FAN 117 (First Amendment News) Center for Competitive Politics Prevails in Challenge to Utah Campaign Finance Law
Columnist George Will held them out as the go-to group when it comes to the First Amendment and campaign finance laws. The group: The Center for Competitive Politics. Consistent with that reputation, the Center has recently prevailed in a challenge it leveled against a Utah campaign finance law (Utah Taxpayers Association v. Cox). Here are some excerpts from a press release from the Center:
“In an agreement approved by a federal judge this afternoon, Utah agreed not to enforce a state campaign finance law that violated the First Amendment. The complex law required nonprofit advocacy groups to register with the state and publicly report their supporters’ private information, threatening donations to those organizations.”
“The agreement, known as a consent decree, was approved by U.S. District Court Judge Dale A. Kimball and settles a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Utah groups by attorneys at the Center for Competitive Politics, America’s largest nonprofit working to promote and defend First Amendment rights to freedom of political speech, assembly, and petition.”
“Allen Dickerson, CCP Legal Director and the lead attorney in the lawsuit said, ‘This complicated law chilled speech and association protected by the First Amendment. By regulating speech about any public policy issue and groups with only trivial connections to elections, Utah failed to regulate with the care the Constitution demands. We appreciate the work done by Attorney General Sean Reyes’s office to settle this litigation and provide necessary guidance to all advocacy groups in Utah.'”
→ The plaintiffs were represented by Center for Competitive Politics’ Allen Dickerson and Staff Attorney Owen Yeates.
→ Here are a few excerpts from the consent decree:
“The State Defendants and their agents, officers, and employees agree not to enforce the law currently codified at Utah Code Ann. §§ 20A-11-701 to -702, as modified to create a donor reporting regime by H.B. 43, because imposing such requirements on Plaintiffs for engaging in constitutionally protected political advocacy and political issues advocacy is unconstitutional unless those organizations are political action committees or political issues committees for which such advocacy is their major purpose. In particular, the State Defendants will not impose fines against corporations for failing to comply with the donor reporting regime unless those organizations are political action committees or political issues committees for which such advocacy is their major purpose; file or refer criminal charges against such corporations; or otherwise enforce the donor reporting regime unless those organizations are political action committees or political issues committees for which such advocacy is their major purpose.”
Colorado Petitions SCOTUS in Campaign Disclosure-Requirements Case
The case is Williams v. Coalition for Secular Government. The issue in the case is whether Buckley v. Valeo’s “wholly without rationality” test apply to all dollar thresholds that trigger campaign finance disclosures, or are thresholds below some as- yet-undefined amount subject to heightened constitutional scrutiny?
In its cert. petition Colorado notes:
“To trigger campaign finance disclosure regulations, States rely on dollar thresholds ranging from zero to amounts in the thousands. Recognizing that setting a disclosure threshold is a policy decision entitled to deference, this Court held in Buckley v. Valeo that disclosure thresholds must be upheld unless they are “wholly without rationality.” 424 U.S. 1, 83 (1976). The Tenth Circuit, however, has rejected this test. In two decisions, it has held that Colorado’s disclosure threshold for “issue committees” is too low, although it declined to explain what number would be constitutional. Under that reasoning, even groups that spend $3,500 on campaign advocacy—a figure over ten times greater than the amount that triggers similar disclosure regulations in other States—are exempt from Colorado’s disclosure laws.”
Colorado urged the Court to grant review for the following reasons:
“I. This Court’s review is necessary to resolve the circuit split over the standard of review for campaign finance triggering thresholds.”
“A. The Circuits are split three ways over Buckley’s ‘wholly without rationality’ test.”
“B. The outcome below conflicts with cases from the Fifth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits, which uphold disclosure thresholds for issue committees ranging from $0 to $500.”
“II. The constitutional standards that govern campaign finance disclosure laws, particularly laws that apply in the ballot issue context, are exceptionally important in dozens of States.”
“III. Because it comes from the outlier circuit after a bench trial, this case is an excellent vehicle for resolving the confusion among the lower courts.”
→ Frederick Yarger, Solicitor Generall, counsel of record for Colorado.
→ The challenge to the Colorado law was brought by the Center for Competitive Policits.
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