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WASHINGTON TIMES: DAVID BOSSIE: Meet Josh Hawley, the Senate’s new John McCain

In 2002, when President George W. Bush signed the McCain-Feingold Act into law, establishment politicians on both sides of the aisle praised the measure under the guise of so-called campaign finance reform and getting money out of politics. At the time, few considered — or seemed to care — whether the new law was a violation of the First Amendment and free speech rights.

A few years later, after being told that I could be thrown in jail if I ran advertisements for Citizens United’s new documentary, “Hillary: The Movie,” I filed a lawsuit in federal court because I believed that the U.S. government was trampling on my God-given right to speak in the political arena. In 2010, Citizens United prevailed in the Supreme Court because a majority of the justices believed that the McCain-Feingold law was unconstitutional and gutted it. The landmark ruling reasserted robust free speech rights in America, as the Founding Fathers intended, by making it easier for more of our citizens to participate in the political process.

The Supreme Court said clearly that the First Amendment covers everyone, including individuals, small businesses, political action committees, nonprofit corporations like Citizens United and yes, for-profit corporations as well.

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The five justices voting in our favor ruled that in our constitutional republic, the government is prohibited from getting into the business of picking and choosing who is allowed to speak and who is not. This is precisely what President Ronald Reagan was talking about when he said, “As government expands, liberty contracts.”

As our government continues to grow in size and scope, it looks for new ways to siphon liberty from the American people, and McCain-Feingold was a prime example of that. I’m proud to say that in the post-Citizens United world, politicians, for the most part, now consider new attempts at limiting political speech and the amount of money being spent in our political process through the proper prism: our sacred First Amendment.

Unfortunately, Sen. Josh Hawley didn’t get the memo. The Missouri Republican — the new John McCain of the U.S. Senate — recently introduced the Ending Corporate Influence on Elections Act of 2023 as the latest government attempt to restrict free speech and robust participation in politics. In his quest to rein in “woke” corporations and social media giants, Mr. Hawley is walking straight into a free speech buzz saw by attempting to pick who the winners and losers should be when it comes to speaking in our election campaigns.

In his three-page piece of legislation that attacks the Citizens United decision, Mr. Hawley has decided that publicly traded corporations don’t have First Amendment rights and shouldn’t be able to spend money in federal elections. By contrast, however, Mr. Hawley is exempting unions, other businesses and nonprofit corporations from his wrath. The AFL-CIO should name Mr. Hawley legislator of the year for the special carve-out.

Mr. Hawley, the ambitious politician, is leaving his principles behind in hopes of capitalizing on the opinion of some that there is too much money in politics and that big corporations are inherently bad. Unfortunately, Mr. Hawley is overlooking America’s founding and missing the point. Our entire American experiment is grounded in the idea of limiting government power, not expanding it in order to penalize some people while rewarding others.

If Mr. Hawley is truly an originalist, he should reread the First Amendment. It states, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” It’s one of the most beautiful things ever written, simple and unambiguous. No law means no law, and that makes Mr. Hawley’s attack on free speech unconstitutional.

The senior senator from Missouri should know better. He should listen to Eric Schmitt, the junior senator from Missouri, who understands the importance of political speech, even if it’s loud and messy — and the slippery slope that Mr. Hawley’s legislation represents. As a longtime supporter of Mr. Hawley until now, I wrongly believed that he was a constitutional conservative. I didn’t think he would ever run away from the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the fight for robust free speech in America.

Since filing the legislation, Mr. Hawley finds himself in no man’s land on this issue. Conservatives don’t support the legislation because it restricts free speech, and liberals don’t support the legislation because it doesn’t restrict free speech enough. Mr. Hawley’s bill is unconstitutional and will end up on the ash heap of history right next to McCain-Feingold.

• David N. Bossie is president of Citizens United and served as deputy campaign manager for Donald J. Trump for President.

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