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February 14, 2020 • 10:06 am

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Home Press Room Center for Individual Freedom Files Federal Lawsuit Challenging Constitutionality of Illinois' Campaign Finance Law
Center for Individual Freedom Files Federal Lawsuit Challenging Constitutionality of Illinois' Campaign Finance Law Print
Wednesday, July 14 2010

Vagueness of Illinois law and its discriminatory exemption for labor unions violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments

ALEXANDRIA, VA — The Center for Individual Freedom (“CFIF”) today filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to strike down as unconstitutional certain provisions of Illinois campaign finance law that forbid independent issue ads and other speech during election periods unless CFIF and all other similarly-situated organizations – except labor unions – abide by onerous and constitutionally-suspect reporting and disclosure requirements. 

CFIF filed its complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, charging that the Illinois law in question is vague and overbroad, and thus violates its free speech and association rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  In addition, CFIF argues that Illinois’ exemption for labor unions violates both the First Amendment and the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

“CFIF wishes to broadcast ads and use other media to speak on public policy issues in Illinois during the weeks leading up to the November elections,” said CFIF President Jeffrey Mazzella.  “But the vagueness of Illinois law and the threat of civil and criminal penalties force us to remain mute.  We have no other option than to seek vindication of our First Amendment rights in the courts.”

Referring to Illinois’ exemption for labor unions, Mazzella stated, “One of the only clear and precise details in the Illinois campaign finance statute is that it specifically exempts labor unions and only labor unions.  Such statutory discrimination in favor of labor unions and their views, and seemingly against all others, is one type of legal favoritism the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment seeks to prevent.  Core First Amendment rights must be protected for all similarly situated speakers, not just for one politically favored group. 

“That basic constitutional principle of fairness is not only being ignored in Illinois,” Mazzella added.  Similar statutory discrimination in favor of labor unions and a small handful of other groups is reportedly being contemplated on the federal level by Congress as part of the so-called DISCLOSE Act.

CFIF has a long history of speaking out on public policy issues, as well as vindicating its rights in the courts when unconstitutional laws stand in its way.  CFIF has prevailed in challenging campaign finance statutes that, as is currently the case in Illinois, were unconstitutionally vague and overbroad in Louisiana and Pennsylvania in 2006 and 2007, respectively.   In 2008, CFIF also won an injunction against enforcement of certain provisions of West Virginia’s campaign finance statute.

In Illinois, CFIF seeks a prompt hearing and all remedies that will effectively protect it and others who wish to speak freely in the state in the months and weeks leading up to elections, as well as attorneys fees and costs.  CFIF’s complaint names Illinois Attorney General Lisa M. Madigan and each Member of the Illinois State Board of Elections as defendants.

The United States Supreme Court already has twice struck down Illinois laws discriminating in favor of speech by labor unions.

CFIF is represented by Thomas W. Kirby and Caleb P. Burns of the Washington, D.C. firm Wiley Rein LLP, and Steven F. Pflaum and Meredith D. Schacht of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP in Chicago.

To read CFIF’s Complaint, click here (.pdf)

Read CFIF's Memorandum in Support of the Motion for a Preliminary and Permanent Injuction here (.pdf).

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