Friday, October 21

Company pressured to fire employee who called the emperor a communist

Governments rarely take away rights all at once.  Instead they and their surrogates nibble away a bit at a time.  Most people don't even notice.  But a decade later you realize what you can't do any more that you could always do before.

Latest example:  After a respected financial adviser in Nebraska called Obama a communist, and evil, state regulators went after his employer, demanding all manner of records on the guy, asking if they had a policy against their employees making public statements of a political nature and so on.

After years of this type of harrassment the employer fired the guy.

Robert Bennie Jr., was a successful financial adviser and former leader of the tea party in the state capital of Lincoln.  After Bennie called Obama a communist he and his employer were hounded and harassed by the Nebraska Department of Banking and Finance for months.

And while a U.S. appeals court agreed with a lower court that the regulators “targeted Bennie partly in retaliation for his constitutionally protected political speech,” the court also said the agency’s harassing activities did not violate his free-speech rights.

After a costly six-year legal fight, Bennie, assisted by his attorneys at the nonprofit, public interest Pacific Legal Foundation, is taking his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Our First Amendment rights can be cancelled out if government can punish people for exercising those rights,” said PLF attorney Wen Fa. “That is what happened to Bob Bennie — he was the victim of a vendetta campaign by bureaucrats because they were offended by his political views.”

In 2010 Bennie worked for Boston-based LPL Financial.  Things went south shortly after he was quoted in a Feb. 1, 2010 story about his political views and his leadership in the tea party, in which he called Obama a “communist”  and said the president is “dishonest,” an “evil man.”

The bureaucrats at the state's Department of Banking and Finance, didn’t like that kind of talk. And they were going to do something about it.  Rodney Griess, a "compliance supervisor," didn’t seem to care for a commercial in which Bennie rode a horse and pledged he would give his customers “a hundred dollars towards the purchase of a firearm.” 

Geiss thought the offer “unusual” and suspected Bennie had not gotten approval from LPL to run the commercial.  After the article appeared, Griess told a colleague that an upcoming call with Bennie’s employer would cover the financial adviser’s “recent string of activities; i.e., lack of… disclosure, gun slingin’ ads, and calling Obama a ‘communist’ and an ‘evil’ man issues.”

After the call, Griess wrote an email seeking a follow-up call with LPL and stating that it “would be nice to know” whether LPL anticipated imposing any “heightened supervision, more frequent/announced exam schedule, specialized advertisement approval process or other sanction(s) that may provide the Department with a little better sense that the firm is ‘on top of’ addressing this type of activity which in turn may be of some comfort to us and really is in the best interest of the public.”

Department agents asked whether LPL had any guidelines about agents like Bennie publicly communicating their political views.  This shows that the inquiry by the department was at least partly over the guy's political statements.

Griess issued a number of orders to LPL, and warned the company that the agency would use all available measures against both Mr. Bennie and/or LPL Financial to insure compliance.

Feeling that he was being targeted for his political statements, Bennie took his complaints about the agency to then-Gov. David Heineman, who asked the agency to respond.  Griess, in looking over his director’s draft response to the governor, noted that it didn't mentions Bennie’s comments in the newspaper article. Griess explained he “felt compelled to at least mention it” because even though the comments were clearly not subject to the agency's regulatory purview, "the comments made regarding the President...do tend to be quite polarizing to say the least, not all that dissimilar to the firearm purchase statement. Anyway, it’s another piece of the puzzle and just saw that it was missing.”

His boss included the point in a revised response.

After months of constant regulatory pestering, LPL fired Bennie in early November 2010.
In mid-2011, the financial adviser filed a public records request and received the department’s internal communications.  It was then he learned how much he and LPL had been scrutinized and harassed.
 
Bennie sued.  A federal district court found “the state regulators were partly motivated by Bennie’s speech and ‘(s)ome of the questions they asked LPL would not have been asked had it not been for [Bennie’s] political activity.”  Nonetheless, the judge ruled in the state's favor because their retaliation would not have deterred "an ordinary person in Bennie’s position" from continuing to speak.

Bennie appealed.  The appeals court described the regulators' actions as “unconstitutional.”
“For the state regulators to allow their apparent disagreement with or even distaste for what Bennie had to say politically, or how he said it, to influence how the department treated him and his employer was wholly inappropriate — and absolutely inconsistent with the First Amendment,” the court wrote in its decision.  “That inappropriate, unconstitutional conduct was wrong."  But the appeals court also ruled in favor of the state.

In agreeing to take Bennie's case to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Pacific Legal Foundation charged that the regulators’ actions were totally unconstitutional.  As the PLF has won its last nine cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, it seems to have a good chance of winning again.  But that's hardly the point.

The point is that every other person working for a company has just been put on notice that if you make a comment critical of the government, or Democrats, you can end up out of work.  How does this square with free speech?  How can one claim there's free speech when a regulator can pressure a company to fire an employee for saying something that some pencil-neck bureaucrat doesn't like?

Imagine the screams from liberals if a company was pressured to fire a liberal for making statements critical of a Republican president...

The Constitution is no longer operative in the age of the emperor--and the future queen.  Free speech only exists for liberals and their allies.

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