Federal Judge Enjoins Gag Rule on Florida Ballot Initiatives

October 30, 2008

A federal judge has issued an injunction against a Florida law which requires any organization who discusses or refers to a Florida ballot initiative to list its contributors and spending, even if they are unrelated to the political discussion:

Under Florida’s “electioneering communications” law, the broadest regulation of political speech in the nation, any group of people that simply mentions a candidate or a ballot issue in a public newsletter or on a website must register with the government and report all of its spending and donors, even those who never intended their gift to go towards political speech. Groups that fail to comply face fines and possible jail time for their speech. Individuals are also subject to burdensome reporting requirements if they spend just $100 of their own money to speak.

In his ruling, Judge Mickle found that the First Amendment challenge to Florida’s sweeping law is likely to succeed. He wrote, “The rights to speak and associate freely regarding issues of public concern are zealously guarded by the First Amendment. Unfettered and unregulated speech is the rule, not the exception. Just because a restriction is labeled as a restriction on campaign finance does not mean that it faces an easier path to constitutionality than a restriction outside that context.”

The case had been brought by the Institute for Justice and the National Taxpayers Union, among others. We at the Tax Foundation look forward to posting blogs about Florida’s ballot initiatives thanks to them.

A copy of the judge’s order is here.

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