The right to free speech, including the right to speak out about who should be elected to public office, is a fundamental American right that is essential to democratic debate. Similarly, the right of individuals to band together and pool their resources to make their advocacy more effective is another fundamental American right.

But under the guise of reform, campaign-finance regulations protect incumbents from electoral competition and stifle political speech and association. The contribution limits and red tape imposed on “political committees” are some ways that campaign finance regulations favor the political establishment.  These regulations make it virtually impossible for new independent citizen groups to raise start-up funding and reach voters effectively.

The Institute for Justice opposes this censorship and strongly believes that an unfettered marketplace of ideas strengthens political discourse.

  • IJ has won major victories at the U.S. Supreme Court and in federal appellate courts. Our 2010 victory in v. FEC at the District of Columbia U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down limits on contributions to groups that spend money on independent political speech. This ruling, along with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, was described by the Congressional Research Service in 2011 as among “the most fundamental changes to campaign finance law in decades.”
  • In 2016, we launched two new cases in Colorado, including a challenge to the state’s system of private-party enforcement for its campaign finance laws and a state court ruling that would make it much harder—and in some cases impossible—for political speakers to get pro bono legal help. We also filed a new lawsuit against an Alabama law that forces “lobbyists” to take an in-person course before they can speak with state lawmakers.
  • IJ’s strategic research team has published numerous empirical studies on campaign finance laws, finding that these regulations stifle debate and burden citizens who want to express themselves through grassroots activism.  Our strategic research has played a major role in shifting the terms of the debate on these issues and was even cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett in 2011.

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Political Speech Research

First Amendment | Political Speech

The Public’s Right to Know versus Compelled Speech

In this Article, we question neither the desirability of creating transparency in the ties between candidates and their contributors, nor the efficacy of disclosure regulations in affecting this end. This is despite the fact that…

First Amendment | Political Speech

Mandatory disclosure for ballot initiative campaigns

This research examines some of the assumptions inherent in discussions of campaign-finance disclosure laws as they relate to ballot issues. Specifically, it tests the theory that mandatory disclosure contributes to “better” (that is, more informed)…

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