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High Court Lets Stand State Referenda Disclosure Rules

Organizations spending money to sway state ballot measures can be required to disclose their finances following a U.S. Supreme Court decision this week not to weigh in on the case of Human Life of Washington Inc. v. Brumsickle.

By not taking up the case, the Supreme Court let stand a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upholding Washington state disclosure laws. At issue was whether an advocacy group called Human Life of Washington would have to register as a political committee with the state and file reports detailing its finances.
While the case centered on state and local activities, it could have federal implications because state ballot measures, propositions and initiatives can have major effects on the turnout on Election Day.
The end of the case marks a rare loss for Human Life of Washington’s lawyer, James Bopp Jr., the architect of the landmark Citizens United case that rolled back limits on corporate election spending.

In the Washington case, Bopp argued that anti-abortion group Human Life of Washington should not have to spend hours filing detailed reports of receipts and expenditures as it advocated against a state initiative legalizing physician-assisted suicide.

Campaign finance reform advocates, who applauded the Supreme Court’s decision, argued that citizens have a right to know who is spending money to influence their votes.

“The Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari in Human Life of Washington is a strong blow to anti-disclosure efforts nationwide,” said J. Gerald Hebert, executive director for the Campaign Legal Center, which filed an amicus brief in the case. “[It also] signals a sentiment among a majority of the Supreme Court’s justices that the 9th Circuit, and other courts following it, are correctly applying Supreme Court precedent in upholding effective campaign finance disclosure laws.”

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