Fountain Hills, Arizona Speech
Dina Galassini, v. Town Of Fountain Hills, Arizona
Stifling Citizen Speech in Arizona
|IJ Client Dina Galassini|
Americans have been gathering together to speak out about politics since the nation was founded. Indeed, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution exists to protect the right to speak and associate about the most important events of the day. Increasingly, however, governments across the country are tangling these rights up in so much red tape that it is becoming as difficult to speak out about politics as it is to file your income tax return. The culprit: campaign finance laws.
Dina Galassini of Fountain Hills, Ariz., found this out the hard way. In early October of 2011, she sent an email to 23 friends and neighbors asking them to join her in opposing a local bond issue. Dina thought that the bond issue was a bad deal for town residents that would only put the Town further into debt and would make a tax increase inevitable. She asked her friends to write letters to the editor and to forward her email to anyone they thought might benefit from it.
Then Dina asked them to join her in two protests. She thought gathering together with friends and neighbors on a street corner and waiving signs would be an effective way to get her message out about the bond issue. It was a good plan, except for one thing: Under Arizona law, you need more than an opinion to join with others to speak about politics . . . you also need a lawyer.
Within a week after sending out her email, Dina received a letter from the town clerk urging her to “cease any campaign related activities” until she had registered as a “political committee” under Arizona law and complied with “all of the requirements associated with a PAC.” According to the clerk, although an individual acting alone is not a political committee, “if any additional person or persons join the effort” they must register as a PAC “prior to any electioneering taking place.”
Under Arizona law, even groups that intend to spend less than $500 must register with the government before distributing any literature, making signs, or passing out flyers. Even if they don’t intend to raise funds from others, the fact that their speech has value is enough to qualify them as PACs. Under the law, they must appoint a treasurer and chairman; they must designate a bank account; they must put notices on their signs stating that they were “paid for” by a PAC; they must track their activities and be prepared to open their files to the town; and they must file a notice of termination when the election is over.
Dina was stunned. She never thought the simple act of joining with others to voice her opposition to a local bond issue could land her in legal hot water. She cancelled her protests and began speaking to attorneys.
On October 26, 2011, the Institute for Justice filed suit against the Town of Fountain Hills for violating Dina’s First Amendment rights. Thanks to a ruling from the court, Dina was able to hold a protest two days before the end of mail-in voting on November 8. Not everyone is lucky enough to get free legal representation so quickly, however, and Dina pressed forward in her case for a ruling that will free up all Arizonans from burdensome campaign finance laws.
On September 30, 2013, Judge James A. Teilborg struck down Arizona’s campaign finance scheme. He held that Arizona’s definition of “political committee,” under which Dina was regulated, is vague, overbroad, and unduly burdensome. Describing the law, Judge Teilborg noted that “it is not clear that even a campaign finance attorney would be able to ascertain how to interpret [it]” and that “[s]uch vagueness is not permitted by the Constitution.” Further noting the “heavy hand of government regulation,” he went on to hold that the “practical effect of [campaign finance] regulations for small groups makes engaging in protected speech a ‘severely demanding task.’”
This case is a part of the Institute for Justice’s Citizen Speech Initiative, a national effort to restore full protection to free political speech. The fight for truly free speech, in Arizona and beyond, will continue.