What started as a simple political endorsement in March by J&G Gun Sales has resulted in a state investigation. In its regular catalog, J&G outlined its support for Republican primary gubernatorial candidate Len Munsil, because he supports the constitutional right to own and carry firearms. The investigatory hubbub centers around how to interpret the endorsement under Arizona's Clean Elections Act.
The Citizens Clean Elections Commission will decide whether the endorsement is deemed an "independent expenditure," which might trigger matching funds, or a press expenditure, which would be exempt from regulation. In doing so, the Commission places itself in the position of deciding what qualifies as a legitimate news source.
Before the Revolutionary War, the English Crown regularly licensed the press, determining what subjects should be covered and by whom. The heroic American struggle for liberty eliminated state oversight of the press and embraced an independent and free press as a primary freedom in the new Republic.
At present, the Clean Elections system grants the press greater freedom to endorse candidates than other associations or groups. Now, regulators will determine what constitutes "news" and what doesn't. This case is another testament to the danger of excessive government control over the electoral process. The role of government in the election process should be limited to ensuring legitimate elections, permitting all voices to be heard.
Benjamin Barr is a constitutional policy analyst with the Goldwater Institute Center for Constitutional Studies.
-Goldwater Institute: Campaign Promises: A Six-year Review of Arizona's Experiment with Taxpayer-financed Campaigns
-Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission June 27, 2006 Meeting
- Arizona Republic: "Candidate endorsement raises flag"