There is a highly disturbing report out of the Federal Election Commission that, again, raises the inclination of some commissioners to curtail free speech under loose regulatory standards. A recent report indicates that two top Democrats voted to investigate former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee for what their own staff viewed as an obvious joke. In the video, Huckabee (available here) clearly is joking in a speech when he said that he hoped supporters would shower him with million dollar contributions. Indeed, if Huckabee was going to violate federal law, he would hardly have done it in an open speech. Yet, Commissioners Ann Ravel and Ellen Weintraub still threw common sense (and respect for free speech) out the window in backing a complaint against Huckabee.
Ravel (left) and Weintraub (right) simply ignored the view of their own staff as well as the clear evidence of the videotape in voting to investigate Huckabee. Huckabee is shown on the tape stating “I will be funded and fueled not by the billionaires, but by working people across America who will find out that $15 and $25 a month contributions can take us from Hope to higher ground. If you want to give a million dollars, please do it, but most can’t.”
Huckabee explained to the FEC that it was an obvious joke and the staff agreed. The FEC staff report states:
“We conclude that an objective listener would not reasonably have understood that Huckabee in fact solicited million-dollar contributions. Rather, he appeared, to be making a humorous aside in the course of his speech . . . Huckabee expressly dismissed the idea that members of his audience would provide large contributions and instead encouraged his listeners to consider contributing $15 or $25 a month. Huckabee then visibly altered his facial expression and tone and added that, “[i]f you want to give a million dollars, please do it.” Indeed, while making the aside, his demeanor changed in a way that further would have reasonably evidenced to his audience that his remarks were not serious or intended to be taken literally — he close[d] his eyes, pauses, shrugs, and smiles — and many in the audience laughed.”
Nevertheless, the two Democratic Commissioners wanted Huckabee investigated for seeking donations above the legal limits of $2,700. The vote reaffirms the long-standing view among many that the FEC is composed of highly partisan members selected by the two rivaling parties to do their respective bidding. It is chilling to see two FCC commissioners willing to launch a formal investigation for such a trivial and transparent joke.