Can a state government fine you simply for talking to state legislators? That is the question at the center of Calzone v. Missouri Ethics Commission.
Mr. Calzone’s difficulties with state regulators began on Election Day in 2014, when the Society of Government Consultants, a lobbyist guild in Missouri, filed a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission. The complaint claimed that, when Mr. Calzone spoke with legislators during his advocacy, he was acting as a paid lobbyist – and that his failure to register as a lobbyist with the state was against the law, subjecting him to fines and possibly even jail time.
The IFS Legal Team has stepped in to defend Mr. Calzone against these charges, representing Calzone in September when his case came before the Missouri Ethics Commission. The Ethics Commission has argued that because Mr. Calzone has publicly mentioned his involvement with Missouri First – a nonprofit organization with no financial resources – he must register as a lobbyist and list Missouri First as the organization for which he is speaking.
Does California’s attorney general have the power to ban a nonprofit organization from asking for donations unless it hands over a list of its past supporters for inspection, even if the group has no involvement in elections? That simple question is at the heart of Institute for Free Speech v. Becerra.
Can the FEC punish an individual for giving advice? That is the question at the core of Federal Election Commission v. Jeremy Johnson and John Swallow.
The Institute’s legal team has stepped in to defend former Utah Attorney General John Swallow. The FEC is looking to punish Mr. Swallow for an alleged illegal contribution that Mr. Swallow neither gave nor received. The FEC’s justification for this punishment relies on an overbroad and unconstitutional rule that punishes Mr. Swallow for his speech – in this case his verbal “help” to Mr. Johnson. This regulation is a clear violation both of the FEC’s regulatory authority and the First Amendment rights of those looking to speak and associate with candidates and donors.
Can Congress impede political participation and association by forcing an individual to split her political donations between primary and general elections? Federal law forces individuals to split their campaign contributions on a per-election basis. Thus, in 2014, a donor was forced to split her donation into $2,600 for the primary election and $2,600 for the general. This rule impedes the political participation of a donor who only wants to support her party nominee—and avoid wasting her donation on the intra-party squabbles of a primary election. IFS filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Florida couple who are challenging this law, saying that the per-election requirement mandated by Congress force them to either potentially waste $2,600 on a candidate for the party nomination or give up exercising their constitutional rights to the full extent allowed by law.
Can California legislators overturn the will of the people in order to institute tax-financed campaigns? That’s the question in Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association v. Brown.
In 1988, voters passed an initiative in California that prohibited tax dollars being spent on any politician’s campaign. This initiative was again supported by voters in 2000, along with a provision that prohibited California legislators from overturning this ban themselves. Instead, any changes to California’s ban on tax financing must be done through the state’s initiative process, controlled directly by the voters. But in 2016, California legislators ignored the voters of their state. They passed, and Governor Jerry Brown signed, a law that allows tax dollars to go directly into politician’s campaign coffers.
On behalf of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and retired State Senator and Judge Quentin L. Kopp, IFS joins the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence and Bell, McAndrews, and Hiltachk in a suit against California for enacting this law, in violation of the state’s constitution and the will of the citizenry.
The New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics is attempting to force public relations firms and other individuals who communicate with the media about public policy to register as lobbyists. This case raises the simple question whether a state agency can, consistent with the First Amendment, declare that private communications with the press constitute ‘lobbying,’ and then mandate persons who so communicate to submit to a burdensome regulatory regime that exposes them to criminal prosecution or fines for non-compliance. The answer, emphatically, is “no.”
Can a state force you to tear down your billboard because they don’t like the content of the message? That is the question at the heart of Thomas v. Schroer. The Institute is representing William Thomas, the owner of several roadside signs. Since 2006, Mr. Thomas has been at loggerheads with the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) and its lengthy billboard regulations. TDOT demanded that Thomas take down a number of billboards he owns, including one used to cheer on U.S. athletes in the Olympics and another that celebrated “the glory of the season” during the holidays.
TDOT, and its commissioner John Schroer, have argued that they can remove the signs in the interest of “traffic safety” and “aesthetics.” The Institute has stepped in to ensure that states do not infringe on speech rights without cause. Tennessee cannot silence a speaker simply because it thinks it harms highway “aesthetics.” The First Amendment stands against the notion that government may prohibit speech on the basis of its content. Mr. Thomas should be free to celebrate “the glory of the season” all year round.