Campaign Finance: IJ's Long-Term Investment Pays Off
By Steve Simpson
This year is turning out to be one of the best yet for the First Amendment and the protection of free speech. And, as you may have come to expect, IJ is in the thick of it.
In January, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Citizens United v. FEC, one of the most significant campaign finance decisions in decades. By the end of 2010, we may well see other Supreme Court victories protecting ordinary Americans’ right to talk about politics—a right that just a few years ago seemed at risk of being washed away in a sea of regulation. And IJ is at the center of all of it. But it is not luck that has gotten us to this point. We are reaping the gains of an investment made years ago.
Our first campaign finance cases were a challenge to Arizona’s misnamed “Clean Elections” Act and a Washington state case in which we represented a ballot issue campaign that failed to report as “contributions” the on-air commentary of two talk show hosts who supported the campaign’s cause. In 2005, we made a conscious choice to focus significant institutional efforts in this area of the law and our campaign finance practice was born.
That same year, we took over the representation of the Independence Institute, a Colorado-based free market think tank, in a challenge to that state’s onerous ballot-issue campaign financing laws. The next year, we followed with another Colorado case representing a group of neighbors who were sued by their political opponents under campaign finance laws for having the temerity to speak about a ballot issue without first registering with the government. In 2007 IJ, along with co-counsel at the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP), began representing SpeechNow.org before the Federal Election Commission. SpeechNow.org—a group of individuals who wants to pool their resources and run ads against political candidates who are hostile to the First Amendment—was restricted from pursuing that campaign because of draconian campaign finance restrictions. Ultimately, IJ and CCP teamed up to file suit on behalf of SpeechNow.org in 2008 challenging these federal laws. Later that same year, we challenged laws in Florida that prevented small groups from effectively speaking out during elections.
In addition to winning several of these cases, we developed institutional expertise in the area of First Amendment litigation and contributed strategic research that has been cited in cases all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. All the while, IJ generated a flood of media attention about our efforts to transform the terms of the national debate in favor of freedom. In 2009, we thrust ourselves into the center of the debate about the Citizens United case and were there to defend the decision in 2010.
This past March, IJ won an important victory in the D.C. Circuit in our challenge to contribution limits in the SpeechNow.org case. (We lost on our challenge to the onerous administrative and reporting requirements that apply to the group, but we have appealed that portion of the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.) Recently, the Supreme Court halted distribution of matching funds to taxpayer-supported candidates in our Arizona Clean Elections challenge, which makes us very optimistic that the Court will accept the case for review when we appeal later this summer. And, as described on page 5 of this newsletter, we recently launched an outlet to showcase our First Amendment expertise with IJ’s new First Amendment blog: Congress Shall Make No Law, which is located at MakeNoLaw.org.
The battle for free speech is by no means over. But we remain at the center of the fight over campaign finance restrictions and the future of the First Amendment. This investment will continue to pay dividends well into the future for all those who cherish free speech.
Steve Simpson is an IJ senior attorney.