Federal judge grants anti-soda-tax committee exemption from campaign disclosure law
on September 7, 2012
A U.S. district judge told city attorneys this morning that Richmond didn’t “stand a chance of a prosecution” in enforcing its campaign disclosure laws against an anti-soda-tax group.
The Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes filed a lawsuit against the city to prevent it from enforcing a law that would require the group to devote one-third of any mailer’s campaign disclosure section to the words “major funding from out-of-city-contributors.”
Judge Charles R. Breyer ruled that the ordinance did not apply to the committee because of ambiguous language that uses the term “independent expenditures.” Independent expenditures concern committees supporting or opposing candidates.
But Randy Riddle, an attorney representing the city, said the City Council intended its ordinance to include committees like CCABT.
“When interpreting a law in California, the emphasis has to be on intent, intent, intent,” Riddle said.
The disclosure requirements amounted to an argument from the city, Breyer said.
“And you can’t require the other side to make your argument—that’s an infringement of their First Amendment rights,” Breyer said. “You’re saying, ‘Look, these people are foreigners. These people are from out of here. Why should we listen to them? They’re trying to influence our election.’”
Breyer said that since the election is two months away, he would grant the CCABT a temporary restraining order to suspend the law until Sept. 21.
The CCABT can now distribute mass mailings as they had before the ordinance was passed without risk of prosecution.
Chuck Finnie, a spokesperson from CCABT, called the specific campaign disclosure laws a “warning label” that the city is asking the CCABT to put on their mailings.
Breyer scheduled another hearing for Sept. 18, when Finnie said he expects the judge to go into First Amendment issues the city’s ordinance raises.
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