Can a group be fined $18 million for not properly filing campaign finance reports? The Institute’s brief says no. Such a massive penalty is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution that bars “excessive fines.” Large fines like this also harm the First Amendment right to free speech.
This case started in 2013 when the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), a national trade group, opposed a ballot measure. The State of Washington, pursuing a complaint filed by supporters of the ballot measure, thought the group had acted improperly – despite clear conduct to the contrary. The state demanded that GMA file as a political committee and disclose all of its donors. GMA promptly complied, filed the appropriate paperwork, and disclosed all of its contributions and spending involving the Washington ballot measure. Despite this, the court fined GMA an unprecedented $18 million.