Federal appeals court upholds Florida law reining in political groups – The News

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TALLAHASSEE – A federal appeals court today quickly rejected a constitutional challenge to a 2010 Florida election law regulating some outside groups that run political ads or send mailers.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta issued a brief ruling that upheld the law, which places requirements on what are known as “electioneering communications organizations,” or ECOs.

The National Organization for Marriage, a group that opposes gay marriage, filed a lawsuit in 2010, arguing that parts of the law are too vague and chill political speech. The group did not want to register as an ECO or disclose information related to issues such as contributions and expenditures.

The federal appeals court heard arguments in the case last week and issued a one-paragraph opinion that backed a ruling by Senior U.S. District Judge Stephan Mickle of Gainesville. Also, it pointed to an August decision in which the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a similar National Organization for Marriage challenge to Maine elections laws.

While they are structured differently than traditional political-action committees, ECOs provide another method for groups to try to influence elections or issues. ECOs are not supposed to be directly tied to candidates or political parties.

In a ruling last year, Mickle agreed with the state that such laws are needed to provide information to voters about the sources of ads and mailers. Information in the court file shows that the National Organization for Marriage intended to send out mailers in 2010 touting at least one legislative candidate and also planned to run ads praising positions taken by Gov. Rick Scott — though the material did not explicitly offer endorsements.

“NOM’s (National Organization for Marriage’s) proposed communications bring it within the scope of Florida’s electioneering communications laws, which were promulgated to provide information to voters about who is behind election advertisements,” Mickle wrote.

The National Organization for Marriage, however, raised First Amendment objections and also said it would have to comply with a “panoply of burdens” if deemed an ECO.