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EDITORIAL: First Amendment is under siege from all sides

Hostility to the First Amendment is a bipartisan endeavor. Too many elected officials take an oath to uphold the Constitution without having bothered to read the document.

The Orlando Sentinel reported this week that a Florida lawmaker of Republican persuasion has offered a bill to require bloggers to register with the government or face fines. The proposal excludes print journalists but mandates that all others who write about the governor, state officials or lawmakers provide information to the state about whether they are being paid and who is paying them.

The sponsor, state Sen. Jason Brodeur, who represents a district near Orlando, argues the bill is “an electioneering issue, not a free speech issue” and will provide voters with information about who is attempting to influence public policy.

That’s weak tea. It may be news to Mr. Brodeur, but electioneering enjoys free speech protections.

“The idea that bloggers criticizing a politician should register with the government is insane,” Newt Gingrich tweeted. He’s correct, of course.

Yet “good government” types, many on the left, have for years demanded that interest groups engaging in political activity register with the government or face legal consequences. The archives are littered with examples of grassroots organizers — and even radio talk show hosts — becoming entangled in byzantine campaign finance laws regulating expenditures and political activism. In 1995, for instance, the U.S. Supreme Court was forced to step in when Ohio officials fined a woman for distributing anonymous leaflets advocating against a proposed school tax hike.

It’s also worth noting that a good many Senate Democrats, including Nevada’s two members of the upper chamber, have embraced a proposal to rewrite the First Amendment to give federal bureaucrats more authority to regulate political speech, potentially even banning certain campaign discourse as an election neared.

Mr. Brodeur’s bill is equally offensive, a blatant effort to intimidate potential critics into silence. “It is difficult to imagine a legislative proposal more fundamentally at odds with our nation’s founding spirit than requiring citizens and journalists to register their publications with the government under pain of fines,” a spokesperson for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression told businessinsider.com.

On Tuesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis did the right thing. “That’s not anything I’ve ever supported, I don’t support,” he said in reference to the blogger plan, according to The Floridian. “I’ve been very clear on what we are doing.” Mr. Brodeur should apologize and then send his ridiculous bill through the shredder.

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