The Holztman Vogel blog reports that New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has a new front in his efforts to dissuade associations of Americans from exercising their First Amendment rights. A new website established by the Public Advocate condemns companies unless they pledge to not “tak[e] advantage” of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. In other words, he is using the taxpayers’ funds to castigate companies for retaining their ability to exercise their First Amendment rights.
The website allows the visitor to scroll over the names of different companies divided into whether they have publicly pledged to refrain from speaking about politics. If a company has not sufficiently renounced its First Amendment rights to the Public Advocate’s satisfaction, the visitor is encouraged to “reach out and demand that companies which can still use treasury money in elections reform their spending policies.” No one is really sure what the Public Advocate's actual duties are, exactly, although the current holder of the office apparently believes part of his responsibilities is to spend the taxpayers’ money bullying organizations into renouncing their constitutional rights.
One of the companies that the Public Advocate believes has sufficiently disclaimed its willingness to speak is Goldman Sachs. However, the firm’s government-approved status came only after what the New York Times reported as “weeks of talks” with the Public Advocate’s office. One can understand Goldman’s position. As a Wall Street firm that received TARP money, its current position as a political boogeyman means Goldman Sachs is probably wise to avoid as many unnecessary fights with autocratic politicians as possible.
The Public Advocate’s actions can be seen as a warning about what can happen when you mix a public official with ill-defined responsibilities and a disdain for the First Amendment with companies in which the government has become entwined. Entities that have to rely on the government’s good graces will inevitably be pressured to give up their constitutional rights. Unfortunately, in this day of the ever-increasing bureaucracy and greater government intervention in the private sector, we can expect more inelegant government harassment like the Public Advocate’s website to become increasingly common in the coming years.