Tenth Circuit Affirms Victory for Wyoming Gun Owners against Unconstitutionally Vague Donor Disclosure Law

The Institute for Free Speech represented WyGO in its challenge to the law

October 11, 2023   •  By IFS Staff   •    •  ,
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Washington, DC — Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that Wyoming’s electioneering-communications disclosure regime is unconstitutional. The ruling is a victory for free speech and association.

The case stemmed from Wyoming Gun Owners (WyGO) making multiple communications to its members and the public about the policy views of candidates for the 2020 election. Although these communications did not directly support the election or defeat of any candidate, the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office investigated WyGO’s political speech after receiving a complaint from a frequent opponent of the group’s policy views. Then-Deputy Secretary of State Karen Wheeler ultimately assessed a $500 fine against WyGO after determining that one of its radio ads “can only be reasonably interpreted as an appeal to vote” for the candidate whose views it praised and against the candidate it criticized.

In an important decision, the Tenth Circuit upheld the district court’s ruling that Wyoming’s disclosure requirements were not narrowly tailored and failed to provide sufficient guidance on which donors must be disclosed, making the law unconstitutional.

The decision also implemented the U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, a 2021 case that marked a course correction on the meaning of “exacting scrutiny.”

“This decision recognizes that Americans for Prosperity tightened the exacting-scrutiny standard for disclosure regimes by requiring narrow tailoring,” explained Institute for Free Speech Senior Attorney Del Kolde. “This is an important message that disclosure regimes must do more than pass intermediate scrutiny.”

As the court determined, Wyoming’s mandate to disclose donations “relating to” electioneering communications lacked narrow tailoring and was vague. Per the Court: “To comply with the First Amendment, a disclosure regime must offer appropriate and precise guidance, defining how actors—sophisticated or otherwise—should structure internal accounting mechanisms.”

“When the State of Wyoming demanded a list of Wyoming Gun Owners’ donors, in an act of naked political retribution, we knew we needed to take them to federal court,” said Wyoming Gun Owners Director Aaron Dorr. “Thanks to the work of the Institute for Free Speech, we won big in court and protected the First and Second Amendments.”

The Institute for Free Speech will continue leveraging Americans for Prosperity to contest unconstitutional disclosure laws nationwide. Americans for Prosperity has armed defenders of civil liberties with a potent new precedent. Today’s victory demonstrates that precedent’s value.

To read the decision in the case, Wyoming Gun Owners v. Gray, et al., click here. 

About the Institute for Free Speech

The Institute for Free Speech promotes and defends the political speech rights to freely speak, assemble, publish, and petition the government guaranteed by the First Amendment.

IFS Staff

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