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Utah gives in to First Amendment lawsuit

First Published      Last Updated Jul 18 2016 01:54 pm


Law » It would have made donors to nonprofits disclose personal information.

Utah has agreed not to enforce a state campaign finance law that critics say violates the First Amendment by requiring nonprofits to report supporters' private information.

Libertas Institute and Utah Taxpayers Association filed suit challenging HB43, which passed in 2013. State law held that any corporation spending more than $750 on speech in a single year could become subject to burdensome filing requirements, similar to those required for political action committees.

A news release by the plaintiffs Friday used the example of abortion: "If the issue had become the focus of discussion in a governor's race, or the subject of a future ballot initiative, groups like Utah's Planned Parenthood or Right to Life chapters could have been forced to register with the state and disclose their donors, because they disseminate information about abortion policy on their website, even if they didn't explicitly seek to engage with the issue in the context of an election or even mention a candidate's name."




The agreement — embodied in a consent decree — reached this week between Utah and the plaintiffs was approved by U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball and settles the lawsuit.

Allen Dickerson, an attorney for the Center for Competitive Politics, which represented the plaintiffs, warned the law would have a chilling effect on constitutionally protected speech.

"Utah's law is so overbroad that our clients were concerned that participating in any public debate could destroy the privacy of their donors, many of whom believe that their donations to charitable organizations should be done in private," Dickerson said in news release.

Under the settlement, the state will not enforce the law against nonprofit groups "engaging in constitutionally protected political advocacy and political issues advocacy," according to the plaintiffs' statement. "The state agreed that doing so would be unconstitutional, unless those organizations are political action committees or political issues committees."

The state also agreed to update all published campaign finance information by year's end. It further recognized that the plaintiffs are entitled to attorney fees, with those costs to be determined later by the court.

A spokesman for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said parts of the law appeared to be "constitutionally problematic."

"That's why we settled," said Dan Burton.

csmart@sltrib.com

 

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