The Chicago fil-A

by Stephen M. Hoersting

On the heels of the DISCLOSE Act’s failing to pass Congress, pols in two big cities prove what Senator Mitch McConnell and others have been warning about: The disclosure of independent political speech isn’t about holding people accountable, it’s about holding people accountable.

The Sun-Times reports that, “The anti-gay views openly espoused by the president of a fast food chain specializing in chicken sandwiches have run afoul of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a local alderman, who are determined to block Chick-fil-A from expanding in Chicago.”

One Chicago Alderman eager to join the fil-A fray was asked whether it is illegal to hold up a business’s growth prospects for political reasons.

“Absolutely not,” said former Ald. William Banks (36th), the longtime chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee who presided over a massive re-write of the city’s 1957 zoning ordinance.

“Any alderman can hold a development issue for virtually any purpose. But if he’s doing it for the wrong reasons — if he’s citing a gay rights issue — there’s nothing illegal about that.”

Boston Mayor Thomas Moreno, equally nonplussed by Chick fil-A president Dan Cathay’s moral and religious beliefs, was asked pretty much the same question. The Sun-Times reports that, “Moreno said he has an ace in his back pocket if he runs into legal trouble: traffic and congestion issues caused by the [Boston] store that have been the subject of behind-the-scenes negotiations for the last nine months.”

Economic boycotts and other tussles between citizens, most notably the boycotts tied to Proposition 8 in California, are fast becoming a sideshow to the real issue lurking in compelled disclosure: Forget citizen-on-citizen retaliation. Is government’s ability to stunt or destroy a citizen’s business the real meaning behind “holding speakers accountable?”

The regulatory power held by local pols and federal officials is too vast, and these days wielded too capriciously, for the Supreme Court to continue to approve schemes that compel the disclosure of independent political speech the Court held, just last month, poses no threat of corruption.

— Stephen M. Hoersting is an attorney at DB Capitol Strategies and the president of Right Solutions.

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