Last June, I stood here and warned of a grave and growing threat to the First Amendment. That threat has not let up. Our ability to freely engage in civic life and to organize in defense of our beliefs is still under coordinated assault from groups on the Left that don’t like the idea of anyone criticizing their aims, and from a White House that appears determined to shut up anybody who challenges it.
On the outside, there’s a well-documented effort by a number of Left-wing
groups like Media Matters to harass and intimidate conservatives with the goal
of scaring them off the political playing field and off the airwaves.
An internal Media Matters memo from January 2010 showed the extent to which
these tactics have been turned into a science. In it, we learned of the group’s
plan to conduct opposition research into the lives of on-air news personalities
and other key decision makers at Fox News, and to coordinate with 100 or so
partner groups to pressure the network’s advertisers and shareholders, get this,
“by the threat of actual boycotts, rallies, demonstrations, shame, embarrassment
and other tactics on a variety of issues important to the progressive
Its multiple databases could also be used, the memo said, to remove what it
describes as “chronically problematic media figures,” or “to preempt
programming” … altogether.
Then, of course, there’s the widespread
effort to stifle speech from within the government itself, something the Obama
Administration has been engaged in from its earliest days.
Some have traced this back even further, to the 2008 campaign. But my central
point last June, and my central point today, is this: the attacks on speech that
we’ve seen over the past several years were never limited to a few Left-wing
pressure groups or the DISCLOSE Act, which I’ll turn to in a minute. They extend
throughout the federal government, to places like the FEC, the FCC, HHS, the
SEC, and as all Americans now know — even to the IRS. These assaults have often
been aided and abetted by the administration’s allies in Congress. And they’re
as virulent as ever.
As for the IRS, my own concerns trace back to a phone call I got from a
constituent early last year, who said he’d been subjected to excessive
questioning and unreasonable deadlines from the IRS. When similar complaints
followed, I sent a letter to IRS Commissioner Shulman asking for assurances that
there wasn’t any political targeting going on. I said public confidence in the
IRS depended on it. Six weeks later I got a lengthy response from the Deputy
Commissioner, Steven Miller, in which he basically told me “move along, nothing
to see here.”
Well, now we know that wasn’t the case.
Now we know that the IRS was actually engaged in the targeted slow-walking of
applications by conservatives, and others who were, get this, criticizing “how
the country [was] being run.” It overwhelmed them with questions and paperwork,
and in some cases initiated audits on folks that had never been audited
In one case, an IRS agent allegedly demanded that the board members of an
Iowa pro-life group sign a declaration that they wouldn’t picket Planned
Parenthood. Several pro-Israel groups have said that they were singled out by
the IRS for audits after clashing with the administration over its policy on
Then there’s the story of Catherine Engelbrecht.
Catherine says that after applying for tax-exempt status for a
voter-integrity group called True the Vote, she and her husband were visited by
the FBI, the ATF, OSHA, and an affiliate of the EPA. When all was said and done,
OSHA told the Engelbrecht’s they had to cough up $25,000 in fines. The EPA
affiliate demanded they spend $42,000 on new sheds. And three years after
applying for tax-exempt status, True the Vote is still awaiting approval.
The list of stories like these goes on and on. And so now we have an
administration that’s desperately trying to prove that nobody at the top was
involved in any of this stuff, even as they hope that the media loses interest
in this scandal and moves on.
But we can’t move on.
Because as serious as the IRS scandal is, what we’re dealing with here is
larger than the actions of one agency or any group of employees. This
administration has institutionalized the practice of pitting bureaucrats against
the very people they’re supposed to be serving, and it needs to stop.
The good news is, more people are beginning to catch on.
When I warned about all this last year, I got slammed by the usual suspects
on the Left. They said I was full of it. But even some of them now seem to
realize that just because McConnell’s the one pulling the alarm doesn’t mean
there isn’t a fire. The IRS scandal has reminded people of the temptations to
abuse that big government, and its political patrons, are prone to. People are
waking up to a pattern. They’re connecting the dots. And they’re rightly
Looking back, the IRS scandal helps explain a lot of the things this
administration has done. You all remember the President wagging his finger at
the Supreme Court during his 2010 State of the Union address. Well, I assure you
this little piece of presidential theater wasn’t done for the ratings. There was
a good reason the President and his allies devoted so much time and energy to
denouncing the Citizens United case. But it’s not the reason they gave. I
realize this may be shocking to some of the interns in the crowd. But the fact
is, the Court’s decision was actually fairly unremarkable.
