Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Non-Profit Corporations
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The Freedom Foundation was a nonprofit organization that describes itself as committed to “advanc[ing] individual liberty, free enterprise and limited, accountable government in the Evergreen State.” The Foundation brought citizen’s actions against Teamsters Local 117; Service Employees International Union Political Education and Action Fund (SEIU PEAF); and Governor Inslee, the Department of Social and Health Services, and Service Employees International Union 775 for various alleged violations of Washington’s Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA). In consolidated appeals, the issue common to all was whether the Freedom Foundation satisfied the FCPA’s prerequisites before filing their citizen’s actions. In each case, the superior courts ruled the Foundation failed to meet a 10-day deadline required by the FCPA and, accordingly, entered judgment for respondents. After review, the Washington Supreme Court agreed and affirmed. With respect to the Foundation's suit against the Teamsters Local 117, the Supreme Court determined that though the superior court erred by granting judgment on the pleadings to the union, the court’s entry of judgment would have been proper as summary judgment, and was thus affirmed. This result precluded the Foundation’s other challenges to the superior court’s rulings, which were therefore not addressed. As to the union's cross-appeal of its counterclaim against the Foundation under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Foundation was not a state actor, was not wielding powers traditionally and exclusively reserved to the State, and therefore was not subject to suit under section 1983. View "Freedom Found. v. Teamsters Local 117" on Justia Law

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The Institute, a Section 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, filed suit against the FEC, challenging the constitutionality of the disclosure requirements of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, 52 U.S.C. 20104(f). The district court denied the Institute's request to convene a three-judge district court pursuant to the statutory provision that requires three-judge district courts for constitutional challenges to the BCRA. On the merits, the district court held that the Institute's claim was unavailing under McConnell v. FEC, and Citizens United V. FEC. The Institute appealed. The court concluded that, because the Institute’s complaint raises a First Amendment challenge to a provision of BCRA, 28 U.S.C. 2284(a) entitles it to a three-judge district court. In this case, the Institute’s attempt to advance its as-applied First Amendment challenge is not “essentially fictitious, wholly insubstantial, obviously frivolous, and obviously without merit.” Therefore, section 2284 “entitles” the Institute to make its case “before a three-judge district court.” Accordingly, the court reversed and vacated the district court's judgment, remanding for further proceedings. View "Independence Institute v. FEC" on Justia Law

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The Independence Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, conducts research and educates the public on public policy. During the 2014 Colorado gubernatorial campaign, the Institute intended to air an advertisement on Denver-area television that was critical of the state’s failure to audit its new health care insurance exchange. The Institute was concerned that the ad qualified as an “electioneering communication” under the Colorado Constitution and, therefore, to run it the Institute would have to disclose the identity of financial donors who funded the ad. The Institute resisted the disclosure requirement, arguing that the First Amendment prohibited disclosure of donors to an ad that is purely about a public policy issue and is unrelated to a campaign. The Tenth Circuit court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Colorado Secretary of State. "Colorado’s disclosure requirements, as applied to this advertisement, meet the exacting scrutiny standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. . . . The provision serves the legitimate interest of informing the public about the financing of ads that mention political candidates in the final weeks of a campaign, and its scope is sufficiently tailored to require disclosure only of funds earmarked for the financing of such ads." View "Independence Institute v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Appellant Green Mountain Future (GMF) appealed the grant of summary judgment, which found that it was a political action committee (PAC) and violated a number of provisions of the Vermont campaign finance laws. GMF argued the trial court erred in not applying a narrowing construction created by the U.S. Supreme Court in "Buckley v. Valeo," (424 U.S. 1 (1976)), to the definition of a PAC under Vermont campaign finance laws, and that without that construction the registration and disclosure laws are unconstitutional under the overbreadth doctrine of the First Amendment and the vagueness doctrine of the Fourteenth Amendment. The State cross-appealed the $10,000 civil penalty assigned by the trial court, asserting that that court abused its discretion by misapplying certain factors and imposing a penalty for only one of GMF's violations. This case largely turned on the scope and continuing vitality of the "magic words" that GMF argued were required by "Buckley." GMF argued that its advertisements were purely issue advocacy and did not seek to affect the outcome of an election, in this case for Governor of Vermont. The State argued that GMF's advertisements were transparently employed to defeat the candidacy of Brian Dubie for Governor, although they did not state so explicitly. The Supreme Court held that the "magic words" were not required to make the applicable campaign finance statute constitutional. The Court affirmed the trial court's decision on summary judgment and the civil penalty, except that it remanded for reconsideration of the penalty for the violation of the identification requirement.View "Vermont v. Green Mountain Future" on Justia Law

