CHICAGO (CN) – A conservative nonprofit claims Illinois’ campaign finance law restricts it from speaking on public issues before the November election unless it discloses its contributors, whose privacy it “zealously guards.” The Virginia-based Center for Individual Freedom sued Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the Illinois Elections Board in Federal Court.
The CFIF claims that it fears criminal penalties if it does not register as a political committee and disclose its “expenditures,” and it says labor unions are unfairly exempted from that.
The CFIF says it wants to speak to the public about “criminal law enforcement and sentencing, legal reform, judicial decision-making, and other justice-related public policy issues,” before the November election.
But it claims Illinois may subject it “to detailed, intrusive, and burdensome reporting and registration requirements,” under a law the CFIF calls “unconstitutionally vague.”
The state law requires that a political committee file a financial statement disclosing its contributors, if contributions or expenditures exceed $3,000 “on behalf or in opposition to a candidate or candidates for public office.”
The state can fine a political organization up to $5,000 if the statements are not filed within 10 business days of its formation – or within 2 business days if formed within 30 days of an election.
It CFIF claims that state Board of Elections has “entertained complaints alleging that nonprofit organizations must register and report as political committees because they sponsored public communications that referred to candidates, notwithstanding the fact that the communications did not expressly advocate the candidates’ election or defeat.”
The CFIF says it intends to spend more than $5,000 to address the public and has already used substantial resources on its plans. It says it worries that Illinois will view the money spent on its projects so far as “expenditures” and that it will be subjected to criminal penalties.
The CFIF says it will not disclose its contributors, many of whom “require assurances of anonymity,” and that it will have to “hedge and trim, or even stand silent, to avoid risk.”
“It is yet another statute in the long line of Illinois legislation favoring labor union speech that the Supreme Court of the United States repeatedly has held unconstitutional,” the CFIF says in its complaint.
“The imposition of these burdens on the Center’s speech, but not on labor union speech, discriminatorily disfavors the Center’s speech and association,” according to the complaint.
The complaint continues: “Similarly, the vagueness of the Illinois law forces the Center to avoid speech that the Illinois Legislature has not clearly subjected to the burdens of disclosure and reporting.”
Illinois revised its Election Code in 2009, with the changes slated to take effect in 2011, but the CFIF says it “would like to speak now.”
It seeks an injunction.
Its lead counsel is Steven Pflaum with Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg.