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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Group pushes to end money disclosure laws for issue campaigns



A group of Sarasota residents in federal court today pled their case that Florida's campaign finance law requiring them to disclose contributors should be tossed because of the burden it puts on their free speech right. (Story here.)

But Paul Sherman, the attorney for the plaintiffs, made clear that they were not challenging the state's expenditure laws. That means if his argument is successful, political groups would be in the somewhat awkward position of reporting how they spent their money to defeat or support a ballot issue but not disclosing the sources of that cash.

During the hour-long hearing, Judge Robert Hinkle had more pointed questions for the plaintiffs than the Florida Department of State, which is defending the state's campaign finance laws. Both sides are asking Hinkle to stop the case, Worley v. Roberts, in his courtroom at U.S. District Court in Tallahassee with a summary judgement in their favor. Hinkle said he didn't expect an immediately ruling, noting that he was loaded down with criminal cases and in no rush to decide with more than 15 months until the next statewide ballot referendum.

Ashley Davis, the assistant general counsel at the state department, told Hinkle the complaint should be dismissed, describing the state's requirements as minimal but critical.

Hinkle, though, gave at least some credence to the plaintiff's argument, saying the state forces them to at least walk into a bank and set up a checking account for their committee.

"For these four people, wouldn't it be a whole lot easier if they didn't have to do that?" Hinkle said.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 27, 2011 5:42pm]


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