Washington Grassroots Lobbying
Many Cultures, One Message et al. v. Clements
Protecting Americans’ Right To Engage In Grassroots Political Activism
|IJ client Pat Murakami of Many Cultures, One Message|
Mark Sussman and Alfred Petermann of Conservative Enthusiasts
|Download the PDF: Mowing Down the Grassroots: How Grassroots Lobbying Disclosure Suppresses Political Participation|
|Watch the case video|
There are few things more distinctly American than grassroots political activism. From town hall meetings and statehouse rallies to talk radio, blogs and meetups, Americans are constantly finding new and innovative ways to participate in politics. Through such activities, people can alert elected officials to constituents’ preferences, educate fellow citizens and make their voices heard, and even persuade the public to adopt new views. In fact, it’s hard to imagine our system of government working without an active and engaged populace of grassroots activists.
But at least 36 states have laws requiring people who engage in grassroots political activism to register with the government. In Washington, which has one of the most extensive regulations affecting citizen political participation in the nation, if you spend above an artificially low government-imposed cap to urge your fellow citizens to contact government officials, you are forced to register with the government and report your name, address, business, and occupation, the names and addresses of anyone with whom you are working to spread your message, and the names and addresses of each person who contributes as little as $25 to your efforts.
Some Washingtonians believe that the government has no constitutional authority to monitor, collect and disseminate information about the political activities of private citizens. Two organizations with diverse policy concerns—Many Cultures, One Message and Conservative Enthusiasts—each face the dilemma of registering with the government or halting their efforts to urge their fellow Washingtonians into political action. That is why on April 15, 2010, they joined with the Institute for Justice to file suit against the members of Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission. Many Cultures, One Message et al. v. Clements seeks to vindicate the fundamental right of all Americans to engage in political activity without governmental interference.
Unfortunately, on February 4, 2013, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed their challenge to Washington’s so-called “grassroots” lobbying law, holding that these two activist groups had not clearly demonstrated that they intended to undertake activities that would bring them within the reach of the law. However, because the 9th Circuit dismissed the case on procedural grounds, it ordered the trial court to vacate its decision upholding the constitutionality of the law. This means that in the future other grassroots activists may challenge the law and will not be bound by a trial court decision that has not been reviewed by a higher court.