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September 21, 2023

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Government transparency comes in many different ways

Meet a resident of Geauga County, Ohio. Toward the end of 2008 he, fed up with politics-as-usual, began a website entitled “Geauga Constitutional Council,” compete with a Jeffersonian quote about constant vigilance being the price of freedom.

For two years, he and a few friends would gather for political discussions. Occasionally, he would sponsor speakers who would discuss public policy issues. Candidates neither appeared nor were endorsed or opposed at these meetings. He would charge a nominal fee to offset his costs.

He and several friends created political pamphlets and distributed them at the local county fair. he spent $40 monthly to maintain his website and a few hundred dollars annually for other expenses.

One of the targets of his website was the chairman of the Geauga County Republican party and a member of the county Board of Elections. After picking up a pamphlet, the chairman spent two months to determine who was behind the Geauga Constitutional Council. When the chairman ascertained the resident’s role, he filed a complaint against him with the Ohio Elections Commission.

During the course of the April 2011 hearing, he asked if he needed to hire an attorney. The Commission Chairman replied, “Yeah, I guess so. I think that it’s very complicated without going to those lengths.”

It turns out that his activities violated Ohio campaign finance laws because he did not register with the Ohio Elections Commission. He took his case through the Ohio court system and lost. The Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear the case. The U.S. Supreme Court has now been requested to hear the case.

However, three major difficulties have emerged. First, the lack of realization that “transparency” in whatever form is not costless. It takes money, time and energy to register, fill out paperwork, disclose, obtain approvals and be subjected to audit.

The second problem is that of “mission creep”— the tendency of bureaucracy to expand its fields of activities into areas where it has no business. Apparently, elections boards share the same characteristics as other bureaucracies. There is an instinctive desire to enlarge their sphere of influence.

The last problem is that, judging from recent Supreme Court decisions, it might even be unconstitutional.

The question has to be asked is: why should he, or anyone for that matter, be required to hire an attorney, register and comply with laws and rules which are arguably unconstitutional?

The Founders never envisioned political speech to be regulated through registration, reports, hearings or an approval process. Our system of government was established to protect our rights. Recall that Jefferson wrote “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men,” in the Declaration of Independence.

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