The Federal Election Commission has been in many fights about free speech. But now it’s in a fight with free speech, or rather with “Free Speech,” the name taken by a group of three Wyoming residents who, represented by the Wyoming Liberty Group, yesterday filed a federal lawsuit against the FEC. And, for once, a case’s name—Free Speech v. FEC—reveals precisely what’s at stake.
The lawsuit focuses on an important, unresolved issue in campaign-finance law. Free Speech wants to engage in independent political speech, but cannot be sure whether or not its speech will trigger legal obligations that it register with the FEC and report information about its political activities. The group sought guidance from the FEC, but the law is so ambiguous that the FEC’s commissioners deadlocked, leaving Free Speech with no more information on how to comply with the law than it started with.
The legal issues in the case—which are detailed in Free Speech’s Complaint—are complicated. But the implications of this case could be profound. As economist Jeff Milyo of the University of Missouri detailed in Campaign Finance Red Tape, having to register as a political committee and deal with all of the associated legal requirements is a significant burden, particularly for small groups. A victory for Free Speech would remove many of these burdens and bring much-needed clarity to the law.
More information on the case, including case-filing documents, is available here.