Today, the Institute for Justice secured a significant first-round victory in its challenge to a Washington law that crippled the ability of political novices to run effective campaigns to recall government officials.
The case involves retired naval officer Robin Farris, who recently launched a recall campaign against controversial Pierce County, Washington Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam. But Farris ran headlong into the complexities and red tape of Washington's campaign finance laws.
Among those laws was Washington’s $800 limit on contributions to recall campaigns. This limit even extended to in-kind donations of legal services. Thus, even though attorneys Tom Oldfield and Jeff Helsdon of the firm Oldfield & Helsdon PLLC happily donated free legal assistance to Farris to help her navigate the complex law surrounding recall campaigns, Washington called their volunteer service a contribution and tried to fine Robin for accepting too much of their help.
For Farris, these limits could have doomed her efforts. Washington law actually requires all recall campaigns to first go to court—a process that can cost tens of thousands of dollars—before they may proceed. As a political novice with no established base of financial support, there was no way she could afford the cost of legal services or the cost of hiring signature gatherers to get her recall petition on the ballot. That’s why she joined with the Institute for Justice to fight these unconstitutional limits on grassroots political advocacy.
Now she’s one step closer to winning that fight.
This afternoon Judge Robert J. Bryan of the Federal District Court for the Western District of Washington granted a preliminary injunction freezing Washington’s contribution limits to recall campaigns and allowing Farris’ committee to go forward during the pendency of her lawsuit. Attorneys Oldfield and Helsdon will be permitted to donate their legal services, and contributors will be allowed to give her committee contributions of more than $800, allowing her to hire paid signature gatherers.
The ruling is notable for its extensive reliance on the Institute for Justice’s recent U.S. Supreme Court victory in Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett, which Judge Bryan cited no less than five times. This is another example of how IJ’s strategic approach to litigation pays dividends in future cases, leading to big gains for individual rights.
Congratulations to Farris, Oldfield, Helsdon, and to all of my colleagues involved with the case.
For more information about Farris’ case, visit IJ’s case page for Washington Recall.