speech may sound like a lot of things. KVI's shows were (and are) the political speech of Fisher Communications, and are protected by a law that trumps any campaign-finance regulation.
This is not a matter of being for or against I-912. We do not support I-912. We hope it fails.
What we support is Fisher Communications' right to run its radio station. We do not want judges, or officials of the Public Disclosure Commission, deciding what portion of the editorial content of radio shows, TV programs or newspapers is not "really" protected by the Bill of Rights. It is all protected.
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company