Arlington, Va.—An important First Amendment lawsuit was filed in Arizona federal court today. At issue is whether the governmentmay bar people from joining together to protestlocal ballot measures without first registering with the government.
Dina Galassini is a political activist and resident of Fountain Hills, Ariz. Earlier this month, she emailed friends urging them to join her in opposing her town’s issuance of nearly $30 million in new bonds. Almost immediately she received a letter from the town clerk telling her to stop speaking until she had registered with the town as a “political committee” under Arizona’s campaign finance laws.
“I was stunned to learn that I needed to register with the government just to talk to people in my community about a political issue,” said Galassini. “All I could think was, ‘How can this be allowed under the First Amendment?’”
Under Arizona law, anytime two or more people work together to support or oppose a ballot issue, they become a “political committee.” This means they must register with the state, file various forms with the government, and establish a separate bank account, before they are allowed to speak. Arizona’s campaign finance laws apply to practically all political speech in the state, and failure to abide by their complex and confusing provisions can result in fines of up to $1,000.
“In America, the only thing you should need to speak about politics is an opinion,” said Paul Avelar, a staff attorney for the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter. “But thanks to Arizona’s campaign finance laws, a person needs more than just their opinions, they also need a lawyer.”
Now Dina is fighting back with the help of the Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm. IJ filed a lawsuit today in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona on Galassini’s behalf, asking for an emergency order that will prevent Fountain Hills from punishing Dina under the campaign finance laws if she goes forward with her protests.
“Campaign finance laws like Arizona’s make politics inaccessible to ordinary people and create a trap for the unwary by criminalizing free speech,” said Steve Simpson, a senior attorney at IJ and lead counsel in this case. “Unfortunately, these laws are common across the United States. That is why IJ started its Citizen Speech Campaign—to protect free speech for ordinary Americans in elections.”
The case, Galassini v. Town of Fountain Hills, is the latest in IJ’s Citizen Speech Campaign, a national effort to restore full protection to political speech.