Arlington, Va.—A group of Sarasota, Fla., residents are challenging Florida campaign finance laws that impose severe burdens on grassroots groups that want to talk about ballot issues. A hearing on their challenge is scheduled to begin today, July 27, at 1:00 p.m. before the Honorable Robert Hinkle of The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. The court is located at 111 North Adams Street in Tallahassee.
Nathan Worley, Pat Wayman, and John Scolaro are three Florida residents who wanted to pool their money along with others to run a radio ad urging the public to vote “no” on proposed Amendment 4 to the Florida Constitution. But under Florida law, these three cannot join together to spend more than $500 to advocate the passage or defeat of a ballot issue without first forming a heavily regulated “political committee.” In early 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission held that forcing corporations and unions that wished to speak out in elections to form political committees amounted to a “ban on speech.”
“Laws that are unconstitutionally burdensome for General Motors and the AFL-CIO are unconstitutionally burdensome for grassroots groups of citizens,” said Paul Sherman, a staff attorney at the Institute for Justice, which is representing the citizen group in their First Amendment challenge against the Florida Secretary of State and Florida Elections Commission. Sherman continued, “The First Amendment was designed to prohibit exactly these kinds of burdensome regulations of political speech.”
At Thursday’s hearing, the Institute for Justice will argue:
· Florida’s campaign finance laws violate the group’s First Amendment rights because they impose severe burdens on groups that want to do nothing more than talk to the public about issues that will appear on the ballot.
· Florida’s “disclaimer” requirement unconstitutionally forces grassroots groups to devote up to 20 percent of their advertising time to a state-mandated disclaimer that has nothing to do with their political message.
· The government’s attorneys have presented no evidence to justify the sweeping burdens Florida law imposes on grassroots groups of citizens.
Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Bert Gall said, “There is something terribly wrong when, in a nation that cherishes the right to free speech and self-government, states can hamstring citizens with regulations, red tape, and the threat of civil and criminal penalties simply for speaking out. Recently, the Supreme Court has made a point of emphasizing how important First Amendment rights are in this nation, and it has struck down laws that interfere with Americans’ ability to speak out about political issues. It is time for states like Florida to pay attention to what the Court has been saying.”
For more information on the case, visit: www.ij.org/FlCitizenSpeech
The Institute for Justice, Nathan Worley, Pat Wayman and John Scolaro will ask the court to declare that Florida’s campaign finance laws violate the First Amendment and enjoin the state from enforcing them against grassroots groups that simply want to speak to the public about ballot issues.