The press release below was forwarded to me by my friend, Charlotte Greenbarg, President of the Broward Coalition, to whom I am, as always, very appreciative. http://www.browardcoalition.or
Just so there is no confusion on this point, I'm specifically sending it because of the Sampson v. Buescher case.
I guess I hardly need tell you that despite how important this story is. it has NOT appeared in the Miami Herald or the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which, sadly, things being the way they are down here, also means that it has NOT been mentioned on local Miami TV newscasts, and given a local perspective.
For more information on the case and to see the legal brief, see:
Speaking of free speech, later this week, I'm making a Public Records Request to the City of Hallandale Beach about one of their many ridiculous or unconstitutional ordinances, which I wrote about on the blog last year in a post titled, Unconstitutional Power Grab: Hallandale Beach Considers Taxing Political Candidates for Free Speech
This particular one requires anyone in this city posting a political campaign sign in public, whether for an individual candidate or an issue or referendum, to place a deposit of hundreds of dollars at HB City Hall.
To me, that sounds like regulating free speech.
I'm going to find out which of the dozens of candidates who have run in August and November for judicial and legislative races, both local, county-wide and statewide, complied and who didn't. And what attempts, if any, City Hall has made to collect their (illegal) $$$ from candidates and political committees, and or any fines.
Given how very poorly run this city is, I think you can well imagine what my low expectations are about this, which causes you to wonder why it was foisted upon this city in the first place, doesn't it?
Part of that law also would've initially given the unelected City Manager the sole authority to intentionally place campaign materials on city property if HE determined it would be in the public interest, NOT the elected City Commission.
Try to think of another city in Florida besides Hallandale Beach that would propose something so clearly preposterous and anti-democratic?
Not that the city's separate common sense rules for the legal placement of campaign signs, which city candidates are given when filing their paperwork, was followed, as this photo I snapped below -on Election Day- illustrates.
Even after I personally warned him two weeks before the election after seeing his signs illegally placed on City Hall property that was forbidden, even after the city's Code Compliance Dept. subsequently removed several of his campaign signs clearly on HB City Hall property where they were NOT permitted, Alexander Lewy would NOT obey the city's own rules.
In a few days, he'll be a HB City Commissioner.
Perhaps we'll see in a few months how lax the city's Code Compliance Dept. is when there are campaign signs advocating the recall of some sitting HB city commissioners.
I have a strange feeling they will suddenly become rather zealous in their enforcement, rather than simply look the other way, as is the case now with so many other self-evident code problems that remain problematic for weeks, months and years in this city.
Especially when the guilty party is the city itself.
Call it a hunch or simply call it past experience watching how things get done here.
Insert your own variation of the Goose: Gander maxim here.
If you didn't receive my email about it yesterday, please check out this interesting resource, which references a recent conference in Boca Raton focused on -really- municipal ethics with an emphasis on ethics in land use.
Arlington, Va.—A federal appellate court today held that six neighbors in the tiny subdivision of Parker North, Colo., should not have been forced to register with the government and comply with burdensome campaign finance laws simply for opposing a ballot issue involving the annexation of their neighborhood.
In Sampson v. Buescher, Judge Harris L. Hartz of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, writing for a unanimous court, recognized the severe burden Colorado’s campaign finance laws imposed on grassroots political activists. In his opinion, he wrote, “The average citizen cannot be expected to master on his or her own the many campaign financial-disclosure requirements set forth in Colorado’s constitution, the Campaign Act, and the Secretary of State’s Rules Concerning Campaign and Political Finance.”
IJ client Karen Sampson said, “This ruling is a complete vindication of what we’ve said all along. Campaign regulations and red tape serve no purpose in local ballot issue elections other than to make political participation more difficult for ordinary citizens.”
