When $200 Means You Can’t Talk

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It’s funny how someone spending only $200 to promote a political issue could have been obliged to spend extra just for legal counsel. And it is hard not to conclude that such technical laws are put in place to discourage regular people who just want to promote their ideas.

What happens if you pay more than $200 to run a newspaper ad in favor of a Mississippi constitutional amendment?

You have to become a political committee—or at least, you did.

Fortunately, five Oxford, Mississippi, residents recently won a case against such burdensome campaign finance laws (although Attorney General Jim Hood may appeal the decision). A similar case won in Arizona, and a Florida case could be on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a release from the Institute for Justice, which brought the cases.

The five friends in Mississippi wanted to collaborate to let people know about Initiative 31, a move to amend the state constitution against eminent domain abuse. Instead, they felt a squeeze on their U.S. constitutional right to free speech. Campaign finance law required that they become a political committee if they spent over $200 on their efforts.

Fortunately for them and other Mississippi grass-roots activists (the Institute for Justice reports):

“Judge Aycock found that Mississippi’s campaign finance requirements were so complicated that ‘a prudent person might have extraordinary difficulty merely determining what is required’ and that ‘potential speakers might well require legal counsel to determine which regulations even apply, above and beyond how to comport with those requirements.’ Balancing the great burdens of Mississippi’s scheme against its low interest in the speech and association it was regulating, Judge Aycock ruled that ‘the burdens imposed by the State’s regulations are simply too great to be borne by the State’s interest in groups raising or expending as little as $200.'”

So, someone spending only $200 to promote a political issue could have been obliged to spend potentially much more just for legal counsel. And it is hard not to conclude that such technical laws are put in place to discourage regular people who just want to promote their ideas. Isn’t it time to make the rules simpler, so they actually protect rather than hinder the rights of the average citizen?

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