Constitutional Law: Federal Court Strikes Down Missouri Burdens on Political Speech: State of Missouri Ordered to Pay $158,055 in Attorneys’ Fees and Costs

KANSAS CITY, MO – In a successful First Amendment challenge led by Chris Gober and Stephen Hoersting of The Gober Group, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri has issued an order striking down a Missouri statute barring a campaign committee from receiving contribution or making expenditures if the committee was formed less than thirty days prior to the election.

Missourians for Fiscal Accountability (MFA) was formed in October 22, 2014, and the organization sought to advocate for a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution voted upon during the November 4, 2014 general election. MFA endeavored to register as a “campaign committee” as required by Missouri statute; however, Missouri law precluded MFA from collecting or spending money to support the proposed amendment because MFA did not register as a campaign committee at least thirty days before the election. Six days prior to the general election, MFA initiated a lawsuit alleging that Missouri’s “blackout period” is an unconstitutional “prior restraint” on political speech in violation of the First Amendment.

After two years of litigation, which included a temporary restraining order, a dismissal on ripeness grounds, and ultimately a reversal by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in MFA’s favor, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri granted MFA’s summary judgment motion in January 2017. The court reasoned that

[I]f a group of individuals decides less than thirty days before an election to engage in First Amendment activity related to that election, it faces potential criminal prosecution and/or civil penalty. Given this, the Court finds section 130.011(8), at best, burdens political speech . . . The statute is a prior restraint on speech of late-forming committees.

On April 4, 2017, the judge ordered the State of Missouri to pay MFA $158,055 in attorneys’ fees and costs.

About The Gober Group

The Gober Group is a national law firm that represents a diverse group of clients seeking to effectively engage in the political and public policy arenas at the federal, state, and local levels of government. The firm’s client roster spans coast to coast and includes mid-sized to Fortune 100 companies, trade associations and other tax-exempt organizations, candidates and elected officials, lobbyists and political consultants, and high net-worth individuals and activists.

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