(CN) – A federal judge found unconstitutional Thursday a ballot measure passed by South Dakota voters last year that bans out-of-state contributions to ballot question committees.
U.S. District Judge Charles Kornmann struck down Initiated Measure 24 (IM 24) stating it “is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment right to engage in political speech and to associate with others to fund political speech.”
Kornmann also wrote in the 16-page ruling that IM 24 violates the Commerce Clause by “interfering with the free flow of money between persons or entities from another state.”
A permanent injunction was sought by the South Dakota Newspaper Association and SD Voice who aim to prevent South Dakota from enforcing IM 24, which was enacted by voters in the 2018 general election with 55.5% of the vote.
The newspaper association was also concerned about facing “significant civil penalties” for accepting advertising money from out-of-state entities that run political ads. A judge could fine up to $5,000 per violation under the law.
The plaintiffs argued that the measure was a violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to engage in debate on public issues through “fund advocacy efforts,” according to the ruling.
“We respect the decision of the Court. We are reading the decision and are examining the avenues available to our office that best coincide with protecting the best interests of the people and the State of South Dakota,” the South Dakota Attorney General’s office said in a written statement.
IM 24’s prohibition on out-of-state contributions does not apply to political parties, candidates or candidate committees. The measure only seeks to curtail “statewide ballot question committees,” which IM 24 fails to define, nor is the term defined by any existing campaign finance laws in South Dakota, according to the ruling.
“The Supreme Court has long recognized that ‘virtually every means of communicating ideas in today’s mass society requires the expenditure of money,’” Judge Kornmann wrote. “All speakers, including individuals and the media, use money amassed from the economic marketplace to fund their speech, and the First Amendment protects the resulting speech.”
The ballot initiative was proposed by Republican and former state House Speaker Mark Mickelson. The law was set to take effect July 1.