Arizona Right to Life Sees Campaign Finance Lawsuit Dismissed
by Paul Nowak
LifeNews.com Staff Writer
October 10, 2003
Phoenix, AZ (LifeNews.com) — A U.S. District Court Judge has thrown out a lawsuit by Arizona Right to Life that sought to remove restrictions on election-related communications.
Judge Mary H. Murguia of the District Court in Phoenix ruled Sept. 30 that the lawsuit be dismissed because the plaintiff misinterpreted state law, the state has not enforced the provision in the way that the lawsuit contends, and that no harm has come to Arizona Right to Life.
The lawsuit sought to overturn ARS 16-901.01.A.2, which prohibits certain organizations from sending communications in the 16 weeks prior to a general election unless the organizations are registered with the Secretary of State’s Office and file campaign finance reports, as well as ARS 16-917, which requires organizations to send copies of any communications to the candidates who are mentioned.
"Arizona Right to Life is not a political action committee and should not be forced to register as a political action committee," James Bopp Jr., a Terre Haute, Ind., attorney who is representing Arizona Right to Life said. "Arizona Right to Life has the right under the First Amendment to talk about what politicians are doing, the positions they’ve adopted, and this, of course, prohibits any of that."
"The primary purpose of [Arizona Right to Life] is to present detailed and factual information upon which individuals and the general public may make an informed decision about the various topics of fetal development, abortion, alternatives to abortion, euthanasia and infanticide," states the lawsuit, drafted before the last general election in November of 2002.
However, the ruling Judge Murguia handed down states that it is not likely Arizona Right to Life would be seen as violating the statute.
"A communication that merely ‘refers to one or more clearly identified candidates…in the sixteen-week period’ before the election cannot constitute an ‘independent expenditure,’ under a plain reading of ARS 16-901, unless it also makes an express plea for ‘the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate,’" Judge Murguia wrote in her decision. "[The] intended speech, which plaintiff avows ‘would refer to candidates for state office and Legislature, but without a clear plea to vote for or against such candidates,’ does not trigger the disclosure and reporting requirements of Arizona’s campaign finance law."
"Post-litigation promises by public officials not to enforce statutes have no weight," stated Bopp. "They could change their minds at any time. I will endeavor to get something into the 9th Circuit before the statute bites again, which will be 16 weeks before the next election, 2004."
Further litigation on the statute would ensure the state will not change its mind on how to interpret or enforce the statute.
"We wouldn’t get very far in the 9th Circuit by doing what we’ve avowed we haven’t done and won’t do," said Jessica Funkhouser, an assistant attorney general who defended the state in the lawsuit.
"The mere fact that the law is on the books overwhelmingly quells our right to free speech," Shane Wikfors, Executive Director of Arizona Right to Life told LifeNews.com. "We are left with no way to inform voters on critical right to life issues."
"Other issue advocacy groups will clearly benefit by having the statute removed making the public far more informed on candidates prior to elections," Wikfors concluded.
Arizona Right to Life is also involved in a lawsuit as a part of the Arizona Life Coalition over the state’s denial of a "Choose Life" license plate.
Related web sites:
Arizona Right to Life – https://www.azrtl.org