Washington Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Free Speech
ARLINGTON, VA – The Washington Supreme Court unanimously upheld the freedom of the press with its decision today in San Juan County v No New Gas Tax. The case was being watched closely by free speech advocates nationwide.
“The First Amendment can breathe a sigh of relief today,” said former chair of the Federal Election Commission and Center for Competitive Politics chairman Bradley Smith. “The Court wisely decided that government cannot prohibit the media from participating in public debate.”
In 2005, the state of Washington passed a gasoline tax that would increase the state’s gas tax by 9.5 cents per gallon over four years. In response, opponents formed a political committee ” NoNewGasTax.com” (“NNGT”) to organize an initiative petition (I-912) that would repeal the tax.
KVI 570 radio hosts Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson soon began publicizing NNGT’s efforts on their talk show. The radio hosts had no official connection with NNGT and regularly had proponents of the gas tax on their show. Nonetheless, San Juan County, and the cities of Kent, Seattle, and Auburn filed a complaint charging that KVI 570 violated state campaign finance laws.
The plaintiffs argued that radio hosts’ discussion of the issue constituted “in-kind contributions” to NNGT and were thus subject to regulation. The trial court sided with the plaintiffs and NNGT appealed to the Washington Supreme Court. The Center for Competitive Politics filed an amicus brief in support of NNGT.
“Its frightening that this case had to be heard at all,” Smith said. “This was clearly an attempt by local governments to silence critics of the gas tax.”
The Court’s opinion strongly supports the media’s right to offer commentary on all issues of importance to the public. All nine justices agreed that, under Washington law, as long as a newspaper, radio station, or television station isn’t controlled by a candidate or political committee the government cannot regulate its editorial content.
“Thanks to this ruling,” Smith said, “News and opinion outlets can continue doing what they are supposed to do: engaging the public in debate; without fear of big brother.”
The Center for Competitive Politics is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that advocates for a robust interpretation of First Amendment rights.