FL federal judge hears Worley v. Roberts ballot disclosure case

This past week U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle heard oral arguments in the case, Worley v. Roberts, in which the plaintiffs are challenging Florida’s longstanding law requiring groups intending to spend more than $500 promoting or opposing a ballot measure to file simple campaign finance reports with the state. The Virginia-based Institute for Justice contends that Florida’s minimal disclosure regulations are somehow burdensome to free expression.  Quite the contrary: public disclosure laws are the very essence of direct democracy campaigns, as there are virtually no other limits on the campaign financing of statewide ballot measures to amend the state constitution. As an expert for the State of Florida, which is defending the law, I argue that public disclosure laws are essential if citizen lawmakers are to know which special interests are trying to influence public policy.  Just as lobbyists are required to register with the state when plying state legislators to make laws, so too should those individuals and organizations interested in amending the state constitution through the initiative process.  Citizens–who serve as lawmakers for a day–deserve to know who is promoting and opposing ballot measures before they cast a vote at the polling booth, just as citizens have a right to know the identity of those who have signed the petitions to qualifying ballot measures, as the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed 8-1 last year in its decision Doe v. Reed (which I was fortunate enough to author an amicus brief on behalf of direct democracy scholars defending the state of Washington’s public disclosure law).  Unfortunately, though, when it comes to transparency in the process of direct democracy, the deep-pocketed IfJ is on a crusade to tear down public disclosure laws across the country. Florida is just the latest battleground.  For more on the Worley v. Roberts case, see coverage by the Sunshine State News and the St. Pete Times.