FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 1, 2019
CONTACT: Dave Roland, (314)604-6621
Eighth Circuit: First Amendment Protects Unpaid Activists Who Share Policy Ideas With Legislators
Nearly three years ago the Missouri Ethics Commission ordered Ron Calzone, an unpaid grassroots activist, to pay a $1,000 fine and prohibited him from discussing policy with lawmakers until he registered and filed reports as though he was a professional “lobbyist.” Because the First Amendment guarantees the freedom to share one’s policy ideas with public officials, Calzone challenged the constitutionality of the MEC’s order. Today, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals sitting en banc confirmed that the constitution does not allow states to treat unpaid citizen activists like professional lobbyists.
The majority opinion, authored by Judge David Stras, stated, “[T]he question is straightforward: can Missouri require Calzone to pay a fee and publicly disclose his political activities, even though he neither spends nor receives any money in connection with his advocacy? We conclude that the answer is no.”Eighth-Circuit-En-Banc-Opinion
“It has been a long time coming, but I’m pleased that the Court of Appeals got this right,” Mr. Calzone said. “Unpaid citizen activists like myself keep our elected officials informed and accountable by sharing our views about public policy. A government cannot force unpaid activists to jump through regulatory hoops in order to exercise their First Amendment rights.”
Lawyers from the Institute for Free Speech and the Freedom Center of Missouri represented Mr. Calzone.
“The State of Missouri’s dogged pursuit of Mr. Calzone completely ignored the cost its policy imposed on civil society,” said Allen Dickerson, legal director of the Institute for Free Speech. “The Government would have treated every civically-engaged Boy Scout troop and Audubon Society chapter like a group of paid lobbyists, merely for speaking with their elected representatives. Thankfully, the Court held that the First Amendment stands against the professionalization of our right to petition the government.”
“Our system of government depends on people like Ron actively sharing their policy ideas with those in power, but for years powerful legislators have been trying to silence him,” said David Roland, director of litigation for the Freedom Center of Missouri. “Today’s decision should make clear that the Constitution shields these citizen activists against these efforts to restrict their First Amendment rights.”
The Missouri Ethics Commission may choose to appeal to the United States Supreme Court, which has not heard a lobbyist registration case since 1954.
Founded in November 2010, the Freedom Center of Missouri is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to research, litigation, and education in defense of individual liberty and constitutionally limited government. The Freedom Center is one of Missouri’s leading legal advocates for the freedom of speech. Additional information about the Freedom Center’s mission, cases, and activities can be found online at www.mofreedom.org.
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[NOTE: To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may call Dave Roland at (314) 604-6621.]