Alexandria, VA – The Institute for Free Speech and the Cato Institute yesterday filed a friend of the court brief asking the Supreme Court to hear a challenge to Montana campaign finance laws. The case presents an opportunity to shield groups who speak about government from overregulation.
“The Supreme Court has said that only groups with the major purpose of influencing elections can be heavily regulated. Yet many states now require anyone who spends small amounts on advocacy to register and report their activities like a PAC,” said Institute for Free Speech Legal Director Allen Dickerson.
The case, Montanans for Community Development v. Mangan, challenges Montana’s reporting and disclosure requirements for groups that may spend minimal sums on election-related activity. Montana is one of several states that fails to apply the “major purpose requirement” mandated by Buckley v. Valeo. In that landmark decision, the Supreme Court limited the reach of similar regulations to groups whose major purpose is influencing elections, generally defined as spending more than 50% of their resources on electoral advocacy.
“This rule, designed to save an otherwise overbroad statute from invalidation under the First Amendment, ensures that the registration and disclosure burdens of PAC status fell only upon unambiguously political organizations, those which are ‘by definition, campaign related,’” explains the brief by the Institute for Free Speech and the Cato Institute.
Some lower courts of appeal have failed to uphold the major purpose requirement. That has sowed confusion in the law and permitted some states to regulate more broadly than the Court intended. Compounding the problem, many states vest enforcement authority in a single official, fueling perceptions of partisan gamesmanship when the law is unclear.
By contrast, the major purpose requirement is an objective and easy-to-apply standard. That’s one more reason the Court should reassert it, the brief says.
“[C]redible fear of selective enforcement can be cured by bright-line campaign finance rules that are incapable of being blurred or bent by partisan prosecutors. The major purpose requirement, a largely mathematical rule, embodies this approach,” explains the brief.
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.