Delaware Faces Lawsuit Over Campaign Finance Law That Targets Political Speech

trust emDelaware.govFree speech’ll cost you if you’re talking about politicians. Last year, Delaware passed broad new laws on campaign finance “reform” that politicians claimed would lead to more “transparent” government. Among the bills signed into law was HB 300, which aimed to require “[p]ersons who buy ads that do not use ‘magic words’” but “advocate indirectly for a candidate” to file the same disclosure reports as other purveyors of “electioneering communications.” The law’s definition, unsurprisingly, takes an expansive view of just what that means, “third party advertisements that refer to a clearly identified candidate and are publicly distributed within 30 days before a primary or special election, or 60 days before a general election.”

The measure has now yielded a lawsuit from the Center for Competitive Politics, filed on behalf of Delaware Strong Families, an affiliate of the Delaware Family Policy Council that puts out a “values voter guide” that lists the answers candidates give to questions ranging from the estate tax to Planned Parenthood funding. The Center for Competitive Politics claims the new law would force Delaware Strong Families to submit to “substantial regulatory burdens while violating the privacy of even their small-dollar supporters.” DSF says it won’t publish another guide in 2014 absent a judgment in their favor, and the CCP argues that “the government cannot impose extensive regulatory burdens, or violate the privacy of donors, where an organization does not advocate for any candidate,” pointing out that in its 1976 Buckley decision on campaign finance laws, the Supreme Court upheld disclosures only for groups that directly urged people to vote a certain way. In its synopsis, the Delaware bill quoted the recent Citizen United decision quoting a 2003 campaign finance decision quoting Buckley on helping “citizens make informed choices in the political marketplace.”

The lawsuit additionally notes that the Commissioner of Elections was supposed to disseminate new disclosure forms by January 1, when the law first went into effect, but more than ten months later those forms have not yet been published.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    Statist gonna state.

  • albo||

    Incumbents love these kinds of laws. That tells you what you need to know.

  • Live Free or Diet||

    For a rural state, Delaware has some of the damnedest views on constitutional freedoms I've ever seen. I have some relatives who live up there and they're all for it and in the middle of it. Happy as pigs in slop but wonder why everything is going awry.

  • albo||

    I have in-laws there. Delaware's a crappy state. No sales tax so it poaches all the retail from PA--drive south on 202 and you can tell where Delaware starts from the malls.

    Wilmington schools have been so crappy for so long that it's become normal for even middle class kids to go to private school.

    They toll their tiny portion of I-95.

    Every corporation incorporates there for various tax and interest reasons.

    And don't get me started on Slower Delaware.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    "Slower Delaware"

    Joe Biden?

  • Sevo||

    "No sales tax so it poaches all the retail from PA--drive south on 202 and you can tell where Delaware starts from the malls."

    "Poaches"?
    You mean people are smart enough to avoid paying taxes?

  • Acosmist||

    It's the state corporate law that causes them to incorporate there.

  • John||

    And it was the first state to approve the Constitution. Go figure.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    -For a rural state, Delaware

    According to the Census link below 80%of Delaware's population lives in urban areas.

    http://www.census.gov/compendi.....2s0029.pdf

  • The Late P Brooks||

    The obvious best solution to this problem is for candidates to be selected and funded exclusively by the government. Then we won't have any of this icky confusion and contradictory messages.

  • Sevo||

    Or, all campaigns should be funded by the government. That way, all the challengers would get all the money, since the incumbents are getting free coverage, right?
    I mean, the government would certainly distribute the money 'fairly'!

  • Bill Dalasio||

    But, this takes it even a step further. It wasn't even a campaign, per se. It says that all public political discourse should be funded by the government.

  • Rhywun||

    Toss in compulsory voting, and I'm sold!

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    I do not think the lawsuit has much of a chance. As I recall the SCOTUS ruled 8-1 allowing disclosure laws in Citizens United.

    While I oppose the laws as violations of the NAP, I find them relatively inoffensive, similar to other forced disclosures found, say, in business dealings, only very indirectly restricting speech and serving some good purposes (identifying rent seeking campaigns for example). I do however find it ironic that the group in question works to pass laws to restrict my freedoms but finds identifying itself in that process as an unbearable restriction on theirs.

  • Mickey Rat||

    "Last year, Delaware passed broad new laws on campaign finance “reform” that politicians claimed would lead to more “transparent” government. Among the bills signed into law was HB 300, which aimed to require “[p]ersons who buy ads that do not use ‘magic words’” but “advocate indirectly for a candidate” to file the same disclosure reports as other purveyors of “electioneering communications."

    What in the world does such a thing have to do with "transparent" government?

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement