Washington State Supreme Court Says Endorsements by Talk Show Hosts Are Not Campaign Contributions

April 26, 2007 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

Decision Consistent with ACLU Position

CONTACT: media@aclu.org

SEATTLE – The Washington Supreme Court today decided unanimously that endorsements of ballot issues by radio talk show hosts should not be treated as campaign contributions. The ACLU of Washington submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the case backing the free speech rights of the talk show hosts in the case.

“Free discussion of political issues in the media is an essential part of the democratic process. The government should not limit robust debate on controversial issues during an election campaign,” said ACLU cooperating attorney Mike Kipling.

Ruling today in San Juan County v. No New Gas Tax , the Washington State Supreme Court reversed a lower court finding that radio broadcasts by KVI-AM hosts Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson were “in-kind” political contributions to a political campaign.

The ACLU filed its amicus brief in support of the No New Gas Tax committee, which sponsored Initiative 912 in 2005 to repeal gas taxes for transportation improvements. The committee was sued by San Juan County and the cities of Kent , Auburn and Seattle . They argued that KVI-AM radio hosts Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson made “in-kind” campaign contributions when they endorsed the initiative and requested donations on the air. The Thurston Superior Court agreed, ordering the committee to disclose anonymous donations and to put a monetary value on the KVI broadcasts, estimated at $20,000.

In its brief, the ACLU said that talk radio shows are not the same as paid advertisements and cannot be treated as campaign contributions because that would violate First Amendment protections for free speech. The ACLU said that doing so would make broadcasters and other media hesitant to talk about political issues before an election out of fear that the state would force them to disclose reports and talk shows as political contributions. Furthermore, the ACLU said that if speech on the radio were a campaign contribution, it could be banned outright in the weeks immediately before the election under the state’s campaign finance laws.

Agreeing with the ACLU, the Washington State Supreme Court concluded that statements by radio personalities as part of their regularly scheduled broadcasts are not “contributions” within the meaning of Washington’s campaign finance laws.

The ACLU brief was written by cooperating attorney Mike Kipling of Kipling Law Group and ACLU staff attorney Aaron Caplan.

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release