Washington Supreme Court Rejects Latest Attempt to Regulate Media Using State Campaign Finance Laws

John Kramer
John Kramer · August 7, 2007

Arlington, Va.—The Washington Supreme Court yesterday rejected the latest government attempt to regulate the content of media commentary in Washington state, denying a request to reconsider the court’s unanimous April ruling in San Juan County v. No New Gas Tax that media commentary does not qualify as an “in-kind” contribution that must be reported to the state under campaign finance laws.

Despite that landmark victory for free speech and freedom of the press, the local governments that originally sued Yes912.com for failing to report supposed “in-kind contributions” from talk radio hosts asked the court to reconsider the ruling in May. They argued, among other things, that allowing the media to comment on issues of public importance was a “significant disclosure loophole” in Washington law. Fortunately, the court denied this motion in a one-sentence order.

“This was a blatant attempt by local governments to find some other way to regulate media commentary they do not like,” said Bill Maurer, the executive director of the Institute for Justice Washington Chapter, who argued the case for Yes912.com. “But as the Washington Supreme Court already ruled, campaign finance laws do not give government the power to censor the press.”

Yesterday’s ruling clears the way for Yes912.com’s case to return to the trial court, where it will have an opportunity to fully vindicate its First Amendment rights. In its April ruling, the state’s high court reinstated the campaign’s civil rights complaint against the municipalities, which argued that the municipalities’ prosecution of the campaign for its exercise of free speech was unconstitutional.

Maurer concluded, “The case is now back before the trial court and there we intend to expose how this violation of the First Amendment occurred and fully vindicate the rights of campaigns and media to be free from politically-motivated prosecution.”