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WSJ: The Free Speech States

What do Alabama, Nebraska, Oregon and Utah have in common?

America’s media are obsessed with Washington, but in our federal system much of the law-writing takes place in the 50 states. This is one reason to welcome a new index detailing how well each state protects the First Amendment right to engage in political speech.

The Institute for Free Speech this week will release its first Free Speech Index, which is a report card on how every state treats political contributions. The ranking is based on the limits a state places on a person or group’s right to donate to political candidates. The scores rank from 0% to 100% and compare contribution limits based on factors such as population.

The results confound the normal blue-red divide. The top five finishers, all with a 100% score, are: Alabama, Nebraska, Oregon, Utah and Virginia. All “permit individuals, political parties, and PACs to contribute unlimited sums to the candidates, parties, and causes of their choice,” and ditto for unions and corporations. This should be a clue that allowing people to donate money in politics is not a fast lane to rule by Republicans.

The bottom feeders are notable, too, and a shout out to New Jersey for finishing 34th, instead of its usual dead last on any index about freedom. The least free are another odd assembly: Maryland, Colorado, Alaska, West Virginia and Kentucky. Alaska’s limits are so stringent that they’re caught up in federal court. In Colorado, individuals can donate a mere $200 to a state legislature seat. Only Montana’s limit is lower.

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