CHEYENNE – Wyoming Liberty Group attorneys filed a petition with the United States Supreme Court today, requesting the Court hear an appeal of the case Free Speech v. Federal Election Commission (FEC). Free Speech, a small grassroots group of three Wyomingites, sued the FEC in 2012 for maintaining vague and overbroad regulations that prevent political engagement. The case was dismissed by the Wyoming Federal District Court and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed its ruling.
“If Free Speech had spoken out during the 2012 election cycle—be it through newspaper ads, radio ads, or even Facebook ads—it might have violated FEC regulations.” said WyLiberty staff attorney Steve Klein. “Not even the FEC knows where free speech ends and where campaign finance law begins. This is just as injurious to the First Amendment as outright censorship.”
In rejecting Free Speech’s claims, the Wyoming Federal District Court and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the FEC that regular reporting with the agency poses little burden upon First Amendment rights and that the FEC may decide what speech it regulates on a case-by-case basis. Before Free Speech brought its lawsuit, it submitted an advisory opinion request with the FEC, and the agency’s commissioners could not agree whether most of Free Speech’s ads would be regulated or not.
“Even the FEC itself could not give Free Speech advance notice on how to avoid its red tape in 2012,” said Ben Barr, lead counsel to Free Speech. “By allowing these FEC practices to stand, the courts have upheld a chilling, mysterious regime that casts a nationwide shadow. If grassroots groups can’t speak out without spending thousands of dollars for attorneys’ and accountants’ fees to comply with the FEC, many organizations will simply not speak at all.”
Previous Supreme Court cases have recognized the burdens of campaign finance laws on grassroots groups. WyLiberty’s brief asks the Court to hear Free Speech’s case and re-affirm these rulings.