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.

As part of its new strategic litigation initiative, the Center announced a lawsuit against an unconstitutional donor disclosure law.

Center and Robert Flanders Partner with Illinois Group to Bring Lawsuit Against Unconstitutional State Campaign Finance Law

Lawsuit Seeks to Protect Free Speech & Citizen Privacy

Center’s Board Member, Robert Flanders, to Serve as Local Counsel for lawsuit

Watch this NBC-10 TV STORY

Providence, RI – As part of its new strategic litigation initiative, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity announced today that it has partnered with the Liberty Justice Center (LJC) to bring a lawsuit against an unconstitutional donor disclosure law in the Ocean State. 

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. 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. 

Press release from the Liberty Justice Center
Click here for the complaint
New York Times story on Donor Privacy

Press release from the Liberty Justice Center
Click here for the complaint
New York Times story on Donor Privacy

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 yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island. Robert Flanders, former Associate Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court and a board member of the Center, will serve as local counsel for the Liberty Justice Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public-interest litigation organization.

“The constitutional rights of Rhode Islanders have been under constant and serious threat for decades,” said the Center’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse. “Rather than support open and free debate, this law shuts it down. It rigs the system to discourage organized issue-advocacy and chills free speech.”

In May of 2019 the Center added former Justice Flanders to its Board of Directors, specifically to build an internal legal capacity and to coordinate with national legal organizations that bring lawsuits across the country to challenge unconstitutional state laws and regulations. Flanders was the GOP candidate in Rhode Island’s 2018 U.S. Senate race.

“One way to better inform the voting public about issues facing our communities is to ask the courts to remove laws that inhibit a full and informed debate,” added Flanders. “We should restore full 1st-Amendment rights and encourage everyone to share their ideas and perspectives without fear of retaliation or harassment.”

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.

In 2014, a different Rhode Island campaign finance law that limited donor rights was successfully challenged by the state-based Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights. 

About Liberty Justice Center: The Liberty Justice Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public-interest litigation center that was founded to fight against political privilege. The most notable example of the Liberty Justice Center’s success in this arena is its 2018 U.S. Supreme Court victory in Janus v. AFSCME. Beyond its work in the Janus case, the Liberty Justice Center’s team of talented, liberty-minded attorneys are also fighting to protect economic liberty, private property rights, free speech and other fundamental rights. The Liberty Justice Center pursues its goals through strategic, precedent-setting litigation to revitalize constitutional restraints on government power and protections for individual rights. Learn more about the Liberty Justice Center at LibertyJusticeCenter.org.