Imagine that a group of homeowners facing the threat of eminent domain for private development pools their money and takes out an ad in a local newspaper. The ad urges fellow citizens to tell their state representatives to vote for a bill that would stop such abuses statewide. Or imagine that a group of citizens concerned about government taxation and spending—or any other issue, for that matter—starts a website and a newsletter to inform others about pending legislation and spur them to contact legislators in advance of key votes. This is exactly the kind of citizen-to-citizen political speech about important issues of the day the First Amendment was intended to protect, right?
Yes, but in at least 36 states this speech may be illegal without first registering with the government and then detailing your ongoing political activities through periodic (and mind-numbingly complex) reports. University of Missouri economist Jeff Milyo explained the problems that regulation of so-called “grassroots lobbying” creates for ordinary citizens in a report published by the Institute for Justice, Mowing Down the Grassroots, and he’s guest-blogging on the topic this week at the Volokh Conspiracy.
IJ is challenging Washington’s restrictions on grassroots lobbying as a violation of the First Amendment. Prof. Milyo’s earlier research published by IJ examined how state laws create a thicket of red tape for people who want to speak out about issues on the ballot.