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North Carolina GOP Tries (and Fails) to Shut Down Bipartisan Forum on HB2

The modern Republican Party prides itself on its absolute support for free speech. So vigorous is the GOP’s support for the First Amendment that the party opposes any limit on corporate electioneering or campaign contributions, insisting that the ability to donate unlimited money to a politician is a critical form of political expression. It was thus surprising to see the North Carolina GOP attempt to censor a newspaper-hosted bipartisan public forum on the controversial HB2 this week by shutting it down and punishing its sponsors.

If this sounds like an unbelievable level of direct censorship, take a look at the complaint that the North Carolina Republican Party filed with the State Board of Elections. The complaint notes that the forum, while hosted by the Charlotte Observer, is sponsored in part by Red Ventures, LLC, a marketing company whose CEO supports Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s Democratic opponent, Roy Cooper. It also charges the company with supporting Cooper by providing employees time off on Election Day—probably so they can “vote for Roy Cooper and other democrat candidates,” the letter sneers. Moreover, the complaint points out that the forum would discuss polling data compiled by Public Policy Polling. PPP “conducts opinion polling that has an [sic] bias in favor of the Democrat Party,” the complaint declares, pointing out that its CEO supports Cooper. Taken together, these facts can only lead to one conclusion: The forum is actually a corporate contribution to Cooper’s campaign, in violation of state election law:

While this event is being advertised as nothing more than a forum, its proximity in time to the general election and its focus on an issue repeatedly raised by the democrat party and Roy Cooper belies the true purpose and motivation behind the event. … [A] forum sponsored by a corporation owned and operated by known and substantial Roy Cooper supporters, assisted by a [sic] opinion polling company that is openly biased towards the democrat party and its candidates, and hosted by a newspaper publishing company who has publicly endorsed Roy Cooper and numerous democrat candidates [qualifies] as a “contribution.”

And if the forum isn’t a “contribution,” the complaint continues, it must at least rise to the level of an illegal “independent expenditure” on Cooper’s behalf. In light of these facts, the complaint concludes, the forum must be “immediately canceled, and the entities be appropriately sanctioned.”

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