Washington Political Speech

San Juan County v. No New Gas Tax
The Abuse That Follows "Campaign Finance Reform" 

Both the U.S. and Washington Constitutions guarantee the right to free speech. And at the core of these protections lies political speech.

In the case of San Juan County v. No New Gas Tax, local prosecutors sought to derail an initiative that would have rolled back a massive tax increase. To accomplish this, they delegated their prosecutorial authority to a private law firm that stood to gain politically and financially from harassing the initiative campaign. The firm was not only a member of the political opposition to the initiative but also “bond counsel” to the State agency that would issue bonds based on the revenue derived from the tax increase.

The firm brought a complaint against No New Gas Tax, the political committee promoting the initiative, alleging that the campaign violated the State’s campaign finance laws. The complaint claimed that on-air discussions by two radio talk show hosts urging listeners to support the initiative constituted “in-kind” contributions by the radio station to the No New Gas Tax Committee that should have been disclosed. (An “in-kind” contribution is a non-monetary contribution, like printing services or equipment.) The trial court agreed, forcing the campaign to report on-air discussions of the initiative as “in-kind” contributions.
This is the kind of inevitable complication and abuse that occurs when the government tries to regulate speech.

Because the prosecutors’ actions were so inconsistent with basic constitutional guarantees, the Institute for Justice Washington Chapter (IJ-WA) defended the No New Gas Tax campaign against the prosecutors’ politically motivated lawsuit.

After the trial court sided with the prosecutors, the campaign appealed, even though the initiative lost at the polls on election day. The Washington Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.  On April 26, 2007, it unanimously reversed the trial court, holding that talk radio commentary is not an “in-kind” contribution.


Essential Background


Backgrounder: Free Speech Under Fire: Politically Motivated Prosecutors Seek to Restrict Media Discussion of Political Issues

Client Photo - none available

Client Video - none available


Latest Release: Washington Supreme Court Rejects Latest Attempt to Regulate Media Using State Campaign Finance Laws (August 7, 2007)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

Download: Victory Opinion in the Washington Supreme Court

Download: Concurring Opinion in the Washington Supreme Court

Launch Release: Here is How Campaign Finance “Reform” Chills Free Speech (August 9, 2005)

Amicus Brief - American Civil Liberties Union of Washington


Amicus Brief - Wash. State Association of Broadcasters

Amicus Brief - Center for Competitive Politics, the Cato Institute and the Building Industry Association of Washington

Opening Brief

Case Timeline

Filed Lawsuit:


June 22, 2005

Court Filed:


Thurston County Superior Court



July 1, 2005: preliminary injunction order was issued by the court.



August 9, 2005: No New Gas Tax filed an answer and counterclaim in the Thurston County Superior Court.

November 2, 2005: the trial court dismissed No New Gas Tax's counterclaims and entered final judgment.

November 17, 2005: No New Gas Tax asked the Washington Supreme Court to accept direct review.

April 4, 2006: the Washington Supreme Court accepted direct review.

April 26, 2007: Washington Supreme Court victory.



Awaiting trial on constitutional claims.

Next Key Date:


Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: Victory for Free Speech & Free Press Over Campaign Finance Regulation In Washington Supreme Court (April 26, 2007)

none available

Release: Washington Supreme Court Hears First Amendment Case: Can Campaign Finance Laws Be Used to Regulate and Harass Media Speech? (June 6, 2006)

Release: Coalition to Support Free Speech On the Air; “Friend of the Court” Briefs Urge WA Supreme Court To Stop Use of “Campaign Finance” Laws (May 10, 2006)


Release: Warning To Washington Media: Talk To A Campaign And You Could End Up Being Investigated (April 25, 2006)


Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Article: Free Speech Victory: Washington Supreme Court rules speech is not money and cannot be regulated, Liberty & Law (June 2007)

Release: Silencing The Media & Public Debate Through Campaign Finance Law (April 25, 2006)


Article: Free Speech: Seeing Double in Washington State With Two Free Speech Cases, Liberty & Law (June 2006)

Release: Hope for Free Speech: Washington Supreme Court Accepts Review of Politically Motivated Lawsuit Aimed at Silencing Talk Radio Hosts (April 5, 2006)

Preserving the right to free speech (May 25, 2006)

Shut Up, They Explained, The left's regulatory war against free speech. (January 25, 2006)

Release: Campaign Finance Laws Increasingly Used to Silence Speech and Thwart Representative Democracy (October 26, 2005)


Free Speech Under Siege (December 5, 2005)

Well, shut my mouth! (November 28, 2005)

Release: Warning to the Media: Court Issues Unprecedented Expansion Of Campaign Finance Laws Targeting the Press (October 26, 2005)


The incumbent protection act (November 2, 2005)

Article: On Air? IJ-WA Defends Free Speech In Washington State, Liberty & Law (October, 2005)

Release: Campaign Appeals Court Order Chilling Free Speech, City of Auburn Seeks to Withdraw from Politically Motivated Suit (September 8, 2005)

Enforcing free speech out of existence (October 19, 2005)

THE 'SHUT 'EM UP' REFORM (July 12, 2005)

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