Arlington, Va.—A federal judge today denied a preliminary injunction request by SpeechNow.org, effectively silencing the citizen group in the midst of the 2008 election season.
SpeechNow.org is an independent group of citizens formed to protect the First Amendment at the ballot box. The group is challenging federal campaign finance laws that say that any time two or more people pool their resources to support or oppose a federal candidate, they become a “political committee” subject to government limits—$5,000 per supporter per year—and bureaucratic red tape.
SpeechNow.org asked for a preliminary injunction so that it could begin its political advocacy immediately and without fear of legal penalties from the Federal Election Commission as the case proceeds. Accepting or spending just $1,000 on speech opposing candidates would trigger those penalties—so the group has remained silent.
“This week, Americans celebrate the Declaration of Independence, but have little freedom to speak about politicians without being bound up by government limits and bureaucratic red tape,” said Steve Simpson, an Institute for Justice senior attorney. “Influencing elections by convincing your fellow citizens that some candidates are better than others is a fundamental First Amendment right that the Framers guaranteed, and in the end we will fully vindicate that right.”
SpeechNow.org has already missed opportunities to make a difference in elections. For example, the group had funds pledged and ads ready to oppose Indiana Rep. Burton and inform voters about his recored supporting speech restrictions. Burton narrowly won a primary race on May 6.
And now SpeechNow.org will have to continue to stay silent, after the ruling by Judge James Robertson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denying a preliminary injunction
“We’ll never know if races we lost the opportunity to speak about would have turned out differently if voters knew more about the candidates’ stands on First Amendment rights,” said David Keating, president of SpeechNow.org. “It is baffling that Americans are barred from speaking to Americans about who should be elected to public office.”
SpeechNow.org is not a PAC or a political party, it takes no corporate or union money—only individual contributions—and it will never donate to or coordinate with candidates or political parties. SpeechNow.org plans to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Proceedings on the merits of the case, SpeechNow.org v. FEC, will continue before the District Court.
“We are confident that the courts will ultimately recognize that just as the First Amendment guarantees individuals the right to speak about politics free of government limits, groups of individuals should have the same rights,” said Bradley Smith, chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics and a former FEC chairman.