If you allow one in, you have to let everyone in. And if you ban one, you have to ban everyone.
That’s not only an issue of fairness when it comes to fundraising efforts on public property, it’s also an issue of constitutionality.
A Republican town councilman up for re-election in Malta, Tim Dunn, reportedly is seeking to have the town code changed to ban political fundraising on town property.
The move, according to the Times Union, was inspired by the local Democratic Party tradition of selling hot dogs and hamburgers at the town’s annual Community Day celebration.
Yes, we’re all kind of tired of being inundated with politics everywhere we go, whether it be signs by the side of the road or phone calls or flyers in the mail.
But is a government ban on political speech the right way to provide relief?
Even if Dunn is, as he says, seeking the ban purely to remove the scourge of fund-raising from fun community events —and not to discourage his political opponents from raising money — he’s treading on shaky ground.
In terms of fairness, how does one determine which groups are allowed to express themselves at community events and which are not? Political activity can be interpreted in many ways.
If you say Democrats and Republicans can’t raise funds, what about other groups whose function is related to politics? Would the town, for instance, prohibit the Sheriff’s Department from raising money for bullet-proof vests?
And all things being equal, what’s the difference between a legitimate political party raising money for its activities and the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts doing it?
Then there’s the matter of the constitutional guarantee of free speech that comes into play whenever a government body wants to suppress someone’s right to express themselves.
A similar issue is going on right now in the Connecticut town of Wilton, where the Board of Selectmen is considering banning the placement of political signs on town-owned rights of way.
The town attorney there advised the selectmen that “any local efforts to regulate the content of a sign — so-called ‘content-based’ regulations — are not likely to be constitutionally allowed.
“Signs are a form of speech protected by the First Amendment,” he wrote.
If political signs are a form of protected speech, wouldn’t fundraising and campaigning likely to be as well?
One solution proposed in Wilton, Conn., is that the political parties get together and reach an agreement not to advertise or raise funds on town property. Could that work in Malta?
Frankly, this whole ban probably isn’t a can of worms the town wants to open.
It simply raises too many questions about fairness and constitutionality to be worth the problems it would create.