Tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to review Florida’s campaign finance laws in the Florida case Worley v. Florida Secretary of State, involves three Florida residents, Nathan Worley, John Scolaro, and Pat Wayman. In 2010 the trio wanted to pool $600 to spend on radio ads opposing a controversial amendment to the Florida constitution regarding land-use regulations. They quickly learned, however, the campaign-finance laws aren’t just a problem for the wealthy. We first wrote about the case in 2010 and now it has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The question before the court is ‘Should grassroots groups have less freedom of speech than corporations and unions?’
Worley, Scolaro and Wayman are represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ) and IJ Attorney Claudia Edenfield said, “These laws create huge traps for political novices who don’t have the time to master the law or the money to hire a lawyer. The result is that politics becomes a game for political insiders, while ordinary Americans are too often intimidated into silence.”
In Florida, as in most states, if two or more people want to spend more than a modest amount to speak out during an election, they must form a heavily regulated political committee or “PAC.” But in its landmark ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court held that the burdens of operating a PAC are so severe, they are unconstitutionally burdensome even for corporations and unions. Worley said, “I always thought the only thing you needed to speak about politics was an opinion. I never thought you’d need to figure out hundreds of pages of rules and regulations. We shouldn’t have to hire lawyers and accountants before we can feel safe talking about politics.”
In order for the trio to run their planned radio ads, they would have had to form a PAC, open a bank account, file with the State of Florida for the election period, report all their activity (all $600 worth) and more even though the same would not be true of corporations and unions.
Paul Sherman, an IJ senior attorney and lead counsel in the case, said, “Laws that are unconstitutionally burdensome for General Motors and the AFL-CIO are unconstitutionally burdensome for ordinary Americans. Unfortunately, courts across the country are holding precisely the opposite, and it is silencing grassroots speakers nationwide.”
Last June, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected their challenge, joining the 4th, 7th, 9th, and D.C. Circuits held corporations and unions enjoy greater freedom to speak out in elections than grassroots groups. IJ Senior Attorney Bert Gall said, “Courts across the country are failing in their basic responsibility to defend the free speech rights of ordinary Americans. That must stop. This case is an opportunity for the U.S. Supreme Court to make clear to lower courts that the First Amendment demands judicial engagement, not judicial abdication.”
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