The current IRS's selection of conservative groups seeking tax-free nonprofit status as a class suitable for suspicion and close investigation may not be in quite the same league as President Richard Nixon's efforts to get the IRS to audit his political enemies—for one thing, there's no evidence so far that the Obama White House knew about, much less directed the current policy. But that does not mitigate the gravity of the episode, which should be a warning to groups all around the political compass of just how frail their First Amendment rights of speech, petition and association can be in the toils of large, remote, powerful and secretive governmental institutions. But equally alarming is the other scandalous invasion of First Amendment rights disclosed this week—the U.S. Justice Department's secret and wholesale seizure of phone records for more than 20 lines used by more than 100 Associated Press reporters and editors for a two month period last spring. That abuse looks very much like the outgrowth of a White House mania for plugging leaks and hunting down leakers not seen since Nixon's notorious Plumbers era. That the secrets said to have been leaked last year concerned national security does not distinguish the episode from the scandal 40 years ago, which also dealt with putative national security alarms—Daniel Ellsberg's leak of the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. And in any event the question must be asked: What kind of security does the nation have under an executive willing to abridge the freedom of the press on a wholesale basis to find and punish those who would inform the public about how the now perpetual Global War on Terror is being waged? The GWOT phrase is no longer in fashion, but the reality is undeniable, as is the fact that it can be pursued as it has been only if done with maximum secrecy. Kevin Gozstola reports for FireDogLake on how determined the Obama Administration has become to instill fear into those who would talk to the press.
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About the Author: Terry Francke, General Counsel
Terry Francke has a 35-year history of helping journalists, citizens and public officials understand and use their First Amendment and open government rights. With CalAware, Francke has authored comprehensive and authoritative guidebooks to California law on access to government meetings and public records and the news gathering and publication rights of journalists. Focusing on these issues in public forum law, he supervises CalAware's legislative and litigation initiatives; conducts workshops on legal compliance; helps design public records audits; supports local sunshine ordinance drafting efforts; writes CalAware Today, a blog on current developments and proposals in the law and best practices; and answers countless queries by phone and e-mail from citizens, journalists, public officials and employees, and lawyers.
Francke previously served 14 years as executive director and general counsel to the California First Amendment Coalition, after a 10-year post as legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. He has served as an advisory panel member to the National Center on Courts and the Media; taught journalism law at the Department of Communication at Stanford University; and served as an expert contributor to the 1994 major revisions to the Ralph M. Brown Act and the 2004 ballot proposition making open government a basic right of citizens under the California Constitution.
Francke is a 1967 graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a 1979 graduate of McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific. Prior to his legal career, Francke worked as a weekly newspaper editor and in military and local government public affairs positions.