Black Group Challenges|Alabama Elections Law


     BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) – Alabama’s oldest black political group sued the state to block a campaign finance law that bans money transfers between political action committees. The Alabama Democratic Conference says the law is one more blow in the state’s “long history of discrimination in voting”.




     “The state of Alabama has no legitimate interest in preventing or interfering with the efforts of the ADC to encourage black citizens to register and vote by providing rides to the polls, protection against harassment, or communication of election-related information to voters,” the group says.
     The Alabama Democratic Conference (ADC) claims the bill, approved in Special Session in December 2010, will force it to cut back on its get-out-the-vote drives and voter registration work, and will reduce contributions for minority candidates.
     “Alabama has a long history of discrimination in voting at polling places, and this history has lingering effects in terms of the need for poll watchers, voter assistance and other voter protection support on election day,” the ADC says.
     “Black voters in Alabama have a higher need for assistance in voting and a greater dependence on organizational sample ballots as a result of past discrimination in education.”
     The ADC has been educating black voters since 1960 and also “work(s) toward associating with white individuals of goodwill and progressive organizations in biracial coalitions,” according to its federal complaint.
     The ADC and five of its members sued Attorney General Luther Strange and District Attorneys Robert Broussard and Bryce Graham Jr., who may prosecute violations of the law.
     The plaintiffs say that the changes to Alabama’s Fair Campaign Practices Act violate the First Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The bill at issue, which amended the state’s campaign law, is known as Act 2010-765.
     It bans transfers of money between political action committees, principal campaign committees of candidates, private foundations and other groups that raise and spend money for political activities.
     Some exceptions allow for limited contributions to state candidates from principal campaign committees and from funds established by corporations that receive only out-of-state contributions.
     Violators face a year and a day in jail.
     The ADC says the law stops it from receiving contributions from political action committees such as the Alabama Education Association and the Alabama Democratic Party, and interferes with its First Amendment right of association.
     “Under Act 2010-765, it is illegal for the ADC to associate with like-minded PACs, including the Democratic Party and others, and expend or receive funds so that the associated groups can more effectively petition the government for the redress of their grievances, and associate to persuade and encourage voters to cast ballots for candidates of their choice,” according to the complaint.
     “Under Act 2010-765, it is illegal for the ADC to receive contributions from principal campaign committees of candidates wishing to associate with the ADC and to communicate with and encourage participation by black voters.”
     The law also violates the Voting Rights Act, the ADC says.
     “As a result of Act No. 2010-765 and its interferences with GOTV [get out the vote] efforts of ADC, a number of black voters will be unable to get to the polls to vote, and thus will be effectively barred from access to the franchise. Black citizens will be disproportionately disadvantaged by such interference,” according to the complaint.
     The law “disproportionately reduces and forecloses the access of minority candidates to amassing the resources necessary to run an effective campaign against their majority-race opponents,” the complaint states.
     The ADC says the provision demanding full disclosure of campaign spending sources is pointless since the Conference and others disclose the source of their contributions.
     “The only interest stated by legislators in favor of Act 2010-765 was that expressed in its title – transparency, that is, the right of the public to know who was making contributions to candidates,” the complaint states.
     “The source of campaign contributions by PACs in the state of Alabama already is disclosed to the public. The Alabama Secretary of State maintains on her official website a searchable database of all contributions to and by PACs that meet the legal threshold for reporting.”
     What’s more, two other laws require monthly and weekly campaign finance reports during elections and disclosure of funding sources for political advertisements, the ADC says. Both laws are scheduled to take effect this year.
     “The ADC has established procedures to isolate donations from individuals and businesses and to ensure that no funds from other PACs, 527 organizations, or private foundations will be contributed to candidates,” the group says.
     It says that most contributions go toward get-out-the-vote drives, voter protection activities and communication expenses – not directly to candidates.
     It wants the state enjoined from enforcing the law.
     The ADC’s lead counsel is Edward Still.

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