Are you among the 61% of Millennials or 51% of Gen X who like, share, and comment your way through the latest political news on Facebook? If so, bad news: you might have made an illegal campaign contribution.
We wish we were kidding, but that just happened. This week, a Colorado judge ruled that a Facebook post from Liberty Common High School, a Fort Collins public charter school, amounted to an illegal contribution to a school board candidate. (Note to readers: Did we mention Facebook is free?)
What, exactly, did the incredibly partisan, political, over-the-top, illegal [free] Facebook post say? “Liberty Common High School parent Ms. Tomi Grundvig announces she’s running for a seat on the Thompson School District Board of Education,” with a link to an article on the matter.
That’s it. Nothing about donating to her campaign, nothing about what a fine choice she might be; just the announcement itself. Yay parents making a difference!
And by the way, the school board seat Ms. Grundvig is pursuing is in an entirely separate district than Liberty Common High School, making the post little more than a community announcement about what a parent at the school is up to.
So to completely jump the shark, Ms. Grundvig’s opponent, led by a career union rep, took the matter to court, saying the post crossed the line because the school’s principal, former Congressman Bob Schaffer, shared it on his [free] personal profile with complimentary remarks about the candidate.
Put another way: Mr. Schaffer thinks Ms. Grundvig would offer “sensible stewardship” as a board member, and as a result, the school so much as mentioning the topic creates a nefarious politicization that amounts to a campaign contribution. Did we mention that the result of this Facebook hullabaloo is that Grundvig’s political opponents took the matter to court?
At this point, anyone who has ever heard of the First Amendment would expect the court to throw out the complaint, given that as a private citizen, Mr. Schaffer has every right to say whatever he wants on his [free] personal Facebook profile… right? Right?
Not so fast. In a decision that baffles just about everyone this side of The Bill of Rights, administrative law judge Matthew E. Norwood ruled that the mere mention of Ms. Grundvig’s candidacy on the school’s [free] Facebook page constituted an illegal campaign contribution.
At this point, after weeks of wrangling and thousands of dollars in legal expenses, the judge handed down his punishment: the post must be deleted. To be honest, when his ruling mentioned the potential dangers to “bring about more ‘liking,’ ‘sharing’ and commenting,” we couldn’t help but think of:
University of Colorado law professor Scott Moss was as confused as the rest of us, saying, “I don’t buy that under the First Amendment speech about a candidate can be deemed a contribution.” He continued, “If a neo Nazi shares this article, does that make me a neo Nazi? Of course not.”
We share in Professor Moss’ confusion. These days, our social media news feeds are clogged with stories about the seemingly thousands of men and women running for President. Are all of our friends giving illegal campaign contributions to the candidates whom they reference?
Moss believes that the case would almost certainly be overturned upon appeal, but the public charter school, having already spent a considerable sum fighting for their First Amendment rights (read that again), is unlikely to pursue the matter further.
The right to free speech, which protects us from being harassed if we say something the government and their friends don’t like, is a very important part of America’s democracy. Having the right to disagree means we all have better ideas in the end. Either we have that right or we don’t, and if that’s no longer the case, a bunch of you are going to need some tips from Martha Stewart, and we’re not talking about beefing up your bunt cake…
Speaking of [free] Facebook, feel free to join the discussion by sharing your thoughts on our page. Just… try not to get us all thrown in jail, okay?