Citizen Groups Ask Federal Court to Suspend Florida’s “Electioneering Communications” Law Before Election Day

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · October 14, 2008

Arlington, Va.—Three citizen groups and their leaders asked a federal court late Friday to suspend a Florida campaign finance law that prevents them from even mentioning a candidate or issue on the ballot this Election Day.

Represented by the Institute for Justice, the groups filed a motion seeking a preliminary injunction against Florida’s “electioneering communications” law from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. The groups filed a First Amendment challenge to the law last week, and court rules require litigants to confer with lawyers for the defendants, in this case the Florida Secretary of Sate and the Florida Elections Commission, before a motion for preliminary injunction can be filed.

IJ is seeking an injunction as quickly as possible to ensure that community groups, educational non-profits, group blogs and other organizations and individuals covered by Florida’s law—the broadest in the nation—can speak freely in the final weeks of the election.

“Just as voters get ready to head to the polls, Florida’s law is silencing citizens who simply want to share information and ideas about issues and candidates on the ballot,” said Bert Gall, an IJ senior attorney. “Florida is now policing what the First Amendment was designed to protect—the right of all Americans to talk openly about politics.”

In Florida, any group of people that simply mentions a candidate or a ballot issue in a public newsletter or on a website must register with the government and report all of its spending and donors, even those who never intended their gift to go towards political speech. Groups that fail to comply face fines and possible jail time for their speech. Individuals are also subject to burdensome reporting requirements if they spend just $100 of their own money to speak.

Because of the steep costs in time and money to comply, several groups are opting to stay silent this election season. For example, the all-volunteer Broward Coalition of Condominiums, Homeowners Associations and Community Organizations is omitting from its newsletter a page that discusses ballot issues of concern to the community. The University of Florida College Libertarians is forgoing both advertising a campus event with a local politician and distributing a flier about ballot issues to university students. And the National Taxpayers Union left out any discussion of Florida ballot issues from its national guide to tax-related ballot measures, published last week.

“Community groups and educational non-profits add valuable voices to public debate, but laws like Florida’s chill their speech,” concluded Gall. “Speaking about politics is a core First Amendment right that shouldn’t be tied up with red tape and regulation.”