Supreme Court won’t hear challenge to Fla. political donor law

PAC requirement stays for small groups

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A Florida political activist is out of luck after the Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear his challenge to a state law that prohibited groups from donating small amounts of money without first forming a political action committee.

The high court has struck down a number of campaign giving restrictions and regulations in recent years, but its decision not to hear the case from plaintiff Andrew Worley means that the 11th Circuit Court’s decision in the case will stand and the Florida restrictions will remain in place.

“It is definitely a disappointment, but the fight is not over. There are other courts looking at these issues in similar cases and eventually the Supreme Court will have to take them up,” said Institute for Justice senior attorney Paul Sherman. Mr. Sherman, who was the lead attorney on the case, cited cases in Arizona and Mississippi, where the plaintiffs have won and the states have said they will appeal. He noted that the Supreme Court, which does not disclose typically why it is not hearing an individual case, may have decided not to hear Worley v. Florida Secretary of State while waiting for those other cases will play out.

Still, the high court’s refusal to hear the case came as a surprise to both sides, given the court’s history of campaign finance decisions including Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the 2010 decision that overturned many restrictions on giving by corporations, unions and other big players. Mr. Sherman had told The Washington Times that he was “cautiously optimistic” that the case would be heard.

“The remarkable thing is that in Citizens United, the court held that these campaign finance laws are so burdensome that they amount to a ‘ban on speech’ even for corporations. The result,” he said, “is that in Florida, grass-roots groups have to comply with laws that are considered unconstitutionally burdensome for General Motors or the AFL-CIO. That’s an outrageous violation of the First Amendment and we are confident that eventually the Supreme Court will take up this issue,” Mr. Sherman said.

The decision was a pleasant surprise for campaign finance law supporters.

“I’m surprised they didn’t take it up, but I’m happy that they didn’t,” said Peter Butzin, volunteer chairman of Common Cause Florida. He said he feared that the case would have opened up the floodgates for continued gutting of campaign finance laws, which, he said, “this court has shown a propensity to do.”

The initial lawsuit was filed in 2010 on behalf of Mr. Worley and two other Sarasota, Fla., residents who wanted to raise money for radio ads opposing a statewide initiative on property taxes. Under Florida law, whenever two or more people get together and spend as little as $500 to support or oppose a ballot issue, they are required to register with the state.

Both a district judge in Tallahassee and a federal appeals court rejected the challenge, and the Supreme Court’s refusal to intervene means their decision stands.

Legal analysts were looking to the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case for clues on how the justices may be leaning on McCutcheon v. the Federal Election Commission, considered the biggest campaign finance case of the current term. That case centers on a challenge to current limits on how much an individual can give to candidates and certain political organizations in a two-year political cycle.

“Maybe this means we can be more hopeful that the Supreme Court will uphold campaign finance laws,” Mr. Butzin said. “The question is if McCutcheon is going to be Citizens United Part II.”

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC on Oct. 8 and is expected to give its ruling sometime in January.

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