Appeals court to rule on Florida law targeting political groups – The News

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TALLAHASSEE – A organization opposed to gay marriage is asking a federal appeals court to reject parts of a Florida election law that seeks to rein in outside political groups.

The National Organization for Marriage is challenging the constitutionality of 2010 legislation that dealt with what are known as “electioneering communications organizations” — which are not directly connected with candidates or parties but can run ads and send mailers to voters.

Attorneys for the national non-profit group and the state argued last week before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The appeal came after Senior U.S. District Judge Stephan Mickle, of Gainesville, upheld the constitutionality of the law last year.

Electioneering communications organizations, or ECOs, are structured differently than traditional political-action committees and provide another vehicle for outside groups to try to influence elections or issues. In the case, the National Organization for Marriage argues that the state law “chills” political speech and that the definition of ECOs is too vague.

The group said in a court document it would have to comply with a “panoply of burdens” if it was deemed an ECO, including reporting information about contributions and expenditures. Also, it said it would spend only a small part of its overall budget on Florida elections.

“The weight of these burdens is such that the speech would simply not be worth it for NOM (National Organization for Marriage),” the document said. “NOM does not want to bear these political-committee burdens that Florida imposes under the electioneering-communications organization label.”

Lawmakers passed the measure after an earlier ECO law was found unconstitutional. Without such a law in place, the state argued in a court document, “interest groups could spend freely to influence elections without disclosing information necessary for voters to make informed decisions.”

It pointed, in part, to a notorious 2009 special Senate election in Northeast Florida that included shadowy, racially-charged mailers sent to voters. St. Augustine Republican John Thrasher, who was the target of repeated attacks, won the election.