Thursday, December 16, 2004

I never thought I'd say this... 

...but I think we need to defend Michael Moore. According to an article in today's Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers only -- I cannot find a free copy), the FEC is going forward with an investigation of universities that paid for Moore to come to their campuses.

Responding to a formal complaint from a vocal critic of Michael Moore, the Federal Election Commission is investigating whether colleges violated a ban on corporate donations to political campaigns by allowing the controversial and partisan filmmaker to appear on their campuses during this fall's presidential-election campaign and by paying him a speaker's fee.

David T. Hardy, an Arizona lawyer who is a co-author of Michael Moore Is a Big Fat Stupid White Man (Regan Books, 2004), filed two complaints with the FEC about Mr. Moore's college tour, specifically naming a dozen institutions, including Pennsylvania State University at University Park, Syracuse University, the University of Cincinnati, and the University of Florida. Officials on those campuses confirmed that they had received a letter from the election commission with a copy of the complaint, and said they are in the process of responding to it. ...

At issue is Mr. Moore's appearance this fall on college campuses, where he repeatedly denounced President Bush, the subject of his latest film, Fahrenheit 9/11, and advocated for the election of the Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry. In his complaint, Mr. Hardy quoted from Mr. Moore's speeches, including one at Wayne State University where he said, "We're visiting all 20 battleground states, and our goal is to remove George W. Bush from the White House."

Hardy has posted a copy of the letter sent to the FEC.

I am not taking issue with the notion that Moore is obnoxious, nor that it might be a violation of FEC laws (I'm not qualified to judge that.) What bothers me, however, is that this tactic could be used to suppress all manner of political speech on college campuses during a campaign season, particularly on those campuses that are in battleground states (and how does one define that?) It may indeed come at a cost -- for example, donors at Utah Valley State College threatened to stop contributions if Moore appeared on that campus. Donors should be able to vote with their wallets. But it is far better to expose the bias on campuses to donors and hurt universities that way than it is to suppress free speech. I would rather challenge Moore's speech on campus than to keep him off it.

As for student activity fees, may I suggest that those students with a problem about that money start taking part more in student government and stop the practice of creating golden fleece for liberal student senators to spend on the likes of Moore?