Washington, DC – The Pillar of Law Institute filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the United States Supreme Court today in the case Utter v. Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), urging the Court to hear the case and reinforce free speech protections against burdensome campaign finance laws. The brief argues that organizations such as BIAW should not be subject to comprehensive campaign finance disclosure laws since they do not have the major purpose of engaging in elections.
“A group should not become a political committee, or PAC simply by engaging in some election-related speech,” said Benjamin Barr, lead attorney for Pillar of Law. “But in Washington State, election-related speech is burdened to the point of silence and it will stay that way unless the Supreme Court hears this case.”
In 1976, the Supreme Court ruled that to be a PAC, a group must have “the major purpose” of engaging in electoral advocacy. In Washington State, like most states, PACs must file regular reports detailing almost all of their financial activity, while any other organization files more limited reports on a narrow range of political speech. Following the ruling by the Washington Supreme Court in BIAW’s case, instead of the major purpose, groups would only need a primary purpose of engaging in politics to be subject to comprehensive PAC disclosure.
“The shift undermines the Supreme Court’s precedent,” said Barr. “By ‘the major purpose’ standard, BIAW is obviously not a PAC; it’s a membership organization that provides education, lobbying representation, and even insurance services. After nearly a decade of litigation, spending time and money that it will never get back, this issue must be resolved.”
The brief argues that Washington’s law is unconstitutional and, if allowed to stand, would not only harm BIAW but many other Washington groups.
“If this case is not reviewed, any group in Washington State, from the Sierra Club to a local Boy Scout troop, could be subjected to government investigations, lawsuits and penalties for violating laws that should not apply to them in the first place,” said Steve Klein, attorney with Pillar of Law. “The only way to avoid prosecution would be to submit to an avalanche of paperwork or not speak about politics all, options that go against everything our democracy stands for.”
Founded in 2015, the Pillar of Law Institute is a public interest law firm that represents Americans nationwide against campaign finance laws that censor free speech. Attorneys Barr and Klein have a combined experience of over 20 years in free speech litigation, and have successfully challenged the constitutionality of laws at the local, state and federal levels of government.