Federal Judge Upholds Maine’s Disclosure Requirements, With a Few Exceptions
A federal judge, adjudicating a dispute between the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and the Maine Ethics Commission, upheld the vast majority of the state’s reporting regulations governing political action committees, with a few important caveats.
Judge D. Brock Hornby ruled that while the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision freed corporate political speech under the First Amendment, the case also upheld the idea that government may regulate it through disclaimer and disclosure requirements. NOM had argued, in a dispute that first arose over its efforts to defeat Maine’s same sex-marriage law last year, that Maine’s laws governing political committee definitions and disclaimer requirements were unconstitutionally vague and broad and ultimately suppressed its speech.
While NOM didn’t win much, it did secure two small concessions from Judge Hornby, who ruled that Maine’s standard for PAC expenditures “trying to influence” or “to influence in any way” an election was “unconstitutionally vague” in its definition. The judge also noted that the regulation for all expenditures to be reported in 24 hours may be “overly burdensome.”
The ruling comes amid a host of challenges being made to state laws governing campaign finance limits and disclosure requirements in the wake of Citizens United. Maine has some of the strictest reporting and disclosure requirements in the nation and NOM sought to challenge the validity of their existence in the case. Anne Luther of the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, for one, thinks the outside organization largely failed:
“Our first reading of it is that this is 95 percent a vindication of Maine’s PAC reporting laws; that this is by and large upholding our reporting and disclosure laws. It’s entirely constitutional,” Luther says. “The judge carved out two very, very narrow exceptions, one of which may be able to be handled very easily by additional rule-making but these are very very narrow exceptions that leave the vast majority of our PAC reporting for this election coming up entirely intact.”
Though the judge found that the Maine election law standard applying to PAC expenditures “trying to influence” or “to influence in any way” an election is unconstitutionally broad, Luther points out that he left intact other language in the PAC definition. “Now that leaves intact ‘supporting, opposing’ and all the other ways you may participate in an election and he struck only that language ‘influencing in any way’, so the rest of the definition of a PAC stands.”