The Federal Elections Commission has hit a Florida baker with a $30,000 fine for advertising his bakery during an election cycle in which he was running for office. ''I'm Jim Stork,'' the TV ad stated, according to the Miami Herald. "Come find out why Stork's Bakery and Café means quality you can trust.'' The problem here is obvious, right? Well, maybe not. Here's the explanation. The ads, which didn't mention anything political, were deemed "campaign pieces paid for with bakery dollars -- skirting federal rules that ban corporate donations in elections, the Federal Election Commission ruled."I guess that's the letter of the law under the woefully stupid McCain-Feingold. There's always a lot of whining during election cycles that politicians can get away with saying things in their ads that commercial entities would never be able to say. Of course, the first suggestion to come from such quarters is regulation. Regulation, people, leads to more regulation. And not to put a damper on agency creatives who feel constrained by the legal department or harsh the buzz of the sort of people who use the words "fair" and "I feel like" entirely too often in what passes for political discourse, but the country was based on freedom of political speech -- the freedom to call Thomas Jefferson a child-molesting atheist should trump the "freedom" to claim that your tonic water will enhance male growth and stamina. Or, as James Taranto puts it:
Political speech has always been thought to be at the core of the First Amendment's protection; commercial advertising and other forms of nonpolitical speech have less legal protection. A false claim in a commercial advertisement, for instance, can lead to fraud charges, whereas no such remedy is available when a politician breaks a campaign promise.
Yet here is a case in which an advertisement for a business apparently complies with all applicable commercial laws and regulations, but the advertiser is subject to civil penalties for implicitly political content.