A federal judge late Friday voided state laws requiring groups to register before spending money on campaigns – and with it, the reports they’re supposed to file on who is behind all that cash. Judge James Teilborg accepted arguments by challengers that the statute dictating who must register is “vague, overbroad, and consequently unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment.” Teilborg said that means it cannot be enforced.
Deputy Secretary of State Jim Drake said his office will ask Teilborg to delay the effect of the ruling to provide a chance for an appeal. If nothing else, Drake said his office needs time to figure out how badly this undermines years of laws designed to give the public a better idea of who is contributing to political campaigns. But Drake said he’s not optimistic. “It does kind of turn campaign finance on its head,” he said. At the very least, Drake said Teilborg’s order eliminates the requirements for disclosure of funding by groups pushing or opposing ballot measures. It is not unusual for these campaigns to cost millions of dollars. But attorney Paul Avelar of the Institute for Justice said he reads the ruling to apply to all the independent groups pushing to elect or defeat candidates.
That extends to the “dark money” groups which say they already are exempt from laws to list who are their donors. But they still have to disclose how much they are spending on TV commercials, newspaper ads, phone banks and other campaign materials, and on which races. With Teilborg’s ruling, that also would disappear.
Friday’s order does not bar the state from requiring political committees to register. But legislators will have to recraft the law in a fashion that courts find is constitutional.
What makes Friday’s ruling all the more unusual is that the state itself was never sued. But it got dragged in to the case – and now is subject to the court order.