All it really said was that, under the First Amendment, every corporation in
America should be free to participate in the political process, not just the
ones that own newspapers and TV stations. In other words, there shouldn’t be a
carve-out when it comes to political speech for folks who own media companies.
It was a good and fair decision aimed at leveling the playing field.
The real reason the Left was so concerned about Citizens United was that they
thought it meant more conservatives would start to form what are known as social
welfare organizations — something they’d been doing, with groups like Planned
Parenthood and the Sierra Club, for years. And what’s notable about social
welfare groups is they don’t have to disclose their donors.
That was the main concern of the President and his allies. They weren’t
interested in the integrity of the process. If they were, they’d have been just
as upset at Left-wing groups for maintaining the privacy of their donors. What
they really wanted was a hook that enabled them to stir up outrage about
conservative groups, so they could get their hands on the names of the folks who
supported them — and then go after them. Citizens United provided that hook.
As a longtime political observer and First Amendment hawk, I knew exactly
what the Democrats were up to with their complaints about this decision. I’ve
seen what the loudest proponents of disclosure have intended in the past, and
it’s not good government. That’s why the FEC has protected the donor lists of
the Socialist Worker’s Party since 1979. That’s also why the Supreme Court told
the State of Alabama it couldn’t force the NAACP to disclose the names and
addresses of its members back in the 1950s.
The President could claim, as he did six months after wagging his finger at
the Supreme Court, that “the only people who don’t want to disclose the truth
are people with something to hide.” But the fact is, there’s a very good and
legitimate reason that courts have protected folks from forced disclosure —
because they know that failing to do so would subject them to harassment.
So the political response to Citizens United, the so-called DISCLOSE Act,
wasn’t really about cleaning up politics: It was about finding a blunt political
weapon to use against one group and one group only: conservatives. Those who
doubt this haven’t been paying attention to the tactics of the Left. They must
not have noticed the stories about top administration officials holding weekly
phone calls with groups like Media Matters. They clearly don’t know their
history. And they must not have noticed the enemies list of conservative donors
on the Obama campaign’s Web site. Or the strategic name-dropping of conservative
targets by the President’s campaign team.
These folks were talking about the Koch Brothers so much last year you’d
think they were running for President. About six months after the President
berated the Supreme Court, he even went so far as to call out Americans for
Prosperity by name. It was like sending a memo to the IRS that said “audit these
All these things together point to a coordinated effort to stifle speech. And
that’s why one of the most enduring lessons from the IRS scandal comes from the
Based on the IG report, we now know that a team of IRS specialists was tasked
with isolating conservatives for scrutiny as early as March 2010. What matters
isn’t whether they were doing it in Washington or Cincinnati — or Duluth, for
that matter. What really matters is that it coincided with a very public
campaign by the President, and a small army of Left-wing allies in and out of
government, to vilify anyone who had recently formed a group around conservative
What happened before this targeting began is just as important as what
What matters here was the atmosphere; what matters is the culture of
intimidation this President and his allies created around any person or group
that spoke up for conservatism — or against the direction the President and his
administration wanted to take us.
The so-called “special interests,” he said, would “flood” the political
process, with money that might be coming from “foreign entities.” “The problem”,
he said, “is nobody knows” who’s behind these groups. They were “shadowy.” They
might even be “foreign controlled”. These were the kinds of unsubstantiated
claims the President and his allies trafficked in from early 2010 right up
through the election, and they were just as reckless and preposterous as Harry
Reid saying Mitt Romney hadn’t paid his taxes in 10 years. They may have been
wrapped in the appealing rhetoric of disclosure, but make no mistake: the goal
was to win at any cost, and that meant shutting up their opponents in any way
they could. So, no, I don’t believe that the President ever actually picked up a
phone and told someone over at the IRS to slow-walk those applications or audit
anybody. But the truth is, he didn’t have to. The message was clear enough.
