Federal Court Hears Campaign Finance Arguments
Around the State
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle heard arguments challenging Florida’s campaign finance laws Monday as part of a lawsuit brought by four activists who want to air ads against Amendment 4.
The activists contend that the recent Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission struck down requirements for political activists to form political action committees and disclose financial resources in order to make political arguments during campaign season. The ruling renders Florida’s state law invalid, they say.
“Florida’s law is indistinguishable from the law that was struck down by the Supreme Court,” Paul Sherman, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, which is representing the activists, told Judge Hinkle.
But Hinkle disputed that interpretation of the ruling in questioning Sherman, saying the Supreme Court decision only meant to eliminate obstacles for corporations and individuals to freely express political opinions, but that legal disclosure requirements do not inhibit such speech.
“They can speak, they just have to make a disclosure,” Hinkle said.
State Attorney Jonathan Glogaugh told the court Florida’s law merely requires the formation of a PAC, and financial disclosure records - which do not block speech.
“What kind of a burden does this statute actually put on these people? That’s just not a burden at all, your honor. I just don’t see that as onerous,” Glogaugh said.
The 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court in Citizens, was criticized severely by liberal groups - including President Obama - which said that the ruling would allow vast amounts of corporate money to flow into campaigns, essentially letting them buy elections.
Hinkle shared that concern at the hearing Monday.
“A person from Montana who wants to come here and spend $20 million and buy an election and does not want to reveal his funding -- he can do that, too, right?” Hinkle asked Sherman.
Sherman replied that the injunction his clients are seeking would merely allow them to solicit funds to oppose Amendment 4 without forming a PAC.
The timing of the lawsuit brought by the activists was questionable, Hinkle said. He even questioned the veracity of the lawsuit, since the activists are only spending the minimum of $600, just over what the state law bars.
“Isn’t this all just a little too convenient? If a group of law students wanted to get together and make a fictitious case, they couldn’t get much better than this,” the judge said.
Hinkle added that his decision would be rendered soon, but perhaps not in time for any appeals court to hear the case and give its decision before the Nov. 2 election.
“I think what he indicated was that he would give us a ruling before we’d have time for an appeal,” Sherman said. He added that if the injunction was not given, his clients would not be able to exercise their constitutional right to free speech.
Amendment 4, which would require direct votes of the electorate on nearly all land-use changes, are typically handled by local government bodies at present. Developers and business groups are opposing the measure as crippling growth in one of the worst times for Florida’s economy.
Reach Gray Rohrer at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859