issue advocacy lawsuit

Update on Lawsuit Against Unconstitutional State Campaign Finance Law

Brief Filed Against State’s Motion to Dismiss the Lawsuit

Pro-liberty Attorneys Press Forward With Strong Defense of 1st Amendment

Providence, RI – As part of its new strategic litigation initiative, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity announced today that the attorneys at its partner firm, the Liberty Justice Center (LJC), filed a response brief to the State’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit the Center helped bring last year against an unconstitutional donor disclosure law in the Ocean State, described by LJC as “among the most stringent, invasive, disclosure requirements in America”. 

The lawsuit challenges a Rhode Island law, R.I.G.L. § 17-25.3-1, which requires information about donors who support nonpartisan, issue advocacy organizations to be disclosed to the government when the group engages in issue-advocacy during certain time periods.

The Attorney General of Rhode Island, representing the defendant, the Rhode Island Board of Elections, last month filed a motion to end the case currently pending before Judge Mary S. McElroy in federal district court. Attorneys for the Gaspee Project and Illinois Opportunity Project, two nonprofit organizations challenging the law, are pushed back with a strong defense of the First Amendment in their response, filed yesterday.

“The attorneys at the Liberty Justice Center pressed the case for a federal judge to vindicate the free-speech rights of nonprofit groups in Rhode Island,” said Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “Issue-advocacy is a private and protected First Amendment right, regardless of when that money is spent. This invasive and unconstitutional law exposes citizens to possible retaliation and harassment for simply exercising their free speech rights.”

In their brief, the LJC attorneys looked at the historical tradition of our nation, which respects the right to speak in the public square without government registration and regulation, starting with the founding fathers and the Federalist Papers.  The brief also draws on several U.S. Supreme Court cases from the Civil Rights era establishing that nonprofit organizations enjoy a constitutional guarantee of privacy for their members and supporters. Taken together, LJC attorneys trust their arguments have a strong foundation for success with the judge.

Per the brief, politicians are unconstitutionally seeking out “sensitive, private donor information, knowing there are those who will seize upon it to target, embarrass, and harrass citizens and corporations that engage in or support issue advocacy.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are The Gaspee Project, a 501(c)4 nonpartisan advocacy organization in Rhode Island, and the Illinois Opportunity Project, a 501(c)4 social-welfare organization. The Gaspee Project et al. v. Mederos, was filed in November 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island. 

Similar disclosure requirements in other states have faced considerable scrutiny. As a result of challenge brought by the Liberty Justice Center in New Jersey, the state is currently blocked from enforcing the measures.

View the brief and the original complaint and to learn more about this lawsuit and the Center’s strategic litigation initiative at www.RIFreedom.org/Litigation.

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