But if the message was clear, the medium was also perfectly suited to the
The federal bureaucracy, and in particular the growth of public
sector unions, has created an inherent and undeniable tension between those who
believe in limited self-government and those who stand to benefit from its
growth. Let’s face it, when elected leaders and union bosses tell the folks who
work at these agencies that they should view half the people they’re supposed to
be serving as a threat to democracy, it shouldn’t surprise any of us that they
would. Why would we even expect a public employee — whose union more or less
exists to grow the government — to treat someone who opposes that goal to a fair
hearing? When the head of the union that represents unionized IRS workers
publicly vilifies the Tea Party, is it any wonder that members of her union
would get caught targeting them?
This is something liberals used to worry about.
FDR himself was horrified at the idea of public workers conspiring with
lawmakers over how to divide up the taxpayer pie. To him, it was completely
incompatible with public service for the public to be cut out of a negotiation
in which the two sides are bartering over their money. Even the first president
of the AFL-CIO once said it was impossible to bargain collectively with the
government. Yet that’s exactly what we have today. Over the past several
decades, the same public employees who’ve arrogated vast powers to themselves
have conspired with their patrons in Congress to expand those powers even more,
and to endlessly increase the budgets that finance them. This isn’t done in the
interest of serving taxpayers; it’s done in the interest of fleecing them.
Because that’s what happens when politicians start competing for the support of
public-sector unions – they stop serving the interests of the people who elected
them and start serving the interests of a government they’re supposed to be
keeping in check.
There’s no better illustration of this than the news this week that in the
midst of congressional hearings into their activities, unionized employees at
the IRS are about to get $70 million in bonuses. The IRS union is thumbing its
nose at the American people. It’s telling them in the clearest terms possible
that it doesn’t care about this scandal, or how well government works, or how
well it’s serving the public. All it cares about is helping union workers get
theirs. It’s pure arrogance, and it reflects a sense of entitlement better
suited to an aristocracy than to a nation of constitutional self-government. So
it’s increasingly appropriate to ask whose interests these public sector unions
have in mind — the taxpayers’, or their own. And on this question, I’m with
Jonah Goldberg: public sector unions are a 50-year mistake.
Years ago, I saw the dangerous potential for collusion between lawmakers and
public employee unions when I served as County Executive of Jefferson County,
Kentucky. And I fought hard against the formation of public sector unions. At
the time, there was bipartisan agreement on this issue. Most people realized it
wasn’t in the public interest. But unfortunately the appeal of union support
proved too great for some, and shortly after I was elected to the Senate, the
dam of resistance broke, ushering in the same destructive arrangement that’s
been gutting the finances of other cities across the country.
The existence of public-employee unions is without question a big part of the
reason people have so little trust in government these days. They are the reason
so many state and local municipalities are flat broke. They’re behind the
unsustainable expansion of public pensions. They’re a major problem, and today
I’m calling for a serious national debate about them.
On the federal level, the first thing we should do is stop the automatic
transfer of union dues from employee salaries at the taxpayer’s expense. If the
unions want their dues, it should be incumbent on them, not us, to pay for
So the assault on free speech continues, and it’s clearly an uphill battle,
but if we’re alert to the tactics of the Left, and take these assaults one by
one, I’m confident we’ll beat them back.
Let me give you a couple final examples of what I’m talking about. Right now,
there’s an effort over at the FCC to get groups that buy campaign ads to
disclose their supporters. This is utterly irrelevant to the mission of the FCC.
We need to say so. The SEC is under pressure right now to force publicly-traded
companies into disclosing all their political spending, even though it has no
core interest in knowing what political causes companies support. This proposal
doesn’t protect shareholders, and it doesn’t lead to better corporate
governance. We need to call this stuff out.
For the Left, this isn’t about good government or corporate governance, it’s
about winning at all costs – even if that means shredding the First
And that’s why we need to be vigilant about every one of these assaults. They
may seem small and isolated in the particular, but together they reflect a
culture of intimidation that extends throughout the government — a culture
abetted by a bureaucracy that stands to benefit from it.
The moment a gang of U.S. Senators started writing letters last year
demanding the IRS step in and force more disclosure upon conservative groups, we
all should have cried foul.
The moment the White House proposed a draft order requiring applicants for
government contracts to disclose their political affiliations, we all should
have called them out.