For a brief and funny video discussing this lawsuit, visit: http://www.ij.org/2504
Sampson and her neighbors first learned about Colorado’s campaign finance laws when they organized to oppose the annexation of their neighborhood into the adjacent town of Parker. The group talked to neighbors, circulated postcards and planted yard signs. But in Colorado and other states, when two or more people spend more than $200 to speak out about a ballot issue, they must register with the state as an “issue committee” and comply with rules and regulations that rival the tax laws in their complexity. Issue committees must appoint a registered agent, open separate bank accounts, and disclose all contributions and expenditures of more than $20 for such things as yard signs and fliers. Because Sampson and the others failed to register with the government before speaking, the principal proponents of the annexation used Colorado’s campaign finance laws to sue them.
“This ruling means that grassroots political activists in Colorado and the other states that compose the 10th Circuit can speak freely without fear of being sued by their political opponents,” said Steve Simpson, an Institute for Justice senior attorney who represents the neighbors in Parker North. “The Court recognized that the states have little or no interest in requiring groups that simply wish to speak out for and against ballot issues to register and comply with complicated disclosure rules.”
A recent study by campaign finance expert Dr. Jeffrey Milyo of the University of Missouri asked 255 people to comply with the registration and disclosure laws, and not one participant managed to do so correctly. The average correct score was just 41 percent. Each person could have been subject to fines and penalties in real life. Like those in Parker North, participants found the red tape was, “Worse than the IRS!” and said it would make them less likely to get involved in politics.
This is yet another important victory in the Institute for Justice’s efforts to protect free speech from government-imposed restrictions in the guise of so-called campaign finance “reforms.”
In March of this year, the Institute for Justice, working together with the Center for Competitive Politics, scored an important legal victory in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of SpeechNow.org, a group of individuals who wanted to pool their money to run independent political ads for or against candidates based on their support for the First Amendment. The ruling struck down federal campaign finance laws that made it practically impossible for new and independent groups of individuals to join together, raise money and advocate for the election or defeat of political candidates.
In May 2009, the Institute for Justice scored another important victory for free speech when a federal court struck down Florida’s “electioneering communications” law—the broadest regulation of political speech in the nation. The ruling freed community groups and educational non-profits across Florida and the nation to speak about candidates and issues on the Florida ballot without registering with the government and navigating bureaucratic red tape.
And on November 23, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether to accept the Institute for Justice’s challenge to Arizona’s so-called “Clean Elections” system. That system funnels “matching funds” to government-funded political candidates and punishes those politicians who reject taxpayer money for their campaigns and instead raise money as most politicians have for the history of our nation—through private, voluntary contributions.
Plaintiff Becky Cornwell, who had to comply with Colorado’s laws for the Parker North group, said, “Individuals should not have to comply with complicated rules just to speak. As the group’s registered agent, I was constantly worried about making a small error that would lead to another lawsuit and possibly fines. Thanks to this ruling, I finally feel like my neighbors and I can join together to speak out about the issues we care about.”
In its ruling, the court also rejected the idea that Colorado’s disclosure laws for ballot issues could be supported by an “informational interest,” noting that such disclosure facilitated “ad hominem arguments.” Said the court, “When many complain about the deterioration of public discourse—in particular, the inability or unwillingness of citizens to listen to proposals made by particular people or by members of particular groups—one could wonder about the utility of ad hominem arguments in evaluating ballot issues. Nondisclosure could require the debate to actually be about the merits of the proposition on the ballot.”
Steve Simpson said, “Freedom of speech means that citizens, not government, get to decide whether to disclose their identities when they speak out about ballot issues. For those who don’t trust anonymous speech, the solution is not to listen to it.”
And indeed, research shows that most people do not use such information anyway. IJ Director of Strategic Research Dr. Dick Carpenter surveyed views on disclosure of ballot issue contributors in six states, including Colorado, and found that most people—about 60 percent—do not even know where to find contributor information, nor do they seek it out before voting.
“This is yet another example of an important judicial trend the Institute for Justice has advocated since our founding—that of judicial engagement,” said Institute for Justice President and General Counsel Chip Mellor. “Judges are becoming rightfully more engaged in defending vital rights and striking down laws that exceed constitutionally enshrined limits on legislative powers.”
Milyo’s study, “Campaign Finance Red Tape,” is available at: http://www.ij.org/1620. Carpenter’s research, “Disclosure Costs,” is available at http://www.ij.org/1530 and http://www.independent.org/
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