Arlington, Va.—SpeechNow.org has already missed one election season thanks to overbearing and overly burdensome campaign finance regulations—and a federal court that failed to uphold its First Amendment rights by refusing to block enforcement of those laws. Today, the group is asking the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to ensure it does not miss another opportunity to speak by granting it a preliminary injunction.
SpeechNow.org is challenging federal laws that say it is a “political committee” and, as such, cannot accept more than $5,000 from a person who agrees with its message and must comply with a host of burdensome regulations. Under the campaign finance laws, one person can spend as much of his money as he wants on political advocacy, but a group of people like SpeechNow.org cannot pool their resources to do the same thing.
SpeechNow.org is not a PAC or a political party, it takes no corporate or union money, and it never donates to or coordinates with candidates or political parties. It is simply a group of Americans who have come together to protect freedom of speech by supporting candidates who favor free political speech and opposing those who want to stifle that speech in the name of campaign finance reform.
In July 2008, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia refused SpeechNow.org’s request for a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the law, silencing the group during the height of the election season. The brief filed today asks the Court of Appeals to correct that error and let SpeechNow.org advocate for and against federal candidates in the months ahead.
“The whole point of political speech is to influence elections—to convince fellow citizens that, on important issues, some candidates are better than others,” said Steve Simpson, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represents SpeechNow.org with the Center for Competitive Politics. “We are confident that the Court of Appeals will recognize that advocating for or against candidates isn’t ‘corrupting,’ it is our constitutional right.”
Too often, “campaign finance” laws act as “speech and association” laws to protect political insiders. The Supreme Court will soon hear arguments in Citizens United, which asks if corporations have the First Amendment right to speak out in favor of federal candidates or against them. Both Citizens United and SpeechNow.org v. FEC ask if the government can limit or ban speech that is independent of candidates and parties.
And the question that SpeechNow.org has put before the Court of Appeals today—whether a group of people can come together to advocate independently without restriction—is one of the most important unresolved questions in campaign finance law. For these reasons, many experts think SpeechNow.org v. FEC will be the next blockbuster campaign finance case to come before the Supreme Court.
“Right now, the campaign finance laws favor the political establishment by making it nearly impossible for new independent groups to get started and effectively reach voters,” said David Keating, president of SpeechNow.org. “A victory for the First Amendment here will pave the way for groups from across the political spectrum to make their voices heard in elections without being hamstrung by drastic limits and needless red tape.”
One goal of SpeechNow.org is to give citizens of modest means a stronger voice in elections. For example, both Brad Russo and Scott Burkhardt believe in SpeechNow.org’s mission but lack the resources to produce and broadcast advertisements on their own. By pooling Brad and Scott’s contributions with larger ones, SpeechNow.org helps to amplify their message so it can reach a broader audience. Together, all of SpeechNow.org’s supporters can speak more effectively than any could alone.
“No one should have to sacrifice the First Amendment right to associate in order to exercise the First Amendment right to speak,” said Bradley Smith, chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics and a former FEC chairman. “A victory for SpeechNow.org will make it clear that banding together with others in support of a common cause does not strip you of your constitutional right to speak as much as you would like.”
The Institute for Justice is a nonprofit public interest law firm that defends free speech and other constitutional rights nationwide. The Center for Competitive Politics is a nonprofit organization formed to educate the public on the actual effects of money in politics, and the results of a more free and competitive electoral process.
For more complete background information on SpeechNow.org v. FEC, visit: