A conservative Wyoming-based group hopes to battle the Federal Election Commission in the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to change federal election laws. The group, Free Speech, has been hammering at the agency in Wyoming’s federal district and federal appeals courts since the 2012 presidential election. Both courts dismissed the case, prompting Free Speech to petition the Supreme Court on Monday. Free Speech hopes a Supreme Court decision will limit an alleged burden on political speech while giving small-money, politically active groups a chance to compete with big-name, high-dollar political groups in Washington. The FEC claims it doesn’t impede the First Amendment or grassroots groups. “The members of Free Speech are three men from Wyoming who aspire to share their views about ranching, President Obama and other topics with the public on a shoestring budget,” Free Speech’s legal counsel wrote in the petition. “Federal election law made this task impossible by requiring compliance with regulatory standards that even the FEC could not articulate and, when applied, impose a regulatory regime far too burdensome for most citizens.”
Free Speech was trying to avoid forming a political action committee — a FEC-approved group that’s required to disclose the names of its donors and limited in how it can solicit funds and spend money. By requiring groups to register, Free Speech claims the FEC imposes a burden on First Amendment rights.
Registering as a PAC requires legal counsel and election experts, said Brad Smith, a former FEC commissioner and chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, a Washington think tank dedicated to defending the First Amendment.
“A lot of small groups that get caught up in bureaucracy spend a few hundred bucks on yard signs and radio ads and they get tangled in regulations,” he said.