By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
ABERDEEN – Soon, both sides will know if a federal judge will allow a citizens group to sidestep state campaign finance laws.
U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock took under advisement Tuesday a request from five Lafayette County residents to avoid state registration to spend money in support of a Nov. 8 ballot initiative.
During a 90-minute hearing, attorneys for the group and for the state pressed their legal points about why or why not Aycock should allow the group to go outside the law to advocate for Initiative 31, which seeks to change state eminent domain law.
The group’s attorney, Paul Avelar of Arizona, said its members will press ahead with a larger lawsuit once the election is over, regardless of what Aycock decides.
Essentially, the group wants to have declared unconstitutional Mississippi’s law which requires registration and financial reporting for groups advocating views about ballot issues.
“This case is about burdens on political speech,” Avelar told Aycock, saying the state’s registration, reporting and disclosure requirements for political committees “creates burdens” and “chills” their activity.
Mississippi law requires political candidate and committee registration after raising or spending more than $200.
Avelar urged her, in the few days left before the election, to allow his clients to spend up to $1,000 to publicly support their views.
He told her Mississippi’s laws “scare people away from being involved in politics.”
Harold Pizzetta, assistant attorney general representing his office and co-defendant Mississippi Secretary of State, told Aycock he doesn’t believe “a court has the authority to re-write a statute,” which is what setting a $1,000 threshold amounts to.
If the law is unconstitutional, it must be struck down and open for the Legislature to adopt another, he said.
He compared Mississippi’s $200 threshold with other states’ and said it is neither high nor low.
But he said disclosure about who spends money on political campaigns “is greatly outweighed by the benefits to society.”
He termed the group’s late request “an emergency of their own making” and urged Aycock not to grant their motion.