SACRAMENTO (CN) — Gun-rights activists and a Republican gubernatorial candidate took aim at a California law barring footage from Assembly hearings from being used in political ads, and sued the state for it Thursday.
Former assemblyman and right-wing radio talk show host Tim Donnelly claims the law violates the First Amendment.
News organizations can use copies of streamed and recorded Assembly video footage, but Donnelly says he could be criminally charged for using snippets from Assembly hearings in his political ads.
Donnelly wants to use footage from Assembly hearings in which he participated. His co-plaintiffs, the Firearms Policy Coalition Second Amendment Defense Committee and the Firearms Policy Coalition, want to run ads opposing a gun-control initiative expected to be on the November ballot. Two men who produce political ads and the head of a gun-owners PAC also are plaintiffs.
“The Assembly carries on the legislative business on behalf of the citizens of California and it creates video footage that captures those proceedings,” the federal complaint states. “California cannot restrict its citizens from sharing that footage with fellow citizens in furtherance of their fundamental speech rights.”
Donnelly canceled his talk show in March and announced a last-minute bid against Rep. Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley, in California’s Eighth Congressional District.
Donnelly says on his website that he decided to run for office after the San Bernardino terrorist attack, and that he supports “a temporary halt on refugee immigration.”
While Donnelly wants to use Assembly footage for his own campaign, the other plaintiffs are filming ads against Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed gun-control initiative.
Newsom’s “Safety for All” proposal mandates background checks for ammunition purchases and tightens California’s assault weapons ban to include guns with magazines holding more than 10 rounds.
The initiative is opposed by the National Rifle Association and the California State Sheriffs’ Association. Critics have blasted Newsom for trying to rebrand gun-control bills that have been vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The Firearms Policy Coalition says it was in the final stages of producing its ads when it became aware of the state ban on the use of Assembly footage for political campaigns.
At issue is California Government Code section 9026.5, which prohibits the use of Assembly videos for “any political or commercial purpose, including any campaign for elective public office or any campaign supporting or opposing a ballot proposition submitted to the electors.”
The plaintiffs say the threat of sanctions has “chilled and continues to chill protected speech” and that they will be forced to modify their pro-gun ads.
“California cannot restrict its citizens from sharing that footage with fellow citizens in furtherance of their fundamental speech rights,” the complaint states.
The individual plaintiffs are filmmakers Kris Koenig and Stephen Chollet and Michael Schwartz, executive director of the San Diego County Gun Owners PAC.
The plaintiffs are represented by Bradley Benbrook and Stephen Duvernay in Sacramento, and Eugene Volokh of the UCLA School of Law.
Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office did not immediately respond to an email request for comment Thursday evening.
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