After nearly two years of litigation, the Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF) won an important free-speech decision last week when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that Louisiana's campaign finance law does not restrict or regulate independent political issue advertising. Free Speech Restored in Louisiana

After nearly two years of litigation, the Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF) won an important free-speech decision last week when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that Louisiana's campaign finance law does not restrict or regulate independent political issue advertising.

The legal challenge was to Louisiana's Campaign Finance Disclosure Act, which required CFIF and other speakers to file onerous and intrusive reports anytime they spent more than $500 on speech enforcement authorities subjectively believed "support[ed], oppose[ed], or otherwise influence[d]" an election. 

The required reports had to include the full name and address of all people contributing to CFIF in any amount for any purpose at any time during the reporting period, not to mention the full financial status of the organization.  The state enforcement authority had argued that CFIF and any other speakers were required to file the reports, and were subject to massive fines, if they ran advertisements mentioning the name of a candidate that could be interpreted as "influencing the nomination or election of a person to [state] public office."

The campaign finance law and regulation silenced CFIF during Louisiana's 2004 elections when the organization planned to run advertisements on justice issues that were of particular public importance because of a then-upcoming primary election for a seat on the state Supreme Court. 

The advertisements never aired because CFIF feared the Louisiana law — and subjective enforcement of that law — meant that the organization would have to report all of its activities and contributors to the state and be subject to massive fines if it chose to speak to Louisianans.  Indeed, the Louisiana enforcement authority had imposed fines of tens of thousands of dollars against other organizations that dared to mention the name of a candidate for state elected office in their advertisements on public issues.  As a result, CFIF filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law and regulations in August 2004.

Now, the U.S. Court of Appeals has made it clear that Louisiana's campaign finance law does not prevent advocacy groups and citizens from freely speaking about their elected representatives when it matters most --at election time. 

In the lawsuit, CFIF argued that Louisiana's campaign finance law was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, violating the free speech rights of both speakers and listeners.  In addition, CFIF pointed out that since Louisiana has known about the constitutional problems with the law for decades -- ever since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a similar federal law in 1976 -- the threat of enforcement by the State of Louisiana was even more egregious.

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed with CFIF, adopting many of our arguments in the majority opinion.  Specifically, the two-judge majority ruled that Louisiana's campaign finance law was vague and potentially overbroad, leading to a chilling effect on political free speech protected by the First Amendment.  In fact, as CFIF had argued, the Fifth Circuit majority concluded that the Louisiana campaign finance law had to be significantly narrowed since it used the same offending "for the purpose of influencing" an election "language that the [U.S. Supreme] Court confronted" and limited in Buckley v. Valeo.  Thus, in order to save the Louisiana campaign finance law "from constitutional infirmity," the Fifth Circuit majority ruled that the law could only be used to restrict or regulate advertisements "that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate."

In upholding the First Amendment rights of advocacy groups and citizens against the State of Louisiana's desire to control all advertising about elected public officials, the Fifth Circuit has restored the free-speech rights of all Louisianans. 

We can only hope that the U.S. Supreme Court follows the lead of the Fifth Circuit soon so that our national nightmare of political speech restrictions masquerading as so-called "campaign finance reform" finally will be just a forgotten dream.


To read the Fifth Circuit's decision, click here.

May 18, 2006
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