This month an unnamed private family foundation, apparently concerned with the integrity of elections, paid for 145 billboards in Ohio and Wisconsin. The boards featured a picture of a judge’s gavel and a simple message: “Voter Fraud Is a Felony — up to 3½ years and a $10,000 fine.” That’s it.
But liberal activist groups went into frenzy mode, claiming the billboards were part of a voter-suppression scheme. Beginning this week, the billboards’ owner, Clear Channel, will start to remove the signs. For a few days, Clear Channel had withstood the pressure, claiming it didn’t have the right to censor political speech. Then it claimed it “made a mistake” by signing a written contract to rent the billboards without forcing the sponsor to identify itself. Then it knuckled under completely by saying it would insist the sponsor either reveal itself — thus shifting all the protests and intimidation toward the sponsor — or remove the billboards. The sponsor declined to become a piñata, so the message will disappear. As penance, Clear Channel will donate ten signs of its own in the Cleveland area that read “Voting Is a Right. Not a Crime!”
This country has a long tradition of free speech and anonymous political commentary, starting with the Federalist Papers. How have we reached a point where political speech can be so muzzled?