Arlington, Va.— Should the government have the power to regulate who can express their opinion during an election? Or to subject grassroots political activists to regulations that are so onerous, the U.S. Supreme Court has found them unconstitutionally burdensome even for corporations and unions?
These are the questions the Institute for Justice (IJ) seeks to answer in a federal First Amendment challenge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida announced today, September 29, 2010.
FOR AN INTERACTIVE MEDIA KIT, VISIT: www.ij.org/FlSpeech
Sarasota-area residents Nathan Worley, Pat Wayman, John Scolaro and Robin Stublen talk politics once a week as part of an informal political group. But in 2010, a proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution prompted them to stop talking and take political action. They want to run a simple radio ad, urging the public to vote “no” on Amendment 4.
This sort of spontaneous political speech should be easy. As IJ Staff Attorney Paul Sherman said, “In America, the only thing you should need to talk about politics is an opinion.”
Unfortunately, Florida’s campaign finance laws make speaking out far more difficult than it should be. Under Florida law, anytime two or more people join together to spend more than $500 to advocate the passage or defeat of a ballot issue, they become a fully regulated political committee.
As a result, before they can even publish an ad, the group would have to register with the state, and comply with a host of regulations that the Florida Secretary of State admits are “complex,” and that the U.S. Supreme Court recently called “burdensome” and “expensive.” This includes appointing a treasurer, opening up a separate bank account and tracking and reporting every single penny that goes through the organization. In other words, the government has created so much red tape that Floridians need to hire an attorney and accountant to cut through it if they want to speak without fear of breaking the law.
IJ client Nathan Worley said, “These laws make politics a game for professionals only. We shouldn’t have to deal with any red tape just to talk about politics.”
Along with the case, the Institute for Justice is releasing a new research report, Keep Out: How State Campaign Finance Laws Erect Barriers to Entry for Political Entrepreneurs, and will call upon all of the states that have similarly burdensome laws to repeal those laws and make the nation safe for all citizen speech.
READ THE REPORT HERE: www.ij.org/KeepOut
Political speech is not only a right, it is a profound value. If freedom of speech is to be the rule, rather than the exception, Florida’s restrictions on independent political speech must be eliminated.
Darren A. Schwartz, a partner with Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, P.A., will ably serve as local counsel in the Florida challenge.
For a humorous look at how politicians learn how to enact campaign finance laws that stifle free speech, go to www.camppolitics.org.