Citizen Speech

 Protecting Citizen Speech


IJ Client Nathan Worley

IJ Client Nathan Worley

IJ report Keep Out

Research report, Keep Out: How State Campaign Finance Laws Erect Barriers to Entry for Political Entrepreneur

Freedom of speech and freedom of association are so important that they are enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Yet across the nation, in nearly every state, government regulation stifles the ability of citizens to exercise their rights to speak and to associate with one another to discuss the most pressing issues of the day.  The culprit?  So-called campaign finance laws.

For example, in 24 states, citizens who wish to spend money to speak out about ballot issues must register as political committees or “PACs” and navigate a complex maze of regulations.  As a result, a group of citizens in Florida who want to pool their funds to speak out against a controversial amendment that would inhibit development in the state must register with the government, appoint a treasurer, open a separate bank account, and track and report every penny that they raise and spend for their efforts.  In Colorado, a group of citizens was sued under these laws for putting up lawn signs opposing a local initiative and sending post cards to neighbors.

Another 22 states add contribution limits to these regulatory burdens for citizen groups that spend money on speech supporting or opposing candidates.  For example, in Rhode Island, individuals may contribute no more than $1000 per year to such groups.  The result is that although individuals and even corporations may spend unlimited amounts on ads saying vote for or against a candidate, individuals in Rhode Island who join together in unincorporated groups are limited to $1000 each.

To remedy this, the Institute for Justice launched its Citizen Speech Campaign on September 29, 2010.  Kicked off with a lawsuit, Andrew Nathan Worley, et al. v. Dawn K. Roberts, et al., that challenges Florida ballot issue campaign finance laws, the campaign is a nationwide effort to ensure the promise of the First Amendment’s command that government "shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech."

To catalogue the various state laws that restrict citizen speech, the Institute today released a new research report, Keep Out: How State Campaign Finance Laws Erect Barriers to Entry for Political Entrepreneurs.  The report, written by University of Missouri economist Jeff Milyo, explains why citizen speakers are important and how state campaign finance laws get in their way.

Along with the report, the Institute is launching a public campaign calling on officials in the 22 states that impose both contribution limits and PAC requirements on groups that wish to speak out about candidates to bring their laws into compliance with the First Amendment.

Essential Background



Backgrounder: Protecting Citizen Speech: Lawsuit Challenging Constitutionality Of Florida Campaign Finance Regulations Kicks Off Nationwide Campaign

  For a humorous look at how politicians learn how to enact campaign finance laws that stifle free speech, watch a three minute video.
Latest Release: Grassroots Group Takes Florida’s Campaign Finance Laws to Federal Court (July 27, 2011)  

Legal Briefs and Decisions

  Download: Institute for Justice Complaint in Florida Case (PDF)
Launch Release: Institute for Justice Launches Citizens Speech Campaign To Protect Free Speech Rights During Elections (September 29, 2010)    

Additional Releases


Maps, Charts and Facts

Florida Release: Grassroots Group Protect Citizen Speech by Challenging Florida’s Campaign Finance Regulations (September 29, 2010)

Research report, Keep Out: How State Campaign Finance Laws Erect Barriers to Entry for Political Entrepreneurs
Report Release: Politicians’ Message for the Rest of Us: Keep Out! (September 29, 2010)  

Op-eds, News Articles and Links

  Op-ed: Your voice isn’t welcome here The Daily Caller (September 29, 2010)

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