Democrats Fight Oklahoma Campaign Rules

     (CN) – The Oklahoma Ethics Commission’s rules against political fund raising and speech on state property violate the First Amendment, the Democratic Party of Oklahoma claims in Federal Court.
     The party sued the five members of the commission on Monday, claiming their rules violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
     The Democrats say they had to cancel their July 25 convention and fund raiser at Oklahoma City Community College, a state-owned property, after the commission failed to respond to a request to withdraw or abandon the rules. Participants could have faced criminal and civil penalties, including fines from $5,000 to $100,000, according to the lawsuit.
     “The ethics rules as promulgated have a chilling effect on the exercise of core First Amendment rights and are facially unconstitutional for the reasons including, without limitation, overbreadth, improper restraints on association and improper content restriction,” the 5-page complaint states. “This caused an injury that was significant but difficult to measure in terms of precise amounts of dollars lost.”
     The Democrats plan to hold another political rally and fund raiser on Aug. 22 at Redlands Community College.
     “The ethics rules are invalid because they are content-based in singling out political party fund-raising from fund-raising by both for-profit and nonprofit organizations and by prohibiting the distribution of material for candidates while not prohibiting the distribution of literature about other events and activities,” the complaint states. “Although the content-based nature of the regulations invalidate them, plaintiff would show that in many cases state government facilities such as parks and college or university campuses provide forums for political activities that have a special and unique value not merely in terms of cost but also in terms of location, accessibility to the surrounding community and facilities which by design can accommodate significant groups of people for organized events.”
     The party argues that some state forums have “special First Amendment significance” that would impede the message if disallowed.
     “Examples of this are rallies at the State Capitol to support or oppose particular legislative or other actions or rallies at schools or parks whose activities are being withdrawn by action or inaction of the state,” the complaint states. “In other words, a rally to oppose the imposition of the death sentence has far greater significance at the state capitol than at most other locations. A rally to oppose the closing or sale of a state park has greater significance at that park than it would at most other locations.”
     The commission could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.
     The Democrats seek an injunction and costs and want the rules declared unconstitutional.
     They are represented by Mark Hammons with Hammons Gowens & Hurst in Oklahoma City.

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