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EDITORIAL: A state ranking Nevada can be proud of

Nevada fares poorly in plenty of state rankings, most notably in education. But a new analysis of laws regarding political speech places the Silver State in a better light.

The Institute for Free Speech this month revealed its Free Speech Index, which assesses how each state “supports the free speech and association rights of individuals and groups interested in speaking about candidates, issues of public policy and their government.” Nevada placed fourth, behind Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.

The report examined 10 different factors, including laws involving grassroots advocacy, lobbying and political action committees, regulations on issue-related speech and rules regarding independent political expenditures.

“Each of the 50 states has its own collection of campaign finance laws and regulations limiting the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and petition,” the study notes. “Many of these state laws are poorly written, complex or both.”

The bad news is that 43 states received failing grades, below 60 percent. The good news is that Nevada’s 70 percent mark puts the state near the top of the class. But there’s clearly room for improvement.

Nevada scored well in that it has no laws regulating “false” political speech — we won’t tell the folks at the institute that the state had an ill-fated dalliance with such restrictions a few decades back — and has no rules that limit discourse as an election nears. The state also remains relatively free for grassroots political organizations.

The Silver State lost points, however, for using a heavy regulatory hand to oversee political committees, including low contribution limits that trigger regulation. State laws overseeing independent expenditures by nonpolitical committees also drew the ire of the institute, in part because they make no allowance for donor privacy.

“Across the country, states are regulating too much speech by broadly defining what kind of groups are regulated and how much of and what types of activity must be regulated,” the report concludes. “Most states are simply not considering the First Amendment impacts in these areas.”

Indeed, political speech is at the core of First Amendment protections, yet the federal government and states impose all manner of restrictions under the catch-all rubric of campaign finance law. Ironically, Nevada’s two U.S. senators have embraced the Democratic-led effort to amend the Bill of Rights by overturning Citizens United and empowering Beltway censors to impose restrictions on political discourse.

Rather than follow that wayward path, state lawmakers should take the Institute for Free Speech analysis to heart and endeavor to make Nevada even freer in terms of political speech. Then maybe next time we’ll be No. 1.

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