Mississippi Citizen Speech
Justice v. Hosemann
Protecting Citizen Speech
|Download: Full Disclosure|
In America, the only thing you should need to speak is an opinion. But thanks to burdensome campaign finance laws, groups of concerned citizens need more than just their opinions: They also need a lawyer.
Vance Justice, Sharon Bynum, Matt Johnson, Alison Kinnaman, and Stan O’Dell are friends from Oxford, Mississippi. During the 2011 election, they wanted to join together and speak out in favor of Initiative 31—a ballot measure to amend the Mississippi Constitution to provide greater protection from eminent domain abuse. But if they spent just $200 to speak without registering with the government and navigating a complex web of regulations, they would be subject to fines and possible criminal penalties. This meant that they could not even buy a single quarter-page advertisement in their local paper. And they were very limited as to the number of signs and flyers they could make. Ultimately, because of Mississippi’s campaign finance laws, they limited their speech in the 2011 election to avoid the burdens those laws impose on even small groups.
Campaign finance laws like Mississippi’s impose formation, registration, record-keeping, record-retention, and reporting requirements on people that are universally acknowledged to burden the exercise of speech and association rights at the core of the First Amendment. Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court recently called these requirements “burdensome” and “expensive” even for corporations and unions.
That is why, in October 2011, the Institute for Justice filed suit against Mississippi’s laws in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi. Although we were not able to fully litigate the issues in the case to completion prior to the 2011 election, the case has continued because the Plaintiffs want to speak out about ballot initiatives in future elections.
In conjunction with this lawsuit, the Institute for Justice released a national report, Full Disclosure: How Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws Fail to Inform Voters and Stifle Public Debate. The report shows that disclosure laws do little to help voters while imposing substantial costs on those wishing to participate in the political process.
On September 30, 2013, Judge Sharion Aycock found that Mississippi’s campaign finance requirements were so complicated that “a prudent person might have extraordinary difficulty merely determining what is required” and that “potential speakers might well require legal counsel to determine which regulations even apply, above and beyond how to comport with those requirements.” Balancing the great burdens of Mississippi’s scheme against its low interest in the speech and association it was regulating, Judge Aycock ruled that “the burdens imposed by the State’s regulations are simply too great to be borne by the State’s interest in groups raising or expending as little as $200.”The Mississippi 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 Mississippi and beyond, will continue.