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A three-person nonprofit, Free Speech, brought facial and as-applied challenges against 11 C.F.R. Sec. 100.22(b). The district court dismissed, concluding that Free Speech's claims that its First Amendment rights were violated by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) were implicated only to disclosure requirements subject to exacting scrutiny and requiring a "substantial relation between the disclosure requirement and a sufficiently important governmental interest." Free Speech appealed to the Tenth Circuit. On appeal, the group argued that the district court erred in its conclusion, arguing that policies and rules of the FEC were unconstitutionally vague, overbroad and triggered burdensome registration and reporting requirements on the group that acted as the functional equivalent of a prior restraint on political speech. After careful review of the appellate filings, the district court’s order, and the entire record, the Tenth Circuit Court affirmed the dismissal for substantially the same reasons stated by the district court. View "Free Speech v. Federal Election Commission" on Justia Law

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NOM, a nonprofit advocacy organization, appealed the district court's dismissal of its amended complaint for lack of subject-matter-jurisdiction. NOM was seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that New York Election Law 14-100.1, which defined the term "political committee" for the purposes of state elections, violated the First Amendment. The court determined that NOM's case presented a live controversy that was ripe for consideration and vacated the district court's determination that it lacked jurisdiction. Because that conclusion prevented the district court from reaching the merits of NOM's claims, the court declined to comment on the substance of NOM's claims in the first instance. Therefore, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "National Organization for Marriage, Inc. v. Walsh" on Justia Law

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During the November 2008 election season, parties Senate Majority Fund, LLC (SMF) and Colorado Leadership Fund (CLF) were registered with the I.R.S. as so-called "527" tax-exempt political organizations. In the run-up to the November 2008 election, SMF distributed eight printed political ads and one television ad and CLF distributed eight printed ads that were the subject of this dispute. None of the seventeen ads contained words or phrases that specifically directed the viewer to "vote for," "elect," "support," "vote against," "defeat," or "reject." Similarly, none of the ads included the phrase "[candidate] for [office]." The court of appeals affirmed dismissal of this case by an administrative law judge (ALJ) for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. At issue is the meaning of "expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate," as that phrase is used within the definition of "expenditure" in article XXVIII of the Colorado Constitution, the Campaign and Political Finance provision. The parties contended that "express advocacy" encompassed only those advertisements that explicitly exhort the viewer, listener, or reader to vote for or against a candidate in an upcoming election. This included the use of so-called "magic words," as set forth in "Buckley v. Valeo," (424 U.S. 1, 44 n.52 (1976)), as well as substantially similar synonyms of those words. Appellant Colorado Ethics Watch (Ethics Watch) argued that the category of advertisements that "expressly advocate" is more expansive and encompasses any advertisement that is the functional equivalent of express advocacy. The court of appeals rejected Ethics Watch's argument and held that, given the settled definition of express advocacy at the time that article XXVIII of the Colorado Constitution was adopted, the category of advertisements that constitute express advocacy was intentionally limited to include only those ads that use the magic words or those that explicitly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate. After reviewing article XXVIII and the legal context in which it was adopted as a citizen's initiative in 2002 (known as Amendment 27), the Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeals that "expenditure" was intentionally and narrowly defined in article XXVIII to include only "express advocacy," so that it covers only those communications that explicitly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate in an upcoming election. The Court affirmed the appellate court and remanded the case to the court of appeals to return to the ALJ to enter judgment consistent with the Court's opinion. View "Colorado Ethics Watch v. Senate Majority Fund, LLC" on Justia Law

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Appellants, three Minnesota corporations seeking to advance their respective social and commercial interests, filed suit to enjoin Minnesota election laws on independent expenditures and corporate contributions to candidates and political parties and moved for a preliminary injunction. At issue was whether the district court erred in failing to grant a preliminary injunction because appellants failed to show a likelihood of success. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant's request for an injunction where appellants were unlikely to prevail on the issue of whether Minnesota functionally retained a ban on corporate independent expenditures; appellants were unlikely to prevail on their claim of improper tailoring; and appellants were unlikely to prevail on the direct-contribution issue or the independent-expenditure issue.