Maine state Representative Laurel Libby and others, including would-be donors, filed suit in May 2023 to overturn a recent change to Maine law that created an unfair and unconstitutional system, giving even more influence to the most powerful political leaders while curtailing political speech rights for legislators and donors alike.
These restrictions violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Institute for Free Speech represented the plaintiffs challenging the law and filed suit in federal court in an effort to restore equal speech rights for groups and individuals harmed by the new rules.
The law in question (21-A MRSA 1056-C) established low fundraising limits for political action committees (PACs) led by legislators, known as “leadership PACs.” Rep. Libby heads up two such organizations. The new restrictions greatly limited the ability of leadership PACs to raise money to speak to the public about their issues. The limits also severely burdened the right of would-be donors to support political causes.
But the problems with this law extended even beyond the First Amendment, as the new rules exempted PACs run by four specific Maine legislators: the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate, and the minority leaders in each house. Thus, Maine’s contribution rules also ran afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment. That’s because, unlike nearly all other Mainers—including caucus leadership—the remaining 182 Maine legislators could not establish, direct, or maintain a PAC free of contribution limits.
Thankfully, this law has now been repealed.
Spurred in part by the lawsuit, legislators overwhelmingly voted to pass a bill repealing the restrictions in a special legislative session held in mid-June. Governor Janet Mills quickly signed the bill into law a few days later. The Institute for Free Speech voluntarily dismissed the case as a result of the legislative victory.
“The filing of this lawsuit highlighted the seriousness of the constitutional problems created by these rules and increased the legislature’s urgency around changing this law,” explained Representative Libby. “The repeal of these rules is a win for the protection of speech rights. I’m pleased that Mainers can once again fully support political causes and have their voices heard without fear of fines or other sanctions, and that lawmakers no longer must navigate an unfair, two-tiered system of political speech.”
“The former law intruded upon the First Amendment freedoms of speech and association,” said Institute for Free Speech Senior Attorney Charles Miller, co-counsel for plaintiffs. “These limits not only infringed on the rights of donors, but on the rights of advocacy groups and the people who operate them, including Representative Libby. We’re very pleased that the legislature has acted to eliminate these limits. We filed suit in late May. By late June, the law is no more. This was a swift victory for free speech.”
Read the original press release about our case here.
Read about the resolution of the case here.