Aycock tosses state’s small-group political spending laws

Mississippi State NewsBy Patsy R. Brumfield

Daily Journal

ABERDEEN – A state law is unconstitutional when it forces small groups or individuals to register and report spending more than $200 on a political issue, a federal judge said Monday.

The issue was raised in October 2011 when five Oxford-area residents sought to oppose a Mississippi ballot measure about eminent domain.

They brought their lawsuit to federal court against Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Attorney General Jim Hood.

Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Sharion Aycock, who has pondered the legal issues since then, declared the state law’s reporting threshold “too low” and said it imposes “substantial burdens” on groups and individuals.

She also said the law requiring group registration and individual reporting is “unconstitutional” under the First Amendment.

However, Aycock said Mississippi may regulate individuals and groups attempting to influence constitutional ballot measures, but that its “convoluted and exacting” requirements are “too burdensome” with the $200 threshold.

Filing the lawsuit were Gordon Vance Justice Jr., Sharon Bynum, Matthew Johnson, Alison Kinnaman and Stanley Odell.

Paul Avelar, their attorney with the Institute for Justice in Tempe, Ariz., said he’s pleased with the ruling.

“When you think about campaign finance laws, you don’t realize that they apply to such small grassroots groups,” he said.

He said these state laws are so confusing and hard to follow that they “put a chilling effect” on citizens who have something to say about issues.

In Aycock’s 33-page opinion, she notes that she’s leaving the question “for another day” on more substantial spending requirements for political committees and individuals.

A Hood spokesman said he has yet to decide about an appeal to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Hosemann’s office could not be reached for comment.