Thursday, April 2, 2015

Georgia Legislature and The First Amendment

UPDATE: The bill was defeated at the last minute on Sine Die.

Statement of Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, on Georgia SB 127: "Politicians of both parties in the Georgia Legislature are conspiring to trample on the First Amendment, and it will be a sad day for liberty if this measure passes.

It’s rare when politicians reach across the aisle; they’ve done so in Georgia, though, in hopes of treating grassroots activists the same way Lois Lerner and the Obama IRS have. They seek to intimidate concerned citizens and insulate themselves from accountability, and they’re doing it in a cowardly way, on the last day of the legislative session.

They should know that we are watching.

This bill is a travesty, and an arrogant, brazen assault on the First Amendment. All freedom-loving Georgians should oppose this legislation."

Conservative Coalition Opposes Georgia SB127's Restrictions

April 2, 2015


Dear Legislative Conferees and Governor Nathan Deal,  

We, the undersigned organizations, have grave concerns about the House substitute to Senate Bill 127, state ethics and elections rules. As amended, the legislation will have a chilling effect on free speech in Georgia by restricting the ability of nonprofit organizations to engage in public debates and political discourse.

In the waning hours of the Georgia General Assembly, there have been several concerning  developments, but none more concerning than Senate Bill 127’s tortured substitutions and   parliamentary maneuvers. If passed, Section 19 of SB 127 will profoundly redefine the ability of advocacy groups in Georgia to communicate with the voting public during the electoral process. SB 127 now is remarkably similar to recent legislation pushed by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Washington, D.C. designed to silence advocacy groups from educating the voting public. Fortunately, it didn’t pass at the federal level.

The restrictions on “paid issue advocacy” outlined in SB 127 exist nowhere else in the nation. In expanding the definition of “communications” nonprofits can employ to educate the public on their position on a wide range of issues, this bill seeks to restrict civic engagement from organizations across the political spectrum.

This legislation adds blog posts, opinion editorials, letters to the editor, legislative scorecards, emails and other correspondence to a list of communications subjected to restrictions within 180 days of elections in Georgia. That extended period of time essentially restricts nonprofits from expressing their First Amendment rights from January to November in any election year without the threat of demands to disclose the members and donors of organizations who participate in public dialogues.

The 1958 Supreme Court case of NAACP v. Alabama put a stop to this type of onerous legislative restriction on free speech and free association. The Court’s decision to provide for “immunity from state scrutiny” for organizations like the NAACP at the time guaranteed an important protection on First Amendment rights. The case protected members of organizations from intimidation and harassment. The 2010 case of Citizens United v. FEC further restored free-speech protections for non-profit organizations. 

SB 127 would tear down those constitutionally protected rights, for individuals and organizations. 

If this bill is signed into law, Georgia would restrict free speech and association more so than any other state in the nation. SB 127 stands to hurt not only the organizations who participate in public discourse but the voters, taxpayers, and residents of Georgia who will no longer be entitled to know where elected officials truly stand on important public policy issues. 

The clandestine and confusing efforts to advance SB 127 not only make for bad public policy, but are seen by members of impacted organizations as a legislative weapon intended to silence dissenting voices.

We strongly urge you to correct or defeat SB 127 and any other effort to promote similarly heavy-handed public policy.


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