Defending Democratic Self-Government

Victory! Defending Montana’s campaign contribution limits

Free Speech For People filed several “friend of the court” briefs to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, arguing that Montana’s campaign contribution limits should be upheld to protect the constitutional promise of political equality for all. Joining Free Speech For People in the filing of this brief are: the Honorable James C. Nelson, a retired Justice of the Montana Supreme Court and a member of Free Speech For People’s Board of Directors; the Indian Law Resource Center; the American Independent Business Alliance, and the American Sustainable Business Council. The case took a winding path back and forth between the district court in Montana and the Ninth Circuit. In October 2017, the Ninth Circuit upheld the contribution limits, and in January 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Read More

And to read more on our work defending Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act, click here.

Victory! Defending limits on corporate contributions

We celebrated a victory as the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear 1A Auto, Inc. v. Sullivan, a challenge to a Massachusetts state law banning corporate contributions to political candidates. Free Speech For People worked with Common Cause Massachusetts on an amicus brief in the state supreme court. This case is important for several reasons. First, the case was clearly conceived by the Goldwater Institute not just as a challenge to a Massachusetts statute, but as a vehicle to try to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down bans on contributions from corporations to candidates. Second, we succeeded in complicating the case to keep it out of the Supreme Court. And finally, looking forward, the Massachusetts court’s decision lays additional legal groundwork in an important concurring opinion.

Read More

Victory! Defending small donor public financing in Seattle

Demos and Free Speech For People represent a coalition of local and national organizations that helped pass Seattle’s “democracy voucher” program, a nationally-recognized public campaign financing system enacted by voter initiative in 2015 and first used in the city’s 2017 election. Our joint amicus brief helped defend the city against a constitutional challenge in Washington state court by property owners. As our brief argued, the democracy voucher program serves important First Amendment interests in strengthening local democracy in Seattle by combating corruption, increasing political access and participation for low-income people and people of color, and enabling candidates to fund their campaigns without relying on out-of-town donors. The Washington Supreme Court upheld the initiative.

Read More

Defending alaska’s campaign contribution limits

On July 26, 2017 we filed an amicus brief, along with Prof. David Fontana of George Washington University Law School, arguing that an Alaska campaign finance limit should be upheld because it serves a compelling government interest in democratic self-government. On November 29, 2018, the Ninth Circuit rejected that argument (over Chief Judge Thomas’s dissent) and struck down the limit.

Read More

Past Cases

Victory! Defending a ballot initiative in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United

Free Speech For People, along with MOVI, California Clean Money Campaign, CalPIRG, Common Cause California and Courage Campaign, filed an amicus brief before the California Supreme Court in defense of California Proposition 49, also known as the Overturn Citizens United Act. Our brief focused on a provision in the California Constitution providing that the people have a right to “instruct their representatives.” The history of this provision, and of the contemporaneous practice of the California Legislature, demonstrates that it was intended to allow questions like Proposition 49. The California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 49. The legislature placed it on the ballot for 2016, and the measure passed by a solid margin.

Read More

Victory! Defending rules against “pay-to-play” for public fund investment advisers

On August 29, 2014, we filed an amicus brief in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in support of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s anti-“pay-to-play” rule for investment advisers, which prevents investment advisers from receiving management fees from public funds when they have given political contributions to the elected officials who influence the choice of investment advisers for those funds. Our brief argues that the rules protects the First Amendment rights of public employees by preventing investment advisers from using a portion of their pension money to pay for political spending.  In March 2015, Free Speech For People submitted a brief in support of the Securities Exchange Committee in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Read More

Victory! Defending limits on judicial candidates personally soliciting campaign contributions

On December 19, 2014, Free Speech For People and retired Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson (a member of Free Speech For People’s Board of Directors) filed an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar in defense of a Florida campaign finance rule for judicial elections. In May 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in defense of the Florida State bar, upholding state laws that prohibit elected judges from personally soliciting donations to support their campaigns. The Court rejected in a 5-4 decision, a free speech claim brought forward from a Florida judge, recognizing the importance of maintaining the dignity appropriate to judicial office.

Our brief argued that the US legal system depends on public respect for judges and courts, and that therefore the states have a compelling interest in protecting the dignity of the judiciary. This ruling further helps support the public’s confidence in the judiciary.

Read More

Photos: @pixabay on Pexels, Joey Csunyo on Unsplash

Icons made by Freepik from