SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission
Protecting Americans’ Rights to Organize and Speak About Politics

SpeechNow.org President David Keating and IJ Senior Attorney Steve Simpson

SpeechNow.org is a new group of Americans formed to protect the First Amendment at the ballot box.  But before SpeechNow.org could independently advocate for or against candidates based on their stand on free speech, it had to endure a legal struggle that lasted almost two-and-a-half years to secure its own constitutional rights.

Represented by the Institute for Justice and the Center for Competitive Politics, SpeechNow.org and its members and supporters brought a First Amendment challenge in February 2008 to federal campaign-finance laws that require the group to organize, register, and report as a “political committee” in order to advocate for or against candidates.  These are the same restrictions that the U.S. Supreme Court said were too burdensome for a corporation to have to deal with. 

To add insult to injury, the federal campaign finance laws prohibited individuals from giving more than $ 5,000 to a political committee.  That means that while Bill Gates one his own could spend as much of his money as he wanted on political speech, he could contribute only $ 5,000 to a similar group effort.  But since the First Amendment guarantees individuals the right to speak without limit, it should be common sense that groups of individuals have the same rights.  It turns out that these limits and red tape made it virtually impossible for new independent citizen groups to raise start-up funding and effectively reach voters.

More than two years after SpeechNow.org first filed suit, the entire Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the federal government could not restrict how much individuals gave to SpeechNow.org. This ruling was the first time a federal court had implemented the Citizens United decision, and its effect was to free the speech of innumerable groups.  But while SpeechNow.org prevailed on its challenge to the contribution limits, the Court unfortunately held that the government could make it jump through the difficult hoops of operating a political committee—hoops that the U.S. Supreme Court had just said in Citizens United were too burdensome for a corporation like General Motors.  SpeechNow.org and the individual Plaintiffs sought review of this issue by the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Court declined to take the case.  However, we will continue to fight these onerous laws in other cases in the future.

Essential Background


Backgrounder: SpeechNow.org v. FEC Protecting Americans’ Rights To Organize and Speak About Politics

Client Photo

Video - Three reasons Not To Sweat The "Citizens United" SCOTUS Ruling by Reason.tv

Latest Release: Institute for Justice Defends Super PACs (January 18, 2012)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

Cert Petition (July 23, 2010)
DC Circuit Opinion (March 26, 2010)

SpeechNow.org Complaint (February 14, 2008)

Launch Release: SpeechNow.org Files Lawsuit to Protect Americans’ Rights to Organize and Speak About Politics (February 14, 2008)

SpeechNow.org Motion for Preliminary Injunction (February 14, 2008)

FEC Chairman's Opinion on Unconstitutionality of Limits for Independent Groups (January 24, 2008)

FEC's advisory opinion (January 22, 2008)

Advisory Opinion Request to FEC (November 14, 2007)

Case Timeline

Filed Lawsuit:

February 14, 2008

Court Filed:

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia


March 26, 2010: U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit invalidated contribution limits as to Plantiff, but upheld political committee requirements

Current Court: 

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia(merits)


U.S. District Court final judgment

Next Key Date:


Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

none available
Latest Release: U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Review SpeechNow.org Free Speech Case; Case Removed Contribution Limits, But Groups of Individuals Still Face Burdensome Registration Requirements (November 1, 2010)

Release: U.S. Supreme Court Considers Whether to Hear Important First Amendment Challenge (October 27, 2010)

Release: Appeal filed in SpeechNow.org (July 23, 2010)

Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Article: SpeechNow Can Speak Now; Liberty & Law (June 2010)

Article: SpeechNow.org Gets Its Day in Court; Liberty & Law (April 2010)

Op-ed: Another victory for free speech The Daily Caller (March 30, 2010)

Article: 7 Big Misconceptions About Campaign Finance Laws Liberty & Law (December 2009)

Release: SpeechNow.org can Speak Now: Federal Court Declares Contribution Limits Unconstitutional And Enjoins Federal Election Commission (June 2, 2010)

Release: Major First Amendment Victory: Federal Appeals Court Unanimously Strikes Down Limits on Political Speech (March 26, 2010)

Article: The Joy of Sleepless Nights & Litigation; Liberty & Law (February 2009)

Article: Freeing SpeechNow; Liberty & Law (April 2008)

Editorial: Free SpeechNow New York Sun (January 24, 2008) 

Column: Ad Lib, ReasonOnline (December 5, 2007)

Release: SpeechNow.org’s Challenge to Campaign Finance Laws Now Before Entire D.C. Circuit (October 7, 2009)




Release: SpeechNow.org Asks D.C. Circuit to Let It Speak in Coming Election Season (August 24, 2009) Center for Competitive Politics
Release: District Court Denial of Preliminary Injunction Request Leaves SpeechNow.org Silenced
(July 1, 2008)
Release: Split FEC Vote Leaves SpeechNow.org Silenced; Chairman’s Opinion Says Limits on Independent Citizen Groups Unconstitutional (January 24, 2008) 
Release: FEC Draft Opinion Would Silence SpeechNow.org, Independent Speech Groups (January 22, 2008) 
Release: SpeechNow.org Responds to Comments Before FEC On Rights of Independent Speech Groups (December 11, 2007)


Release: Federal Election Commission Agrees to Decide Rights of Independent Speech Groups (November 29, 2007) 

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