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"Civics" Activist Wants You to Shut Up

During October’s meeting of the Legislature’s Joint Corporations Committee, self-avowed “civics wonk” and Sheridan resident Gail Symons advocated for stricter, more confusing campaign finance laws in Wyoming.

Let’s say your mother wants to run for her local precinct committee spot and you, as a favor, pay for the mailers she uses to distribute to her neighbors as you pick them up from the print shop on your way home from work. Your mom buys the envelopes and stamps, and you send them out the next day on your way to lunch.

Symons thinks you should be subject to civil penalties, or possibly even prosecution, if you don’t let Big Brother know that you helped your mom.

Most advocates for stricter campaign finance disclosure laws claim to feel this way because they value transparency and disclosure- both are laudable values to pursue, especially in government (more legislative roll-call votes, anyone?). But Symons told the committee how she really felt: “If it’s negative campaigning, you ought to be subject to reporting (emphasis added).” Some committee members agreed, arguing that we should use these proposed campaign finance laws to discourage any “nasty” campaigning.

The last time I checked, courts automatically presume that content-based restrictions on speech are unconstitutional- the government cannot silence speech based on its content. Those who claim to be dedicated to civics and increased civic participation ought to reexamine their goals if they actively pursue the promulgation of more laws with more penalties for more citizens if they dare to engage in the process.

Who gets to decide what constitutes “negative” or “nasty” campaigning? Is it pointing out one’s inconvenient voting record? Is it calling someone a “WINO” (Wyoming in Name Only) or a “RINO” (Republican in Name Only?), or labeling someone “All Hat, No Cattle?” Unfortunately for Symons (but fortunately for everyone who values freedom of speech), all of these things and more are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I Section 20 of the Wyoming Constitution. Speech is speech, and sometimes it hurts our feelings. Candace Owens put it best: Life’s tough. Get a helmet, man. Defamation exists as a cause of action for damaging, intentional falsehoods- everything else is and should be free game.

It shouldn’t be easy to hold elected office- voters should know the good, the bad, and especially the ugly about those who seek to exercise power over their lives. Politicians should expect to explain their positions rather than becoming irreconcilably offended when we serfs manage to learn what those positions are.

Quiet observers and rabble rousers alike enjoy equal rights to participate in our political system, and for good reason. Symons doesn’t get to approve of who plays the game based on what they say or how they say it. If she’s hurt by someone else’s speech, I invite her to engage in more speech.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in his “Great Dissent” in Abrams v. United States (1919): “The ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade of ideas– that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”


The above piece was submitted to us by a concerned citizen who resides outside of Sheridan County. Given that it focuses on the actions of a Sheridan County resident and noted commentator on "all things political," we felt it was appropriate to include it on our blog.

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