ALEXANDRIA, VA – The Center for Individual Freedom (“CFIF”) late last week filed a federal lawsuit in Louisiana seeking to vindicate its First Amendment rights – and those of similarly situated would-be speakers – against illicit enforcement of certain provisions of Louisiana’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Act (“CFDA”).
The lawsuit charges that Louisiana authorities responsible for enforcement of the CFDA have disregarded a decision CFIF secured in 2006 by the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (Center for Individual Freedom, Inc. v. Carmouche). In that case, the Fifth Circuit clarified and narrowly construed Louisiana’s campaign finance laws to apply only to communications that include the so-called “magic words” of express advocacy defined by the U.S. Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo (e.g. “vote for,” “elect,” “defeat,” etc.).
On several occasions since Carmouche, the Louisiana Board of Ethics, without any legislative amendment to Louisiana’s campaign finance laws and in violation of the Fifth Circuit’s decision, has brought enforcement actions in cases where the challenged speech steered clear of such “magic words.” Those enforcement actions have erased any bright line standard that is required by the First Amendment for what is and is not permitted speech under Louisiana’s campaign finance scheme without being subjected to broad and burdensome disclosure requirements. As a result, CFIF is currently standing mute instead of communicating its views in Western Louisiana prior to the upcoming Caddo Parish District Court election on October 19, 2013.
CFIF also was forced to refrain from speaking in Louisiana in 2004 as it failed to secure a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the CFDA before its rights to speak were ultimately vindicated by the Fifth Circuit in Carmouche, and again in 2012 when it first discovered that state enforcement authorities had disregarded the Fifth Circuit’s ruling.
“The First Amendment demands that the rules of the road be clear and precise so speakers don’t unwittingly subject themselves to burdensome regulation and prosecution,” said CFIF President Jeffrey Mazzella. “The actions by the Louisiana Board of Ethics in direct violation of the Fifth Circuit’s Carmouche decision and the First Amendment have left us driving blind, leaving CFIF no other choice but to once again seek relief in the courts.”
CFIF’s lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, seeks: 1) a declaration that certain provisions of Louisiana’s campaign finance statute are unconstitutionally vague and void and/or that the statute has only the meaning given to it in Carmouche; 2) permanent injunctive relief against enforcement of the invalid law or forbidding any meaning other than that established in Carmouche; 3) an award of legal fees and expenses; and 4) such other relief as may be just. The lawsuit names each individual member of the Louisiana Board of Ethics and Charles R. Scott, the District Attorney for the 1st Judicial District, as defendants.
CFIF is represented by Jan Witold Baran, Thomas W. Kirby, Caleb P. Burns and Andrew G. Woodson of the Washington, DC firm Wiley Rein LLP, and Christopher K. Ralston and Bryan Edward Bowdler of Phelps Dunbar, LLP in New Orleans.
Read CFIF's Complaint here (pdf).
Read CFIF President Jeffrey L. Mazzella's Declaration here (.pdf).
Read CFIF's Emergency Motion for a Preliminary Injunction here (pdf).
Read CFIF's Memorandum In Support of its Motion for a Preliminary Injunction here (pdf).