Arlington, Va.—In an emergency ruling issued yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge James A. Teilborg granted a motion by the Institute for Justice to stop the Town of Fountain Hills, Ariz., from enforcing burdensome campaign finance laws against a woman who just wanted to hold grassroots protests about her town’s issuing new bonds.
In early October, political activist and Fountain Hills resident Dina Galassini emailed friends urging them to join her in two grassroots protests opposing her town’s issuance of nearly $30 million in new bonds, and encouraging them to bring homemade signs with messages like “Keep Property Taxes Low” and “Vote NO on the Bond.” 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 felt strongly from the beginning that the position Fountain Hills had put me in was wrong,” Dina said. “I am overjoyed the Court has protected my right to gather together with my friends and neighbors to speak our minds without having to register with the government.”
With the help of the Institute for Justice (IJ), Dina filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, asking for an emergency order that would prevent the town from punishing Dina under the campaign finance laws if she goes forward with her protests. Judge Teilborg entered that order, finding that there were “serious questions as to the constitutionality of the statutes at issue” and that those statues threatened Dina’s First Amendment rights.
“Yesterday’s decision was very important because it protects Dina’s right to speak and to associate with others at the time it matters most: during the heat of an election,” said IJ-Arizona Staff Attorney Paul Avelar. “Campaign finance laws are difficult to understand and create traps for the unwary. The judge understood that and enjoined the law.”
The emergency order extended yesterday is just the first step in this case. IJ will now move on to litigating the full merits and demonstrate again how these laws inhibit the ability of ordinary Americans to speak and participate in the political process. The goal of the case is to free all Arizonans to speak about politics without the threat of prosecution.
“In America, the only thing you should need to speak is an opinion. Unfortunately, under campaign finance laws, you also need an attorney,” said IJ Senior Attorney and lead counsel in the case Steve Simpson. “The Supreme Court recognized in Citizens United that complicated laws can suppress speech even by well-funded groups. We are gratified that the judge in this case recognized the same thing is true for grassroots speech by ordinary Americans.”
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.