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First Amendment Under Attack- Again

Two talk-show hosts – Kirby Wilbur [pictured] and John Carlson of KVI-AM in Washington state are in hot water for taking up the citizens’ right to protest a state gasoline tax. Here’s how this atrocious story of government intervention is unfolding.

Washington- The First Amendment is under attack in Washington state. A judge there has ruled that two talk-radio hosts must report as campaign “contributions” the hours they’ve spent on air talking up an anti-gas-tax initiative.

It’s a chilling view of the world the campaign-finance-reform lobby has been busy building: one where anything of value – whether it be cash, office space, postings on personal Web sites, chat on talk-radio shows or even newspaper articles – is potentially subject to government regulation.

If campaign-finance-reform advocates nationwide really care – as they claim to – about protecting free speech, they’ll take a close look at what’s being done in their name in the Evergreen State.

What’s happened is this:

Back in April, the state’s Legislature passed a 9.5-cent-a-gallon hike in the state’s gasoline tax, which would give Washington the highest gas tax in the nation. A grassroots group, No New Gas Tax, sprang up to support a ballot initiative to repeal the tax hike – I-912.

Two talk-show hosts – Kirby Wilbur [pictured] and John Carlson of KVI-AM, a Fox News affiliate based in Seattle – took up the outraged citizens’ cause. (Fox News is owned by The Post’s parent corporation, News Corp.)

But they were a little too effective.

When the talk jocks’ on-air efforts started driving signature-gathering and fund-raising, the main pro-gas tax group, Keep Washington Rolling, used its connections to send the government after its opponents.

A law firm affiliated with Keep Washington Rolling convinced a county prosecutor to go after No New Gas Tax for not reporting Wilbur and Carlson’s flogging for I-912 on their disclosure forms filed with the state.

The idea was clearly to intimidate the radio station into being quiet.

Nevertheless, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Wickham ruled that the radio time was a contribution that had to be disclosed. The time only had to be disclosed and assigned a value under state law, the judge argued. Nothing was being restricted, he claimed.

But that’s nonsense.

Once something is ruled a contribution, it can be regulated to no end by the state under the logic of campaign-finance reform.

Luckily, someone is fighting back.

Determined to drive the point home, the head of No New Gas Tax, Brett Bader, decided not just to disclose the broadcasts on KVI-AM, but to list all of the news coverage I-912 has received statewide – since all of it arguably benefited the initiative campaign.

In a recent campaign filing, he lists articles from the Seattle Times ($1,500) and Seattle Post-Intelligencer ($1,000), airtime on local KIRO TV ($2,500) and even a dispatch from the Associated Press ($1,500) as in-kind contributions.

Yes, it’s a stunt.

But it’s a stunt that gets right at the heart of how ludicrous the logic of Judge Wickham – and, in fact, that of the entire campaign-finance-reform movement – really is.

If this incident isn’t enough to wake up those who’ve always assumed that the media would be spared from McCain-Feingold mania – well, perhaps nothing is.



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