Judge rules Delaware Disclosure Law unconstitutional

Bars enforcement of law against group publishing voter guides

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Wilmington, DE – A federal court today issued an order barring enforcement of a recently adopted Delaware law that would have forced a group that publishes non-partisan voter guides to violate its members’ privacy.

Judge Sue L. Robinson of the United States District Court in Wilmington granted Delaware Strong Families (DSF)’s motion for a preliminary injunction, writing that Delaware’s compulsory disclosure law “is so broadly worded as to include within the scope of its disclosure requirements virtually every communication made during the critical time period, no matter how indirect and unrelated it is to the electoral process.”

The Delaware statute, passed with the claim that it is necessary to inform voters about political spending, would force Delaware Strong Families to disclose personal information on financial supporters and donors.

“The court concludes that the relation between the personal information collected to the primary purpose of the Act is too tenuous to pass constitutional muster. Therefore, DSF is likely to prevail on the merits of its claim that the Act, as applied, is unconstitutional.”

DSF is represented in Court by the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP), a group that litigates for First Amendment rights to free political speech.

“We are pleased by the Court’s decision and quick action. The government cannot impose extensive regulatory burdens, or violate the privacy of donors, where an organization does not advocate for any candidate,” said CCP legal director Allen Dickerson.

“I’m thrilled the Court upheld our First Amendment right to speak,” said Nicole Theis, the president of DSF. “We can now continue to publish our nonpartisan voter guide and inform voters on the key issues of the day without registering with the government and handing over contributor lists. Today’s decision will allow us to publish this information again this year. Lawmakers need to remember the purpose of disclosure is to allow citizens to monitor the government, not for the government to monitor the citizens.”

“The purpose of campaign finance disclosure laws is supposed to be to allow the people to monitor the government and elected officials,” said David Keating, president of CCP. “But in recent years, disclosure has been turned on its head, with states and the federal government passing sweeping laws designed to harass donors and spenders, intrude on privacy, and allow the government to monitor and potentially retaliate against the people, even when no official receives any money for his or her campaign. Today’s decision marks an important victory in our long-term effort to battle overbroad and vague disclosure laws.”

Delaware spared no effort in defending the law. The state hired the white shoe law firm of Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale & Dorr, a firm with 1,000 lawyers in 15 offices around the world, which had previously helped to successfully defend the McCain-Feingold law in federal court. The State was also represented by the Campaign Legal Center, a pro-regulation nonprofit organization.

An appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is expected.