- - Sunday, January 11, 2015

In the time leading up to the Battles of Lexington and Concord, American patriots had, for almost a decade, gathered near the Boston Common in the shade of a majestic elm tree to share their grievances about the king’s government.

Those patriots eventually took for themselves the name “Sons of Liberty” and their gathering place became known as the Liberty Tree until 1775. Then, with Boston under siege by the British, a party of crown loyalists (reportedly led by a man named Job Williams) cut down the Liberty Tree and turned it into firewood so the patriots could gather there no more.

It might not be too far off the mark to suggest that Williams’ spirit of removing a public gathering place for citizen dissent is alive and well in Washington today in the person of Ann Ravel, the new chairman of the Federal Election Commission. Just as Williams felled the Liberty Tree to frustrate debate, Ms. Ravel wants to bring the political discourse of freedom-loving Americans under her agency’s heavy-lidded purview with an eye to cutting it off.

To hear Ms. Ravel tell it, political speech in cyberspace is unduly influenced by “dark” forces that use blogs, news sites, video uplinks and information exchanges to “pollute” the political atmosphere and poison minds with too much communication. Or, to look at it from the standpoint of those not part of the liberal establishment consensus, to speak truth to power.

While serving as chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, Ms. Ravel led an effort to enact a regulatory regime that would have eventually forced blogs and other online commentators to go silent. In her mind, this was, as she and others believe, a necessary step to bring campaigns and the free flow of information in line with the new technologies campaigns and advocates have adopted in the age of the World Wide Web — most of which lie outside the ability of the FEC or any other agency, state or federal, to regulate, monitor or influence.

All this has come to a head once again because of the unshackling of citizen political speech via recent decisions by the United States Supreme Court in the Citizens United and McCutcheon cases. Both decisions dramatically expanded the concept of what constitutes free speech in the campaign finance arena — and the court sided with the First Amendment, and expanded free speech rights for citizens.

These decisions have not gone over well with the liberals in Congress, the legal profession, the Obama administration and the media — all of whom view with suspicion the participation of ordinary citizens in the political process.

Under the current FEC regulations, political advertising and commentary posted for free on one’s own website or on sites such as YouTube are exempt from regulation by the FEC. Now, however, many FEC watchers, including some of Ms. Ravel’s FEC colleagues, fear she is intent upon changing the current “hands off the Internet” approach the FEC adopted more than a decade ago.

Ms. Ravel appears to be moving to appropriate an upcoming rule-making initiated to bring the FEC regulations into compliance with the court’s decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon and to use that rule-making as an opportunity to revisit and alter the current FEC nonregulation of the Internet. She has stated publicly that political free speech is unacceptable. The “Commission has turned a blind eye to the Internet’s growing force in the political arena,” she said, as if free and open online debate is some ominous force requiring stern measures to correct.

The opportunities for mischief and permanent damage to freedom of speech in the political arena are endless — and alarming. What Ms. Ravel proposes might go beyond the practice of posting political ads and videos on YouTube and result in regulation of all Internet-based communications.

Advocates of the kind of political gag rule Ms. Ravel would seemingly impose would be subject to court challenges over many election cycles and with so many Obama appointees in federal judgeships nationwide, who knows whether the First Amendment would ultimately prevail?

We, who are in many ways the direct descendants of the Sons of Liberty, who carried out the tea party from which we get our movement’s name and who believe that freedom really works — must be on guard to prevent those who attack freedom and liberty from carrying the day.

It is foolish to believe, as Ms. Ravel and others may, that the protections guaranteed us all in the First Amendment to the Constitution — “Congress shall make no law …” — are not applicable to independent agencies of the federal government. Both Tea Party Patriots and FreedomWorks have created Web portals for the purpose of sharing views on the regulation of the Internet by the FEC. Federal agencies are required to review public comments on proposed regulations — with quantity counting just as much as quality.

The members of the Federal Election Commission need to hear from you.

It is critical that we all make our voices heard and stand up to this latest attempt at government intrusion into our personal freedoms. The Bill of Rights is worthy of protection, even if President Obama’s liberal allies on the FEC want to trample on it. Make an official comment against any new government intrusion at Fec.gov. It takes a few minutes, but it’s worth it. Speech-stifling power grabs such as this get shut down all the time, but only when we speak out and let them know we are watching.

Let your voice be heard by Jan. 15. Stop this wrong thinking in its tracks in memory of the Sons of Liberty — and the Liberty Tree.

Jenny Beth Martin is co-founder of Tea Party Patriots. Matt Kibbe is president and CEO of FreedomWorks.

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