Lawsuit to challenge campaign finance rules

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Five Mississippians and a national civil liberties law firm plan to sue to challenge state campaign finance rules.
At 10 a.m. today, they will file a federal lawsuit in Oxford.
Spokesman Bob Ewing said Wednesday that the residents want to voice their support for Initiative 31, which they say would provide Mississippians with greater protection from eminent domain abuse, if approved by voters Nov. 8.
Filing the lawsuit will be Lafayette County residents Vance Justice, Sharon Bynum, Matt Johnson, Alison Kinaman and Stan O’Dell, along with the Institute for Justice, based in Arlington, Va.
“But if they spend just $200 on signs, buttons and flyers without first registering with the government and navigating a complex web of regulations,” Ewing noted, “they would be subject to fines and possible criminal penalties.”
Mississippi law requires the filing of official organization documents and financial reporting from any committee, party, club, association, political action committee or other group that makes contributions or disbursements of more than $200 aggregate in a calendar year toward influencing or attempting to influence voters.
Willfull violation of that law is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $3,000, or six months in jail, or both.
“In America, the only thing you should need to speak is an opinion,” said Paul Avelar, lead counsel in the lawsuit. “But thanks to Mississippi’s burdensome campaign finance laws, groups of concerned citizens need more than just their opinions – they also need a lawyer.”
In conjunction with the lawsuit, the Institute for Justice will release a national report, “Full Disclosure: How Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws Fail to Inform Voters and Stifle Public Debate.” The report claims that disclosure laws do little to help voters while imposing substantial costs on those wishing to participate in the political process.
The lawsuit is the most recent effort in the Institute for Justice’s Citizen Speech Initiative, a national effort to restore full protection to free political speech.
patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com