Pillar of Law Focal Points
Civic Virtue and Political Privacy
For too long, the campaign finance reform movement has categorically demonized any notion of political privacy. As a result, ordinary civic participation is now an act of herculean efforts—requiring accountants, attorneys, and bookkeepers to keep up with lengthy “disclosure” requirements. With a never-ending zeal for disclosure, few reformers consider how many voices have been shut out and how many grassroots coalitions muted in pursuing this lofty goal.
There is a demonstrable public good in welcoming more voices to a diverse, electoral table. The First Amendment presupposes that all ideas, all confluences of ideologies, and all exchanges of ideas are welcome so that truth will prevail. But complicated disclosure and registration regimes destroy this premise. The Institute seeks to reclaim the civic virtue found in citizens coming together, sharing ideas, and speaking their collective voices and will sponsor public communication outreaches toward this end.
Original and Innovative Litigation
Sometimes, a single legal brief can move a nation. When Benjamin Barr filed his amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief with the Supreme Court in Citizens United, that’s certainly what happened. The case was originally brought as a narrow challenge to federal election law, but Barr’s work helped convince the Court to fundamentally reconsider its First Amendment jurisprudence and overturn a wide-reaching speech ban.
The Institute will launch a series of First Amendment test cases grounded in its principles and designed to move free speech precedent aggressively toward deregulation and removing barriers to citizen participation in politics. Our commitment is to support litigation that reclaims fundamental constitutional truths instead of moving the law in an incremental, minimalistic fashion.
Intervene and Defend
America needs a public defender for the First Amendment. Across the U.S., citizen groups invariably wind up on the wrong side of campaign finance laws each election year. Facing civil penalties, even jail time, means individuals become reluctant to engage other Americans about issues they care about.
The Institute will help defend individuals, grassroots, and policy groups caught up in the red tape of campaign finance laws to make sure their voice is heard. By raising important constitutional arguments and working with citizen groups before regulatory proceedings go too far, the Institute can prevent a good deal of damage for speakers nationwide.
Many state governments and federal agencies actively disobey the Supreme Court by testing new programs that run contrary to controlling precedent. By allowing these programs to go uncontested in their infancy, they became normalized and much more difficult to dislodge.
The Institute will focus its efforts on being an early and proactive champion of freedom and the rule of law in these cases. By calling government’s bluff when it actively disobeys the Constitution, we can prevent years of additional damage to speakers and discourage future government “innovations.”