The three Democrats on the six-member Federal Election Commission recently sent a chilling censorship warning to those working on projects critical of President Obama, voting to penalize filmmaker Joel Gilbert for distributing free of charge to voters his film “Dreams from My Real Father: A Story of Reds and Deception.”
Two years before the vote, one of the Democrat members, Ann Ravel, had declared a “re-examination” of rules governing the Internet was “long overdue.”
Now, the non-profit investigative journalism organization Center for Public Integrity is casting Ravel is a victim, claiming her remark and her vote against Gilbert made her the target of death threats.
CPI’s Dave Levinthal wrote in a column published Tuesday by the Daily Beast that after her remarks in 2014 were highlighted by the Drudge Report, she received threatening emails.
One said, “Die, fascist, die.”
Another said, “Hope you have a heart attack,” and yet another, “Keep it up, and the pitchforks will come out and then you and your ilk will have no place to hide and the People will have their justice.”
There were more attacks when Ravel voted to sanction Gilbert, a vote that prompted a Republican member of the FEC to accuse Democrats on the panel of sending a chilling message to the media by trying to punish the maker of a movie critical of Obama.
As WND reported, the three Democrat members of the six-panel board didn’t possess the majority needed to penalize Gilbert. But their votes concerned Republican member Lee Goodman, who feared the votes would have a chilling effect on free speech.
Gilbert’s case began in 2012 with his distribution of “Dreams from My Real Father.” An individual named Loren Collins alleged Gilbert was acting as a political entity and not an independent filmmaker, and therefore broke reporting rules.
Gilbert responded by claiming a media exemption, citing Michael Moore’s politically charged documentaries during election years.
But the three Democrats on the FEC didn’t see it that way and voted to penalize Gilbert.
Goodman, in his letter, said their actions curtailed freedom of the press.
“The regulatory result of this attempt to narrow the press exemption would be illusory press freedom reminiscent of the Greek myth of Tantalus,” he wrote at the time. “The gods punished Tantalus by forcing him to stand in a pool of water with a fruit tree above his head. Whenever he reached for fruit, the branches would rise beyond his reach. Whenever he bent down to drink, the water receded. Meanwhile, a large stone hung over his head threatening to fall upon him.”
Goodman said the Democrats were behaving like the “gods,” teasing with the fruit of the First Amendment.
“In sum,” Goodman went on, “the efforts by a bloc of commissioners to regulate the press in this case calls for a reminder that Congress expressly forbade the commission from violating the constitutional rights of the press, a mandate that Congress determined should be inserted into the act itself to buttress the independent superior authority of the Free Press Clause of the Constitution. Perhaps Congress foresaw the danger of a commission that would not heed the limits of its power. Chairman Petersen, Commissioner Hunter, and I respect this mandate. Yet the chill cast by [non-unanimous] votes, unclear and inconsistent standards, and unabated regulatory ambitions countermands the clear jurisdictional limit set by Congress and threatens the free press rights of all press entities everywhere, not just the small, independent filmmaker innovating a way to market and exhibit one film.”
Ravel said the attack by the Democratic half of the board “prompted a new round of hate mailers” who called her a communist and wished her “the worst for you and yours.”
The CPI report said “such vitriol” is almost unknown for “federal election regulators who many congressional representatives – to say nothing of average Americans – couldn’t identify by name or face.”
Michael Toner, a Republican commissioner who served from 2002-2007, said he doesn’t recall a debate “ever going off the rails into personal attacks.”
Democrat Scott Thomas, another former panel member, told the CPI, “It reflects a coarsening of the thinking process for some people – lack of a filter, lack of civility.”
FEC officials had contacted the Federal Protective Service about the threats, but the agency declined to comment on the situation.
Ravel told CPI that she believes comments from Goodman, who was chairman of the FEC at the time and warned about the rising effort to regulate the Internet, contributed to the threats.
“He was arguing that I was trying to squelch free speech – I wasn’t – and it put me in an awkward position,” Ravel told CPI.
Goodman rejected her claim, saying: “Unfortunately, too many people believe that the way to counter speech with which they disagree is to censor or threaten the speaker. The appropriate way to challenge an idea one disagrees with is to debate the idea on the merits. Commissioner Ravel’s formidable voice on regulatory issues should not be diminished by inappropriate threats or censorship.”
“[It’s a dangerous development,” he said. “Free speech is literally hanging in the balance. It’s a harbinger of the intolerant suppression of First Amendment rights we should fear if Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders should win the White House.”
See trailer of Gilbert’s movie “Dreams”:
In Gilbert’s case, the Democrats on the FEC were unable to impose the penalty when the panel’s three Republican members quashed the move.
Gilbert’s film poses the provocative theory that Barack Obama’s real father is the late Communist Party USA propagandist Frank Marshall Davis, who was known to be a mentor during Obama’s teen years.
“This is a dangerous development; free speech is literally hanging in the balance,” Gilbert said of the Democrats’ attempt to punish him at the time. “It’s a harbinger of the intolerant suppression of First Amendment rights we should fear if Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders should win the White House.”
Gilbert said the punishments could have included heavy fines, restrictions on his speech and even referral to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.
Ravel and Goodman also clashed at that time. Goodman charged that in Washington “people have a way of vilifying anything they disagree with in the most unflattering labels.”
He was responding to Ravel’s claims the GOP was thwarting her effort to clean up politics.
“Commissioner Ravel believes that there are too many instances where the commissioners have evenly divided their votes, and that the bipartisan safeguards that prevent one party from politicizing or misusing the agency to punish political enemies stand in the way of meaningful enforcement,” Goodman wrote.
He pointed out that under his direction, the commission “acted in a bipartisan manner 93 percent of the time.”