PHOENIX—Members of Congress and Arizona election officials have been urging tougher disclosure requirements for campaign spending in response to the January 2010 historic decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. But a new legal analysis from the Goldwater Institute says such proposals would violate the First Amendment.
The Citizens United decision struck down federal election laws that barred corporations, unions and other groups from directly spending money on campaign messages in the days leading up to an election. As a result, the U.S. Congress and states around the country are now required to rewrite their own election laws to lift such bans and ease requirements on people and groups who spend money on campaign messages.
“Everyone should feel safe to speak out about election issues without worrying that they could trigger a government fine or jail time,” said Nick Dranias, director of the Joseph and Dorothy Donnelly Moller Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute.
Dranias authored a legal analysis, “Citizens United v. FEC: A Case for Limiting Campaign Finance Regulations,” which explains why federal and state governments should be scaling back campaign rules instead of adding new ones.
Arizona, however, has reacted to Citizens United by enacting speech crimes and threatening to create political prisoners. Lawmakers passed a new law on March 29 to require corporations and unions to register with the state and report spending as little as $1,000 on a local election. House Bill 2788 also makes these groups report that they have spent money on political advertisements before the public sees anything.
In addition, corporations, unions and other organizations formed to influence elections will have to register as “political committees,” which requires segregated bank accounts, the appointment of designated officers, continuous reporting and vulnerability to government audits. People and groups that don’t follow the rules could be fined up to three times what they spend on a campaign message, and they could be charged with felonies or misdemeanors just for communicating their political ideas to the public. The punishment for both criminal charges can include jail time.
“HB2788 adopts the types of regulations for campaign spending that the Citizens United ruling directly struck down,” says Mr. Dranias. “The U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning suggests almost all federal and state campaign finance regulations should be simplified or removed to make it easier for people to speak their minds at election time,” he says.
“Citizens United declares that spending money to influence elections is fully protected under the First Amendment for everyone—every person, every organization, every corporation and every union,” Mr. Dranias says. “Political elites can easily navigate complex campaign finance rules with armies of lawyers and other professionals. But most people won’t go to such lengths, and that creates a barrier to the exercise of First Amendment rights that should not be tolerated any longer.”
Read “Citizens United v. FEC: A Case for Limiting Campaign Finance Regulations” online or call (602) 462-5000 to have a copy mailed to you.
The Goldwater Institute is an independent government watchdog supported by people who are committed to expanding free enterprise and liberty.