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Missourians for Fiscal Accountability v. Klahr

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

January 5, 2017

MISSOURIANS FOR FISCAL ACCOUNTABILITY, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES KLAHR, in his official capacity as Executive Director of the Missouri Ethics Commission, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, AND GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          ORTRIE D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE

         Pending are Defendant Missouri Ethics Commission's (“Commission”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #35) and Plaintiff Missourians for Fiscal Accountability's (“MFA”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #37). For the following reasons, the Commission's motion is denied, and MFA's motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         MFA is a “political organization” within the meaning of section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code. MFA was formed on October 22, 2014, with the intent of collecting contributions and expending money to advocate for Proposition 10, a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution voted upon during the November 4, 2014 general election. MFA endeavored to register as a “campaign committee” as required by Missouri statute. However, Missouri statutes precluded MFA from collecting or spending money to support Proposition 10 because MFA did not register as a campaign committee at least thirty days before the election.

         Section 130.011 of the Missouri Revised Statutes defines a “campaign committee” in terms that include limitations on what a campaign committee is and can do. In pertinent part, the statute provides:

a committee, other than a candidate committee, which shall be formed by an individual or group of individuals to receive contributions or make expenditures and whose sole purpose is to support or oppose the qualification and passage of one or more particular ballot measures in an election…shall be formed no later than thirty days prior to the election for which the committee receives contributions or makes expenditures….

Mo. Rev. Stat. § 130.011(8) (2016). According to MFA, this section creates a blackout period during which a campaign committee cannot collect or expend funds, and this blackout period places a ceiling on speech for thirty days even if an organization is willing to comply with all disclosure requirements. See Doc. #1.

         On October 30, 2014, MFA initiated this lawsuit alleging section 130.011(8) restricted its ability to collect and expend funds to support Proposition 10 violates the First Amendment, and sought an injunction to protect itself from the adverse effects of violating section 130.011. Id. On October 31, 2014, MFA filed a motion for temporary restraining order. Doc. #5. After conducting a telephonic hearing in which both parties participated, the Court granted MFA's motion. Doc. #9.

         After the election was held, the Court directed the parties to show cause why the case should not be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction because the dispute may have been rendered moot by the election's occurrence. Doc. #11. The Court concluded the matter was not moot, but the Court sought additional briefing from the parties regarding whether a final judgment should be entered based upon the rationale expressed in the temporary restraining order. Doc. #20. On April 27, 2015, the Court dismissed the matter without prejudice, finding the claims were not ripe for adjudication. Doc. #25. MFA appealed this Court's decision to the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Doc. #17. The Eighth Circuit found MFA's claims were ripe and remanded the case. Missourians for Fiscal Accountability v. Klahr, 830 F.3d 789 (8th Cir. 2016).

         Both parties have filed motions for summary judgment asking the Court to determine whether section 130.011(8) violates the First Amendment. These motions are fully briefed and now ripe for consideration.

         II. STANDARD

         A moving party is entitled to summary judgment on a claim only if there is a showing that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Williams v. City of St. Louis, 783 F.2d 114, 115 (8th Cir. 1986). “[W]hile the materiality determination rests on the substantive law, it is the substantive law's identification of which facts are critical and which facts are irrelevant that governs.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Thus, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Wierman v. Casey's Gen. Stores, 638 F.3d 984, 993 (8th Cir. 2011) (quotation omitted). In applying this standard, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, giving that party the benefit of all inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 588-89 (1986); Tyler v. Harper, 744 F.2d 653, 655 (8th Cir. 1984). However, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment “may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the…pleadings, but…by affidavits or as otherwise provided in [Rule 56], must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The First Amendment protects the right to participate in the political process, which includes the right to make political donations or spend money to express political views. See McCutcheon v. Fed. Election Comm'n, 134 S.Ct. 1434, 1441 (2014). Speech about ballot initiatives, as is the case here, is “quintessential political speech, which is at the heart of the protections of the First Amendment.” 281 Care Committee v. Arneson, 638 F.3d 621, 635 (8th Cir. 2011) (citing Mills v. Alabama, 384 U.S. 214, 218 (1966)). The First Amendment's protections extend to corporations and associations. Citizens United v. Fed. Election Comm'n, 558 U.S. 310, 342-43 (2010) (citations omitted). When the Government restricts speech, it bears the burden of proving the constitutionality of the restrictions. McCutcheon, 134 S.Ct. at 1452. “Laws that burden political speech are ‘subject to strict scrutiny, ' which requires the Government to ...


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