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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Kills Challenge to Disclosure Law

TACOMA, Wash. (CN) - A nonprofit group that fights eminent domain in low-income Asian neighborhoods, and a Republican co-plaintiff, lost their challenge of a state public disclosure law for grassroots lobbying. The law requires any person or group that spends more than $500 in one month on grassroots lobbying to file with the state's Public Disclosure Commission.

Lead plaintiff Many Cultures One Message, joined by Red State Politics dba Conservative Enthusiasts, said the law burdens them with "expensive, complex, and time-consuming administrative requirements that interfere with, and chill plaintiffs' ability to exercise, their right to engage in political speech and association."

The groups sued Jim Clements, chairman of the State Public Disclosure Commission, and the other members of the commission in April 2010.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Stromborn dismissed the complaint last week, finding that the groups failed to prove that the law actually limited their right to free speech.

"Given the widely recognized interest the state has in informing the public as to the potential influences on the electoral and legislative processes - and the fact that doing so in regard to grassroots lobbying is an integral aspect of that interest - the Court rejects plaintiffs' assertion that the state 'has failed to identify any problem that prompted its regulation of' grassroots lobbying," Strombom wrote in a 111-page order granting summary judgment to the state.

"To the contrary, that burden has been met."

The original complaint stated: "In Washington, if an individual or group spends above a certain amount urging fellow citizens to contact state officials, the government forces that individual or group to register with the government and report the name, address, business or occupation of the persons directing that communication, and the names and addresses of anyone contributing as little as $25 to these efforts."

But Stromborn wrote that even though the amount of money at issue is low, in a recent case dealing with the same law (Family PAC v. Reed et al.) a judge found that "even low dollar disclosure thresholds have a palliative purpose," because "'in the aggregate those [amounts] can make a profound difference in an election' or the legislative decision-making process, 'if they are being orchestrated by some group.' Washington thus 'has an interest in making sure that' its citizens 'know that,' and 'that they can follow the money.'" (Brackets in ruling, emphasis added by Stromborn.)

Nor could the groups prove that they faced a reasonable probability of harassment as a result of disclosing the names of their members, Strombom found.

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