Pillar of Law Institute Launches with Opening Dinner

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Pillar Launch Dinner at the Harvard Club in New York City

The Pillar of Law Institute (Pillar) officially launched on March 26, 2015 with a dinner at the Harvard Club in New York City. Numerous friends of freedom filled the room to hear from past and present victims of political suppression, not in foreign lands but right here in America. More importantly, the gathering offered a proactive solution: unequivocally supporting the First Amendment right to political speech.

Under the guise of “reform,” state and federal campaign finance laws often threaten and punish candidates and citizens alike for simply engaging in the political process. Pillar’s mission is to protect political free speech by defending citizens who are unjustly persecuted under these laws and proactively challenging unconstitutional laws in court before they are unleashed.

The threat is real. Tom DeLay, the first speaker of the evening, served as Majority Leader of the United States House of Representatives when he was forced to resign due to a baseless indictment for campaign finance violations in Texas. He endured years of prosecutorial malfeasance and millions of dollars in legal fees before he was finally vindicated.

Pillar attorneys Benjamin Barr and Stephen Klein submitted two friends-of-the-court briefs to Texas appellate courts in 2011 and 2014, respectively—the only briefs to address the free speech concerns with the prosecution’s theory. These briefs helped guide the court’s reasoning to show that law must be carefully crafted to respect free speech, and must not be allowed to be arbitrarily enforced by politically-driven bureaucrats.

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Tom DeLay shares his experiences

Even after Tom DeLay’s vindication, elsewhere prosecutors are pursuing censorship even more boldly. Eric O’Keefe, the second speaker of the evening, bravely broke an ongoing gag order to share of his fight against an extensive, secret investigation in Wisconsin, where prosecutors allege it is illegal for political activists to simultaneously communicate with candidates and speak out about issues that concern them.

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Eric O’Keefe bravely broke an ongoing gag order to share his experiences

Pillar’s attorneys recently submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in O’Keefe’s case, which is now before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. As the brief details, Wisconsin law and the prosecution’s application of it is so broad that it threatens everyone from established news organizations to local Boy Scout troops that simply express political opinions.

The final speaker, Benjamin Barr, serves as Pillar’s lead attorney.

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Benjamin Barr shares his vision
of Pillar

Benjamin Barr shared the vision of Pillar with guests, explaining just how damaging campaign finance reform can be. From draconian jail time to fines that could bankrupt many Americans, far-reaching campaign finance laws discourage and prevent civic engagement. “It is hard to imagine that—in America—speakers could face fourteen years in jail just for making mistakes about how to finance political causes they believe in. But this is happening. Pillar intends to do something about this. Through public outreach and focused litigation we can restore the underlying virtue and protection of the First Amendment.” Working with Stephen Klein, Barr has developed several test cases designed to end the criminalization of politics while restoring protection for political privacy.

The Pillar legal team brings a record of numerous free speech victories against everything from restrictive political sign ordinances to overturning complete prohibitions on political fundraising. Following POLI’s official launch, the team is already hard at work preparing litigation in numerous states to ensure candidates like Tom DeLay and active citizens like Eric O’Keefe are one day free to speak without the risk of prosecution.

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Susan Gore, founder and director of Pillar, served as Master of Ceremonies

Susan Gore, founder and director of Pillar, served as Master of Ceremonies for the evening. She closed the evening emphasizing that Pillar of Law draws both its name and mission from one of America’s most eloquent founders, Benjamin Franklin, who said: “Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government: when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.”

Susan further shared these words: “When we as individuals and collectively as a people aspire to the greater invitation to God’s Justice then we take the inspiration of the Constitution that has been the cornerstone of graces in our inheritance. If we stand by it as the rock, the foundational gift from above that makes America great; then we know we are on solid ground doing what is right. The pillar that stands and does not move is the collective will of people to live in freedoms that establish the value of the First Amendment. Media has become a tyranny of messaging that has given us the task to comply with political correctness or suffer the indignity of injustice.”

Photographer – Jillian Nelson