Hood could appeal ruling on campaign finance law

JACKSON — Attorney General Jim Hood says he might appeal a federal judge’s ruling that part of Mississippi’s campaign finance law creates an unconstitutional burden for people or groups that spend at least $200 to support or oppose a ballot initiative.

U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock ruled Monday that the state may require some level of campaign finance reporting by people or groups that attempt to influence elections on proposed constitutional amendments that appear on the statewide ballot.

However, she wrote that “under the current regulatory scheme, which is convoluted and exacting, the requirements are too burdensome for the State’s $200 threshold.”

Aycock’s ruling does not change the part of the campaign finance law that requires candidates for statewide office or legislative seats to file reports disclosing the name, address and occupation of anyone donating at least $200 to their campaigns.

Five Oxford residents sued in 2011, challenging Mississippi’s campaign finance reporting requirements for those supporting or opposing ballot initiatives. They were backing an initiative that ultimately was approved by voters that year, limiting the government’s use of eminent domain to take private land. They were represented by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian group based in Virginia.

Paul Avelar, an Institute for Justice attorney, said in a news release yesterday that Aycock’s ruling is a victory for the First Amendment right of freedom of speech.

“In America, you shouldn’t need lawyers and accountants in order to speak about politics; all you should need is an opinion,” Avelar said.

Hood had defended the law, saying it was not burdensome. Hood said yesterday that an appeal of Aycock’s ruling could be difficult because federal courts haven’t been kind to states’ defense of their own campaign finance laws.

“The federal appellate courts have unfortunately opened the flood gates for corporate America to buy elected decisions,” Hood said in a statement to The Associated Press. “I consider the Citizens United decision by the United States Supreme Court to be one of the most damaging court decisions to our American democratic system. When working people and the American press do not know which corporate interests are funding a political campaign, the working people lose.”

The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling lifted many restrictions on campaign spending by corporations and labor unions.

The vice chairman of the state Senate Elections Committee, Democrat David Blount of Jackson, said yesterday that it’s not difficult for campaigns to keep track of who gives money, whether it’s a campaign for public office or for or against a ballot initiative. He said disclosure of that information also is not burdensome.

“I believe it’s good public policy for people to know who are the major donors to a political campaign,” Blount said.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Aycock’s ruling.

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