For Immediate Release
July 25, 2003
Julia Vaughn, Common Cause/Indiana, 317 234–2226
Laura Weiner, 212 992–8631
Indiana Supreme Court Finds State’s Campaign Finance Law Constitutional
Court Adopts Position Argued By Common Cause/Indiana and the Brennan Center
On July 24, 2003, the Indiana Supreme Court turned back an attempt by campaign finance reform opponents to open a loophole in Indianas disclosure requirements. In a 16-page opinion, the court rejected the positions espoused by both the State and the laws challengers, agreeing instead with a friend-of-the-court brief filed on behalf of Common Cause/Indiana (CC/IN) by lawyers from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and W. Russell Sipes of the Indianapolis firm Laudig George Rutherford & Sipes. The case is entitled Majors v. Abell.
Indiana law, like the Federal Election Campaign Act and the laws of other states, requires disclosure when special interest groups or individuals expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate (so-called express advocacy). This means that if third parties run attack ads against a candidate, the voters will know who is behind the ads. Disclosure also helps the public detect favors that successful candidates provide to campaign supporters.
In Majors, the plaintiffs filed a suit in federal court claiming a constitutional right to fund express advocacy anonymously. The federal Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit asked the Indiana Supreme Court to determine whether Indianas law applies only to ads that are paid for by candidates campaign committees and other political committees, or whether it covers express advocacy by any person as the law explicitly states. The plaintiffs contended the statute was unconstitutional no matter how it was interpreted, while the State said the court should limit the statute to political committees.
Instead, the court agreed with CC/IN that the legislature intended to cover all express advocacy, no matter who pays for it, and that the statute was constitutional under U.S. Supreme Court precedents.
The Court said the law reflects a very strong state policy of ensuring integrity of public statements in candidate elections. The court recalled a well-funded interest group taking out advertisements to run a statewide media blitz shortly before the 2000 election accusing a candidate for Attorney General of defending drug dealers. Because of the disclosure law, [a]t least the voters could see who was making this claim, and form an assessment as to what its agenda was likely to be. They could then form their own views as to whether the candidates having served as defense attorney in a case that resulted in conviction for dealing had anything at all to do with the motivation to defeat the candidate.
The case will now go back to federal court for a final determination of the statutes constitutionality.
J. J. Gass, Associate Counsel at the Brennan Center, said: This decision will help ensure that Indianas voters have the information they need to evaluate the credibility of attacks on candidates. The law does not restrict anyones free speech; it just says that when you do run an ad, you have to let voters know who you are.
Julia Vaughn, CC/INs Policy Director, said: Having testified in favor of the disclosure statute in the General Assembly, we know how important it is in protecting Indianas elections from the influence of powerful special interests acting under cover of secrecy. We are pleased that the Indiana Supreme Court will give the law the effect that the legislature intended, and we look forward to working with the Attorney General to defend the laws constitutionality when the case returns to federal court.
The Common Cause/Indiana (CC/IN) friend-of-the-court brief was filed on CC/INs behalf in Majors v. Abell by lawyers from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and W. Russell Sipes of the Indianapolis firm Laudig George Rutherford & Sipes.