Lawsuit Challenges South Dakota Ban on Out-of-State Contributors to Ballot Measures

Every American should have the right to support or oppose ballot measure campaigns

April 18, 2019   •  By IFS Staff   •  
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Alexandria, VA – A coalition of South Dakota media associations, trade associations, a nonprofit advocacy group, and a former South Dakota resident yesterday filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging a South Dakota law that will ban Americans from other states from contributing to ballot measure campaigns. The groups are represented by the Institute for Free Speech and former South Dakota Attorney General Marty J. Jackley.

“The ban is an affront to the First Amendment,” said Institute for Free Speech Legal Director Allen Dickerson. “States cannot prevent speech simply because it is funded in part by Americans who live in other states. This law denies South Dakotans the right to hear messages from their fellow Americans.”

Plaintiffs in the case are the South Dakota Newspaper Association, the South Dakota Retailers Association, the South Dakota Broadcasters Association, the South Dakota Chamber Ballot Action Committee, Thomas Barnett, Jr., and Americans for Prosperity.

The lawsuit says contributions in support or opposition to ballot measures are an important form of free speech protected by the First Amendment. Courts have long recognized that contributions to ballot measure campaigns promote robust debate about public issues. This is no less true for contributions from Americans from other states, the lawsuit explains.

Many state issues have national or regional implications, and voters may wish to hear from non-state residents or businesses who will be affected by state policy. Voters may also wish to hear from national organizations with expertise in specific policy areas.

Banning out-of-state contributions prevents groups like the Sierra Club from supporting ballot measures to enhance environmental protections, and stops groups like the NRA from contributing to ballot measure campaigns that affect gun rights. The result is less speech and less information for voters.

The complaint cites the Supreme Court’s Buckley v. Valeo decision, which noted that government cannot restrict the speech of some segments of society in order to bolster others. The First Amendment requires that voters decide for themselves which views to give weight. State governments have no legitimate reason to prohibit Americans from other states from contributing to ballot measure campaigns, the lawsuit says.

“The Out-of-State Plaintiffs’ contributions to the South Dakota Plaintiffs have no risk of giving them control over an officeholder’s official duties and, therefore, do not give rise to quid pro quo corruption,” the complaint explains. “There is also no risk that the Out-of-State Plaintiffs’ contributions to the South Dakota Plaintiffs will help them garner influence over or access to elected officials or political parties either in fact or in appearance. Fundamentally, ‘there is no significant state or public interest in curtailing debate and discussion of a ballot measure.'”

The case, South Dakota Newspaper Association v. Barnett, is before the United States District Court for the District of South Dakota, Central Division. To read the complaint, click here. To read more about the case, click here.

About the Institute for Free Speech

The Institute for Free Speech is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that promotes and defends the First Amendment rights to freely speak, assemble, publish, and petition the government. Originally known as the Center for Competitive Politics, it was founded in 2005 by Bradley A. Smith, a former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. The Institute is the nation’s largest organization dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political rights.

IFS Staff

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