VOL. 17 ISSUE NO. 45   |  NOVEMBER 9 – 15, 2011


IJ protects First Amendment rights for Fountain Hills woman

‘[T]he only thing you should need to speak is an opinion. Unfortunately, under campaign finance laws, you also need an attorney.’

dgThe Institute for Justice won a First Amendment victory last week for Fountain Hills resident Dina Galassini (r), who simply wanted to assemble with others to express their opinions on the Fountain Hills Special Bond Election without having to register as a political action committee.
Photo courtesy Photo by Linley Wilson for IJ

PHOENIX – On Nov. 3, U.S. District Court Judge James A. Teilborg, a Clinton appointee, granted plaintiff Dina Galassini’s motion for preliminary injunction, enjoining the town of Fountain Hills, its officers, agents and employees “from requiring plaintiff and others associating with her to register as a political committee and/or file an exemption form under A.R.S. §§ 16-902.01(A), and to comply with the requirements for political committees contained in A.R.S. 16-902, 904, 912.01(A) and (J), and 924, so that plaintiff may speak and associate with others and hold her protests between now and Nov. 8, 2011.”

Teilborg, exercising his discretion, also waived the requirement for Galassini to post a security bond.

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton, also a Clinton appointee, denied the Institute for Justice’s (IJ) motion, filed on Galassini’s behalf, for an emergency restraining order.

Galassini, a community activist and Fountain Hills resident, sent an e-mail to 23 Fountain Hills residents, inviting them to join her at two protests, one on Oct. 10 at the corner of Palisades and Palomino, and one on Oct. 22, at the corner of Saguaro and Avenue of the Fountains, in opposition to the Fountain Hills Special Bond Election on Nov. 8 and asked them to bring signs protesting the bonds.

Galassini suggested slogans for signs such as “Bonds are Bondage,” “Keep Property Taxes Low,” “No to the Ball and Chain Bond,” “Vote NO on the Bond,” and “Vote No on Nov. 8.”
Prior to the planned dates of her protests, Galassini received a letter from Fountain Hills Town Clerk Bevelyn Bender, indicating she had received a copy of Galassini’s e-mail.

Bender told Galassini, “[A]lthough an individual acting alone is not a political committee under Arizona law and she need not file a statement of organization, if any individual person or persons join the effort begun by an individual, the association of persons has become a ‘political committee’ under Arizona law, and must file a statement of organization before accepting contributions, making expenditures, distributing literature or circulating petitions.”

Bender went on to instruct Galassini, in order to come into compliance with the law, she must file a “Statement of Organization” with the town prior to any electioneering taking place, and wrote, “I would strongly encourage you to cease any campaign related activities until the requirements of the law have been met.”

Upon receiving Bender’s letter, Galassini testified during the preliminary injunction hearing she decided to call off her planned protests because “I had no idea I’d be violating the law” and “I didn’t know if I’d be fined or jailed or what was going to happen.”

Teilborg found Galassini had established serious questions as to the merits and the hardship balance tipped in her favor.

Galassini alleged in her complaint that A.R.S. § 16-901(19), which defines “Political committee,” is an unconstitutional burden on her First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association.

She also argued the registration, exemption, reporting and disclosure requirements for political committees in Arizona Revised Statutes impose a prior restraint on political speech and association and chill the rights to free speech and association.

Further, Galassini asserted the regulations are vague and overbroad violations of the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

While last week’s ruling was a victory for Galassini, IJ Arizona Staff Attorney Paul Avelar said, “Campaign finance laws are difficult to understand and create traps for the unwary.”
Avelar said the court’s decision to enjoin the law was very important because it protected Galassini’s “right to speak and to associate with others at a time it matters most: during the heat of an election.”

Galassini said, I am overjoyed the court has protected my right to gather together with my friends and neighbors to speak our minds without having to register with the government.”
She said, “I felt strongly from the beginning that the position Fountain Hills had put me in was wrong.”

steve simpsonAccording to the IJ, the preliminary injunction granted by Teilborg is just the first step in this case. The IJ will now be able to litigate the full merits of the case and “demonstrate again how these laws inhibit the ability of ordinary Americans to speak and participate in the political process. The goal of this case is to free all Arizonans to speak about politics without the threat of prosecution.”

Steve Simpson (l), IJ Senior Attorney and lead counsel in the case, said, “In America, the only thing you should need to speak is an opinion. Unfortunately, under campaign finance laws, you also need an attorney.”

He went on to say, “The Supreme Court recognized in Citizens United that complicated laws can suppress speech even by well-funded groups. We are gratified that the judge in this case recognized the same thing is true for grassroots speech by ordinary Americans.”