CASPER, WY – Federal District Court of Wyoming Judge Scott Skavdahl denied a request today for a preliminary injunction in Free Speech v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), ruling that the FEC’s regulations determining whether grassroots groups must register and report with the government as political committees (PACs) are not unconstitutionally vague or overbroad. This prevents Free Speech from discussing issues during this election cycle unless it registers as a PAC.
“Unfortunately, the ruling lets the FEC force any grassroots group that just mentions a candidate in an advertisement to fill out a complex set of forms,” said Steve Klein, attorney for Free Speech. “It would cost our clients more in accountant fees just to make sure these forms are properly filled out so they don’t risk jail time than they actually want to spend on their ads. That’s not disclosure; that’s censorship.”
In his ruling, Judge Skavdahl extensively cited a recent decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the regulations challenged in this case. These include the FEC’s definition of “express advocacy,” whether a donation request is a “solicitation” for contributions, whether a group’s “major purpose” is the election or defeat of a candidate, and whether the FEC may determine PAC status on a case-by-case basis.
“Today’s ruling is a disappointment for grassroots speakers nationwide,” said Benjamin Barr, WyLiberty attorney. “After nine months of asking the FEC for guidance, all it could do was shrug, leaving Free Speech and others muted by the heavy cost of compliance with its complicated regulations. Other federal courts have ruled that government agencies must be able to spell out what the law means and how it operates to survive constitutional review. We intend to hold the FEC to this basic requirement.”
The FEC recently filed a motion to dismiss the case, which Free Speech promptly answered yesterday. “This case is only beginning, and we’ll continue to zealously fight for Free Speech, whether here or at the appellate level” said Klein.
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