Wyoming Liberty Group
After five years of gridlock, last week a majority of four of six commissioners at the Federal Election Commission finally voted to update the FEC’s regulations to comply with the Citizens United decision. For years, the three commissioners representing the Democrats insisted that along with updating the regulations the commission should add new “disclosure” requirements. Thankfully, Democrat appointee Ann Ravel, who has served on the commission for just over a year, finally agreed to break the stopgap and drop the demand. One of her fellow Democrat commissioners Ellen Weintraub—who has served on the commission for a long time and remains despite her latest term being years expired—is not pleased, and issued a statement of reasons why she would not vote to simply follow the Citizens United precedent.
One of the silliest carve-outs (or exceptions) in modern campaign finance law is the so-called “Socialist Workers” exemption to campaign finance reporting. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1976 case Buckley v. Valeo that if certain groups could show retaliation and oppression due to their views, they could be exempted from disclosing their contributors publicly. The Socialist Workers Party achieved this in 1982 after prolonged litigation that also went to the Supreme Court. The Federal Election Commission recently renewed the SWP’s exemption in 2013.
LARAMIE – The Joint Judiciary Committee of the Wyoming Legislature voted to sponsor a bill that would substantially amend the Wyoming Controlled Substances Act today, by a vote of 12-1 (1 excused). The bill would eliminate the practice of “civil forfeiture” in Wyoming, which allows police to seize, and the attorney general to permanently deprive owners of, property that is allegedly related to the drug trade.
Yesterday, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated the opinion in Halbig v. Burwell and agreed to hear the case en banc. This means that the entire D.C. Circuit (or a large number of its judges) will hear and decide the case instead of just the three judges on the original appellate panel.
(Disclaimer: This blog post contains photographs of political signs. Wyoming Liberty Group is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that cannot, and does not, endorse candidates. We can, however, champion the rights of free people to speak out about candidates, including through political signs.)
We won our lawsuit in Williams v. City of Cheyenne earlier this year, overturning Cheyenne’s restrictive sign ordinance that limited Cheyenne residents to displaying two political signs on their lots during election season. Now, election season is upon us, and many Cheyenne residents are exercising free speech with more than two signs.
Since the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari in our case Free Speech v. Federal Election Commission (that is, declined to hear the case), one of the issues raised in the case has only become more pressing. We argued that three men in Wyoming who wanted to spend as little as a few thousand dollars on ads criticizing the President and other federal officeholders for their positions on certain issues should not have to register and report as a political committee (“PAC”) with the FEC. This was because Free Speech, though criticizing federal candidates, was not expressly advocating for their election or defeat and, furthermore, did not have the major purpose of electing or defeating candidates.
Last week, at the meeting of the Joint Judiciary Committee of the Wyoming Legislature in Newcastle, I testified in favor of two bills that, if passed, will reform the practice of civil forfeiture in Wyoming. Both bills would bolster due process and property rights that are currently at risk under the Wyoming Controlled Substances Act. Wyoming police agencies may currently seize and the Attorney General may permanently forfeit one’s property on the basis that it’s “intended for use” in the drug trade, without actually charging the property owner of a drug crime. This includes cash, cars, firearms, houses, and just about any other personal property. The proposed committee bills will help alleviate—if not entirely end—cases where property is seized without charging the owner of a crime. Indeed, the second committee bill requires conviction of a felony before property may be forfeited.