“Clarifications” About Infringements on Your Rights


Conspicuously on the same day I highlighted his legislation seeking to regulate even small-scale grassroots political activity at the town level, state representative John “Jay” Edwards (D, Tiverton, Portsmouth) put out a press release on the subject, which is built around a… let’s say… highly spun premise.  The five-paragraph release uses some variation of the word “clarify” in each of its first three paragraphs:

  • The bill will “increase accountability” by “clarifying language.”
  • It will “extend [government] power” by “clarifying which people and groups are obliged to submit campaign finance reports.”
  • It will “clarify the definition of the term ‘entity’.”

All this talk about “clarifying” seems designed to disguise just how radical and tyrannical a step Edwards wants to take.  In a word, the clarification is that Edwards wants the term “entity” to apply to everybody.  Any single person or any group organized in any way who spends $100 in the course of a year on a local matter would have to “file reports of contributions or expenditures every seven days.”  That’s not clarification; it’s asphyxiation.

Two items that could use a little clarification, but about which Edwards doesn’t seem concerned, are whether there’s ever an end to the weekly reports or if they go on every week through the end of the year and how much overlap in reportage is necessary.  If Uncle Joe gives $100 to Patricia and Jim down the street so the couple can print up some fliers about their shared opinion on whether the town should buy land for a community mini-golf course, do all of them have to start filing reports because Joe has an expense and Patricia and Jim have both a donation and an expense?

Note, too, that the bill does not apply this onerous “everybody” standard to the election of local or state politicians.  This not only protects Edwards’s supporters and those of his friends, but it also creates incentive for the public to limit its political activity only to that which is filtered through insiders.

Forgive my repetition, but the purpose of Edwards’s bill isn’t to “clarify” anything.  It’s to create even more disincentive to civic participation in the general population.  It’s to give people the general sense that getting involved in politics — even at the town level — is something people should only do if they’re willing to start regularly filling out publicly accessible forms with their addresses and other information — not the least, a record of those with whom they associate in an exchange of money.  It’s also to give Edwards’s political allies more insight into whom they should add to their target list for gossip, anonymous attacks on the Internet, and other forms of intimidation.

The only things Edwards clarifies with this legislation are that he has no respect for the rights of Americans and that neither he nor any representative of any party who supports his bill should not be trusted with public office.

  • Northern Exposure

    Yup, that accurately describes a certain segment of our state elected officials. On the street they’re called douche bags.

  • GaryM

    Edwards has one goal and that is to expand an oppressive RI government. Edwards fingerprints are on another recent House Bill (7126), which sought to strip voting rights from the residents of Portsmouth for all future Tax Stabilization Agreement in Portsmouth. At the moment, only residents have the power to approve one-off TSA’s under RI Law 44-3-9.

    In spite of these power grabs, he will likely be re-elected. So who is the real problem here?

  • Rhett Hardwick

    In my experience with political statements, I cannot recall a time when “clarify” did not mean “increase the reach”, or “tighten the noose”.