WASHINGTON (CN) – A conservative super PAC cannot use Mike Huckabee’s name in its URL, Twitter handle or Facebook page title, a federal judge ruled.
Supporters of the former Arkansas governor created Pursuing America’s Greatness this year to support Huckabee in his bid for the presidency. In addition to an “I Like Mike Huckabee” Facebook page, the group have been operating a website with a URL of the same name.
It filed suit in July, taking on Federal Election Commission rules that prohibit unauthorized PACs from using that candidate’s name in the titles of special projects or fundraising efforts.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan sided with the commission Thursday, emphasizing that the rules take aim at PACs not associated with or not expressing clear opposition toward a candidate.
As the FEC explains it on its website, a committee cannot solicit donations for “Candidate Jones” with a “Citizens for Jones” fundraiser, but it could rustle up cash for an effort to oppose Jones with a “Defeat Jones in ’08” fundraiser.
In the case of Pursuing America’s Greatness, the unauthorized committee can use Huckabee’s name in the body of a special project – for example, in the text of a website post – just not in the project’s title.
Though Pursuing America’s Greatness challenged the rule as “arbitrary and capricious,” Chutkan said deregulation here would let unauthorized PACs “‘exploit ambiguity’ about the candidate authorization status.”
Chutkan credited the FEC’s concern that a Huckabee supporter might think a donation going to “I Like Mike Huckabee” was going directly to the candidate, not to an unauthorized super PAC.
Indeed many of the comments on the super PAC’s “I like Mike Huckabee” Facebook page are addressed to the candidate himself, Chutkan found.
“The comments on the Facebook page directed towards Governor Huckabee clearly demonstrate that ‘proper disclaimers’ do not always suffice to dispel the confusion wrought by a confusing or misleading special project name, and that rules and regulations restricting the use of confusing or misleading names are needed to limit voter confusion,” the 34-page opinion.
First Amendment concerns are inapt since the FEC’s rule doesn’t altogether ban speech, it just limits the places the speech can happen, the court found.
“Despite the FEC’s use of the word ‘ban,’ the Special Projects Name Regulation does not ‘ban’ any speech outright,” Chutkan wrote. “Rather, it burdens speech slightly by restricting a limited class of speech (candidate names) only as to a particular location (the names of unauthorized committees and their special projects), and relegating that speech to another location (the body of special project communications made by unauthorized committees).” (Parentheses in original.)
Finding no evidence that Pursuing America’s Greatness would succeed under any of its claims, Chutkan denied the group a preliminary injunction.
Pursuing America’s Greatness no longer updates the “I Like Mike Huckabee” website, and the Facebook page has been dormant since July 17.
The group did not respond to a request for comment on the outcome of its case.
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