Florida: Where the First Amendment Goes to Die , Part II: First Dollar Disclosure

Last week, I wrote about Florida’s speech stifling contribution limits, a law that is probably unconstitutional in light of the Supreme Court’s holding in Randall v. Sorrell.  Unfortunately, Florida’s contribution limits are only one piece of the First Amendment drowning puzzle on the books in Tallahassee.

Earlier this year, Allison Hayward of CCP, focused on the inanity of Florida’s first dollar disclosure laws.  Every dollar donated to a Florida candidate (from $1 to $500) is posted online for anyone to view, and the online database is searchable all the way back to the dark days of 1996.

Although the Court has generally found disclosure laws to be permissible under the Constitution, such laws still need to serve an anti-corruption or informational interest.  Any anti-corruption interest is negligible.  Are Florida’s politicians really so broke that they can be bought off with paltry $500 contributions?  If that’s really the case, maybe they ought to get a salary increase or better perks (perhaps state legislators are also selling out for better parking spaces?)  

It’s also hard to see how the disclosure of small donations of $10 or $20 really serves an informational interest in finding out who is “really” financing Florida’s campaigns.  Posting the name, address, and occupation of individuals who give such low amounts only opens small donors up to harassment and reprisals.  Now, thanks to Google Maps, political groups can create neighborhood maps (“How Homophobic Is Your Neighborhood?” “Is Your Neighbor a Tea Party Zombie?”) which place political donors to unpopular causes right in the crosshairs of their ‘foes’.  (The reaction to donors who backed Proposition 8, reinstating California’s ban on gay marriage, is a fine lesson in just how petty activists can be to relatively insubstantial donors.)

In this new era of electronic disclosure, Florida’s first dollar disclosure limits can only serve to chill speech, in direct violation of the Supreme Court’s maxim that more speech, not less, is the general rule.

 

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.