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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Circuit Upholds Wash.|Campaign-Finance Laws

(CN) - Washington state does not violate the First Amendment by requiring organizations to disclose their political spending, the 9th Circuit ruled, rejecting a challenge by opponents of physician-assisted suicide.

Human Life of Washington sued various state officials in federal court, claiming Washington's Public Disclosure Law chilled it from launching a public education campaign against assisted suicide.

The advocacy group raised money to mail letters, make phone calls and broadcast radio ads aimed at defeating Initiative 1000, which would "permit terminally ill, competent, adult Washington residents medically predicted to die within six months to request and self-administer lethal medication prescribed by a physician."

But Human Life's educational campaign never got off the ground, because it feared having to publicly disclose its donors, officers and other information under the disclosure provision of the state's campaign-finance laws.

In November 2008, while Human Life's lawsuit was pending, Washington voters approved the initiative.

A federal judge then dismissed the group's challenge last January, and the federal appeals court in Seattle affirmed.

The 9th Circuit panel relied heavily on Citizens United v. FEC, a recent Supreme Court ruling which stated that the government "may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether."

Circuit Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw held that the disclosure requirements "are substantially related to the government's interest in informing the electorate."

"For the same reasons that Human Life had a heightened interest in speaking about physician-assisted suicide during the run-up to the Initiative 1000 vote, Washingtonians had a heightened interest in knowing who was trying to sway their views on the topic and how much they were willing to spend to achieve that goal," Wardlaw wrote.

"We conclude that the Disclosure Law's requirements for independent expenditures and political advertising are substantially related to that interest."

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