SpeechNow.org - Release: 10-7-2009
SpeechNow.org’s Challenge to Campaign Finance Laws
Now Before Entire D.C. Circuit
Case is Fast-Tracked for U.S. Supreme Court Consideration
WEB RELEASE: October 7, 2009
John Kramer, IJ, (703) 682-9320
Jeff Patch, CCP, (703) 894-6824
Arlington, Va.—For almost two years, the creators of SpeechNow.org—which seeks to unseat politicians hostile to free speech—have been forced to remain silent while their own free speech rights are considered by a court.
But now the merits of SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission will at last be heard in court thanks to a special legal procedure that moved the case out of the federal district court, where it languished since February 2008, and before the entire U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. SpeechNow.org’s legal fight against burdensome and overly broad campaign finance restrictions will finally be heard.
SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission was moved before the entire U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia because of a provision of the law that allows special en banc proceedings once a district judge certifies the facts of a case. Judge James Robertson recently certified the facts in SpeechNow.org, putting the case on a fast track for U.S. Supreme Court consideration.
SpeechNow.org is a group of ordinary Americans who have come together to protect freedom of speech by supporting candidates who favor free political speech and opposing those who want to stifle that speech in the name of campaign finance reform. SpeechNow.org is a truly independent organization: It is not a PAC or a political party, it takes no corporate or union money, and it never donates to or coordinates with candidates.
Nonetheless, under campaign finance law, SpeechNow.org is forced to register as a “political committee.” That imposes on the organization a host of burdensome regulations that carry the threat of fines and even jail time. Although an individual may spend an unlimited amount of his or her own money to advocate for and against candidates, an individual can contribute no more than $5,000 to a political committee that is doing the exact same thing.
“The government is forcing individuals to sacrifice their First Amendment right to associate in order to exercise their First Amendment right to speak,” said Steve Simpson, a senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, which together with the Center for Competitive Politics, represents SpeechNow.org.
“Campaign finance laws hamstring a most-basic form of American political participation—individuals banding together to pledge their fortunes to a political cause,” Simpson said. “If individuals have the right to spend as much money on speech as they wish, then groups of individuals must have the same right.”
Indeed, that is just what a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled last month in Emily’s List v. Federal Election Commission when it held that groups like SpeechNow.org can raise the funds they use for independent advocacy free of arbitrary and restrictive contribution limits. As the panel in Emily’s List aptly noted, “If one person is constitutionally entitled to spend $1 million to run advertisements supporting a candidate . . . it logically follows that 100 people are constitutionally entitled to donate $10,000 each to a non-profit group that will run advertisements supporting a candidate.”
The full D.C. Circuit now can strike a decisive blow for free speech by holding that political speech is a basic American right under the First Amendment.
“Joining together as a group and pooling resources gives citizens a way to make their voices heard,” said David Keating, president of SpeechNow.org. “Campaign finance regulations favor the political establishment and shut out everyone else—by making it virtually impossible for new independent groups to raise start-up funding and effectively reach voters.”
“The courts are starting to recognize that groups like SpeechNow.org must be left alone and allowed to speak,” said Bradley Smith, chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics and a former FEC chairman. “By ruling that SpeechNow.org is free to talk about candidates without first having to become a political committee, the Court of Appeals will pave the way for groups of all stripes to make their voices heard in elections.”
The Institute for Justice is a non-profit, public interest law firm that defends free speech and other constitutional rights nationwide. The Center for Competitive Politics is a non-profit organization formed to educate the public on the actual effects of money in politics, and the results of a more free and competitive electoral process.
For more complete background information on SpeechNow.org v. FEC, visit: