Despite Court Ruling, Arizona Continues to Enforce Its Unconstitutional Campaign Finance Scheme

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · October 27, 2014

Phoenix, Ariz.—Can Arizona flout the rule of law and enforce a campaign finance scheme that a federal judge has already said is unconstitutional? That is the question to be presented to Judge James A. Teilborg at a hearing tomorrow, October 29, 2014, at 11 a.m. in Courtroom 503 of the Sandra Day O’Connor U.S. Courthouse in Phoenix.

The Institute for Justice secured a major First Amendment victory last year when Judge Teilborg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona ruled that portions of Arizona’s campaign finance scheme were unconstitutional.

Back in 2011, Dina Galassini, a resident of Fountain Hills, Ariz., sent an email to 23 friends and neighbors inviting them to join her in a protest against a local road bond by making homemade signs and joining her on a street corner. “Little did she realize,” as Judge Teilborg noted, “that she was about to feel the heavy hand of government regulation in a way she never imagined.”

Just a few days after sending her email, Galassini received a letter from the town clerk telling her to stop speaking until she registered as a “political committee.” Represented by IJ, Galassini filed a lawsuit challenging Arizona’s campaign finance scheme and secured an injunction allowing her to hold one of her street-corner protests.

In September 2013, Judge Teilborg issued a ruling finding Arizona’s campaign finance scheme unconstitutional. He held that Arizona’s definition of political committee was unconstitutionally vague, forcing people to guess as to what it means. Indeed, it was “not clear that even a campaign finance attorney would be able to ascertain how to interpret” the law and that “[s]uch vagueness is not permitted by the Constitution.” Moreover, he ruled that the law was overbroad and unduly burdensome in part because people—as evidenced by Galassini—could unwittingly create political committees and be subject to penalties by simply joining with their friends to engage in political activity.

“In America, you shouldn’t need lawyers and accountants in order to speak about politics—all you should need is an opinion,” said IJ Attorney Paul Avelar. “But the state insists on keeping laws on the books that don’t benefit the public and instead impose onerous burdens on speech and scare ordinary Americans away from political engagement.”

Judge Teilborg entered a final judgment against the Town of Fountain Hills in July 2014 finalizing Galassini’s success. But none of this—not the court’s September 2013 ruling or its recent judgment against the Town—has stopped the state, which continues to enforce its unconstitutional laws. That is why on Wednesday, October 29, the court will hear oral argument as to whether the state can continue to squelch the speech of Arizonans.

For more on the lawsuit, visit Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice is the national law firm for liberty.