Federal Appeals Court Upholds Campaign Law

JACKSON, Mississippi — A federal appeals panel has rejected a challenge to a Mississippi campaign finance law that requires reporting by people or groups that spend at least $200 to support or oppose a ballot initiative.

The three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Friday reversed a 2013 decision by U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock in Aberdeen, Mississippi.

Aycock said 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 did 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.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood filed an appeal to overturn the ruling.

The 5th Circuit panel, in a decision written by Judge Gregg Costa, said the reporting requirements, which kick in when a person spends more than $200, are not burdensome.

“An individual donating more than $200 must complete one form, a monthly report, and only expenditures exceeding $200 to a single source within that month need be itemized. The one-page form is less onerous than those that exist in some other states,” the panel said. “Even at lower levels of fundraising and expenditure, the disclosure regulations further Mississippi’s interest in providing information to voters.”

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 intended to pool their resources, and with the funds on hand purchased posters, bought advertising in a local newspaper, and distributed flyers to Mississippi voters. They argued the law limited their fundamental free-speech and association rights.

The 5th Circuit panel said Mississippi’s reporting requirements are similar to others states although “Mississippi’s $200 threshold (is) on the high end of state disclosure laws.” The panel said Louisiana, Florida and Texas — and many other states — have lower thresholds than Mississippi.

The panel said Mississippi voters in deciding constitutional amendments act “as lawmakers” and “have an interest in knowing who is lobbying for their vote.”