Alexandria, VA – Nearly five years ago, the Missouri Ethics Commission (“MEC”) ordered Ron Calzone, an unpaid grassroots activist, to pay a $1,000 fine and prohibited him from discussing policy with lawmakers until he registered and filed reports as though he was a professional “lobbyist.” Because the First Amendment guarantees the freedom to share one’s policy ideas with public officials, Calzone challenged the MEC’s order. Today, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals sitting en banc confirmed that the Constitution does not allow states to treat unpaid citizen activists like professional lobbyists.
“Given that Calzone’s political activities do not involve the transfer of money or anything of value, either to him or to anyone else, Missouri’s interest in transparency does not reflect the seriousness of the actual burden on his First Amendment rights,” the Court held.
“It has been a long time coming, but I’m pleased that the Court of Appeals got this right,” Mr. Calzone said. “Unpaid citizen activists like myself keep our elected officials informed and accountable by sharing our views about public policy. A government cannot force unpaid activists to jump through regulatory hoops in order to exercise their First Amendment rights.”
Lawyers from the Institute for Free Speech and the Freedom Center of Missouri represented Mr. Calzone.
“The State of Missouri’s dogged pursuit of Mr. Calzone completely ignored the cost its policy imposed on civil society,” said Allen Dickerson, Legal Director of the Institute for Free Speech. “The Government would have treated every civically-engaged Boy Scout troop and Audubon Society chapter like a group of paid lobbyists, merely for speaking with their elected representatives. Thankfully, the Court held that the First Amendment stands against the professionalization of our right to petition the government.”
“Our system of government depends on people like Ron actively sharing their policy ideas with those in power, but for years powerful legislators have been trying to silence him,” said David Roland, Director of Litigation for the Freedom Center of Missouri. “Today’s decision should make clear that the Constitution shields these citizen activists against these efforts to restrict their First Amendment rights.”
The Missouri Ethics Commission may choose to appeal to the United States Supreme Court, which has not heard a lobbyist registration case since 1954.
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.