Protecting Citizen Speech in Florida

Institute for Justice

Andrew Nathan Worley, et al. v. Florida Secretary of State, et al.

Should the government have the power to regulate who can express their opinion during an election? Or to subject grassroots political activists to regulations that are so onerous, the U.S. Supreme Court has found them unconstitutionally burdensome even for corporations and unions?

Nathan Worley, Pat Wayman, John Scolaro and Robin Stublen—four political activists from around Sarasota, Fla.—talk  politics once a week as part of an informal political group.  But a proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution prompted them to stop talking and get involved in the 2010 election cycle.

Thanks to Florida’s so-called campaign finance laws, that is far more difficult than it should be.  Under Florida law, any time two or more people join together to advocate the passage or defeat of a ballot issue, and spend more than $500, they become a fully regulated political committee.

As a result, before they can even publish an ad, the group would have to register with the state and comply with a host of regulations the Florida Secretary of State admits are “complex,” and the U.S. Supreme Court recently called “burdensome” and “expensive” even for corporations and unions.  This includes appointing a treasurer, opening up a separate bank account, and tracking and reporting every single penny that goes through the organization.

In other words, the government has created so much red tape that Floridians need to hire an attorney and accountants to cut through it if they want to speak without fear of breaking the law.

That is why on September 29, 2010, the Institute for Justice filed a federal First Amendment challenge to Florida’s laws on behalf of Nathan Worley, Pat Wayman, John Scolaro and Robin Stublen.

Regrettably, on July 2, 2012, Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida rejected most of Plaintiffs’ claims but did strike down Florida’s prohibition on spending money raised within the last five days before an election.  That decision was later affirmed by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  As a result, grassroots groups in Florida continue to be subject to speech-suppressing laws that have been held unconstitutionally burdensome for corporations and unions.  But the fight isn’t over—IJ is litigating similar challenges in other states, and eventually the Supreme Court will have to address these issues.

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