When the HHS Secretary told insurance companies they couldn’t tell their
customers how Obamacare would impact them, we all should have pulled the
And as soon as we realized that Left-wing groups were manufacturing a public
outcry for corporate disclosure at the SEC, we should have exposed it for what
There might be some folks out there waiting for a hand-signed memo from
President Obama to Lois Lerner to turn up. What I’m saying is that a coordinated
campaign to use the levers of government to target conservatives and stifle
speech has been in full swing and open view for years. It’s been carried out by
the same people who say there’s nothing more to the DISCLOSE Act than
transparency, and no more to other disclosure regulations than good
But the IRS scandal puts the lie to all this posturing.
Because now we know what happens when government gets its hands on this kind
of information, when it’s able to isolate its opponents. And whether you’re a
pro-Israel group, or a Tea Party organization in Louisville, they can make your
life miserable. Even worse for democracy, they can force you off the political
playing field …which is really what they want, and precisely what we cannot
allow. There are a lot of important questions that remain to be answered about
the IRS scandal. But let’s not lose sight of the larger scandal that’s been
right in front of us for five years: a sitting president who simply refuses to
accept the fact that the public isn’t going to applaud everything he does.
So my plea to you today is that you call out these attacks on the First
Amendment whenever you see them, regardless of the target. Because the right to
free speech doesn’t exist to protect what’s popular. It exists to protect what’s
unpopular. And the moment we forget that is the moment we’re all at risk. If
liberals can’t compete on a level playing field, they should think up better
arguments. But until they do, we need to be vigilant, and fight every assault on
the First Amendment with everything we’ve got.
The only way to beat a bully is to fight back. So be wise to the ways of the
Left, and never give an inch when it comes to free speech.
Monday, June 24, 2013
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Brilliant) made a great point on Fox yesterday about the sheer size of the immigration bill: why does the Senate persist in filing these enormous bills? Whether it's immigration or Obamacare, no bill should be 1,000 pages. The sheer size destroys transparency.
There might be a few senators who will read a bill that large, but very, very few. And they shouldn't have to.
As with Obamacare, why not start with something discrete and capable of wielding a broad consensus, even unanimity. Health care reform should have started with the issue of the need for Americans with preexisting condition to obtain health insurance. Despite the MSM's obfuscation on the point, I am aware of no Republican who opposes providing health insurance to those who have preexisting conditions.
Likewise, with immigration, there should be unanimity on the need to secure the boarder. So start with a narrow piece of legislation that accomplishes just that. Then move on to something else. At the very least, it would force anyone who truly does oppose securing the boarder to go on the record with a vote that so states.
If the Congress picked the low-hanging fruit of those problems for which the solution is obvious, than at least something would get done. Save the divisiveness for those issues that are more complex, more intractable.
Friday, June 21, 2013
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has spent his career defending the First Amendment. I had forgotten, however, that last June he warned of the Obama administration's efforts to stifle speech on the right, and particularly to misuse governmental policy to target conservative groups and individuals. In short, McConnell warned us of the thuggery we now know as the IRS scandal, an entire year before the scandal broke.
McConnell did this in his speech last June at the American Enterprise Institute. Today, he returned to that topic with another blockbuster speech at AEI. McConnell points out that Obama did not need to call up the IRS Commissioner and order the targeting of conservative groups; Obama and his progressive allies have been very public and very clear about the need to silence "shadowy" conservative groups.
McConnell puts Citizens United into historical context. He's correct: the decision fits comfortably within established First Amendment case law -- such as not forcing the NAACP to disclose its membership.
Further, McConnell notes the destructive effect of government unions and calls for a national debate on the issue. Again, he's right: government unions have been a 50 year mistake that has contributed to the unrestrained growth of government, a deficit that forces to destroy us, and a culture of arrogant corruption that the IRS scandal exemplifies.
I was going to excerpt McConnell's speech. But it is just too good for that. Read the whole thing:
Saturday, June 15, 2013
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (TN), the former Education Secretary, delivers today's Republican Address, discussing, appropriately enough, education. The Democrats are blocking Republican legislation for low student loan interest rates--a subject near and dear to those of us living the college dream, or still paying for it in seeming perpetuity. Click here for the video.
Posted by G. Morris at 9:39 AM