ACLU-NCLF Files Lawsuit Against North Carolina State Board of Elections Challenging Total Ban on Lobbyist Contributions

August 19, 2008 12:00 am

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RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) filed a lawsuit today in the federal district court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, challenging North Carolina’s Campaign Contribution Prohibition, (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-278.13C(a)), which imposes a year-round total prohibition on certain state campaign contributions by lobbyists. The plaintiff in the case is Sarah Preston, the ACLU-NC’s lobbyist, whose First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of association and free expression are being violated by the state law barring her from contributing even one dollar to the campaign of candidates for the state legislature and many other state offices at any time during the year, as long as she is registered as a lobbyist. This year-round, zero-dollar ban applies without regard to whether the would-be recipient of the contributions is, ever has been, or will be the object of Ms. Preston’s lobbying efforts.

“I understand that lobbyists may be subject to reasonable restrictions on when we can give campaign contributions and how much we can give to campaigns, but the North Carolina law goes way too far,” said Preston. “Barring lobbyists from ever being able to give even one dollar to a candidate we believe in, just because of our chosen profession, is unfair, unreasonable, and unconstitutional.”

The lawsuit asks the Court to (1.) declare the Campaign Contribution Prohibition to be in violation of Ms. Preston’s free speech rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution; and (2.) permanently enjoin the North Carolina State Board of Elections from enforcing this sweeping, overbroad prohibition.

“The state certainly has a strong interest in preventing corruption – or even the appearance of corruption – in state government, and preventing lobbyists from wielding undue influence is a legitimate means of preserving the integrity of the electoral process,” explained Katy Parker, ACLU-NCLF Legal Director. “However, such restrictions must allow for the fact that everyone in America has the right to free speech and free association, especially when it comes to people expressing their political beliefs. By imposing a year-round, zero-dollar total ban, North Carolina’s extreme prohibition goes far beyond what is reasonable or necessary to prevent actual or apparent corruption in government and far beyond the types of limits on lobbyists’ contributions that have been upheld by any court in the United States.”

If this law is found to be unconstitutional, it is hoped that the North Carolina legislature would revisit this issue in the 2009 session. The ACLU-NC would offer feedback and suggestions to ensure that the new law balances the First Amendment rights of individual lobbyists with the government’s need to prevent actual or apparent corruption.

Ms. Preston is represented by Thomas H. Segars, Jonathan D. Sasser and Rebecca M. Rich of Ellis & Winters, LLP, in Cary, North Carolina, as Cooperating Attorneys for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, as well as by Katherine Lewis Parker, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation.

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