Four conservative Sarasota activists who sought to sidestep state campaign finance laws in an effort to run radio spots opposing Amendment 4, citing the recent Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case which stripped financial disclosure requirements prior to electioneering, have had their request for a preliminary injunction denied by a federal judge. The activists were represented by the libertarian legal group Institute for Justice.
The law stipulates that groups of two or more individuals must register as a political committee if they wish to spend more than $500 to support or defend a ballot measure, and U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle determined that allowing the group to proceed so close to the election could be chaotic. The attempted injunction is yet another example of the Institute for Justice citing threats to free speech in its recent legal challenges.
This isn’t the first or only challenge to Florida’s campaign finance laws. The institute last year won a challenge to Florida’s electioneering communication law that made it illegal for groups to sponsor ads that mention candidates or ballot issues without first registering.
The Legislature responded earlier this year by reviving most of the restrictions.
Another conservative group, the National Organization for Marriage, last month filed a lawsuit in a Gainesville federal court challenging the latest restrictions on electioneering communication organizations, commonly known as 527s. The court has yet to schedule arguments in that case.
Last week, an openly skeptical Hinkle had questioned the Institute for Justice’s motives in bringing the challenge so close to the upcoming elections, after hearing arguments by Institute lawyers.
“Florida’s law is indistinguishable from the law that was struck down by the Supreme Court,” Institute for Justice attorney Paul Sherman told Judge Hinkle.
“Isn’t this just a little too convenient,” Hinkle asked. “If a group of law students got together and wanted to come up with a fictitious case, they couldn’t do any better.”
“A person from Montana who wants to come in with $20 million to buy the election, you want me to protect him, too, don’t you?” Hinkle said.
Judge Hinkle did approve a minor provision, which bans PACs from spending money collected in the last five days leading up to an election.