Attorney General Retreats on Enforcing Unconstitutional Campaign Finance Law

Posted on October 07, 2010 | Type: Press Release
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PHOENIX—Without filing a lawsuit, the Goldwater Institute has scored another victory for First Amendment rights as businesses, non-profit corporations and unions are now free to support or oppose candidates in the Nov. 2 general election by making donations to independent expenditure committees.

On Sept. 24, 2010, the Attorney General’s Office said corporations and unions could not donate money to other organizations that planned to spend the money on advertisements promoting or criticizing candidates, even if they did so without coordinating their efforts with any candidate. The attorney general’s advice to Secretary of State Ken Bennett described this ban on contributions as a Class 2 misdemeanor. Taking seriously the threat of criminal charges, a number of respected organizations decided not to accept or give donations for independent expenditures.

In response, the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation sent a letter on Sept. 29, 2010, demanding that the Attorney General not enforce this ban on donations because it violates the First Amendment. On October 6, 2010, the Attorney General’s Office yielded, saying it would “exercise its prosecutorial discretion” and not punish corporations or unions for donating to an independent expenditure committee this year.

“This is what the U.S. Supreme Court intended when it said in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations and unions have a constitutional right to speak out during elections,” said Nick Dranias, the Goldwater Institute’s director of constitutional studies. “Under the First Amendment, everyone has the right to spend money to explain their political ideas to the public, even if they act in association with others through a corporation, and even if they choose to contribute money to other organizations that buy advertisements on their behalf.”

To learn more about the Goldwater Institute’s efforts to enforce the First Amendment and other individual rights, please visit www.goldwaterinstitute.org/litigation. The Goldwater Institute is an independent government watchdog supported by people who are committed to expanding free enterprise and liberty.

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