When Government Spending Gets Really Obscene

My good friend and Bureaucrash ally Xaq Fixx recently altered me to an interesting story on the intersection of politics, technology and free speech. It seems that the state government of California, through the California Employment Training Panel, is paying contractors who train in-state workers in new skills – an effort to boost the Golden State’s notoriously sagging economy. Nothing too unusual there.

Enter SF Weekly’s Matt Smith, who noticed that the list of recipients of this state-subsidized training were employees of Cybernet Entertainment LLC. Cybernet in turn is the proprietor of a number of websites which feature videos catering to adult and, ah, highly specialized interests. Kinky but legal, in other words. Smith submitted a public records request regarding the company’s participation to the state, and received a reply to the effect that “the government had been unaware that Cybernet was in the business of narrowcasting videos depicting sexualized torture.”

Thus informed, however, officials at the Employment Training Panel promptly canceled Cybernet’s participation in the program, citing a policy of not working with the adult entertainment industry. The company’s COO Daniel Riedel, has vowed to fight the state to keep the subsidy. Interestingly, scribe Smith goes on to cite the possibility that denying participation in the program based on the content produced by Cybernet may violate the First Amendment:

Does the state’s refusal to train porn-makers violate constitutional free-speech guarantees? I’m not joking. Some serious and credible people says it’s worth considering whether it’s legal to deny training to porn workers merely because they film naked, shackled women with live electrodes clipped to their genitals.

Smith then goes on to cite experts from the California First Amendment Coalition and the UC Hastings College of the Law to the effect that there might, in fact, be a case here for Cybernet. And, of course, they have their natural allies within their own industry – porn titan Vivid Entertainment Group is also opposed to the decision.

So what do we think, OpenMarket readers? Assuming that there’s going to be an employment training subsidy program in place at all, should the people running it have discretion to deny participation to legal businesses because they don’t like the product being pedaled? Should vegan grant administrators, for example, be able to veto applications from meat processing plants, or Catholic administrators applications from health clinics that provide abortions? Tell us what you think in the comments section.