ACLU Highlights Ted Cruz’s Argument in Florida Political Contribution Restriction Lawsuit


TALLAHASSEE — Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union might not often side with the U.S. senator. Ted Cruzthe incendiary conservative Republican from Texas.

But they point to a victory for Cruz in the U.S. Supreme Court to try to bolster a challenge to a Florida law that limits large contributions to political committees proposing ballot initiatives.

The Supreme Court last week ruled in favor of Cruz in a fight over a federal law that limited repayments of money candidates lend to their campaigns. The case involved money Cruz lent to his bitter 2018 run against the Democrat Beto O’Rourkethe Supreme Court stating that the law “burdens basic political discourse without proper justification”.

A day after the notice, attorneys for the ACLU Foundation of Florida filed a document in the challenge to Florida’s Ballot Initiative Act, claiming that the Supreme Court’s opinion in the Cruz case ” reiterates plaintiffs’ primary argument against Florida’s contribution limit.”

ACLU lawyers then quoted part of the opinion which read, “This Court has recognized only one acceptable ground for restricting political speech: the prevention of ‘quid pro quo’ corruption or its appearance. . … We have always rejected attempts to restrict campaign speech to other legislative objectives.

But lawyers for the Florida Elections Commission, the defendant in the ballot initiative case, pushed back on Tuesday, writing in a court document that the ACLU’s filing of what is called additional authority n has no “impact” on the key issues of the case.

“The plaintiffs’ additional authority involves an overall limit on the amount of post-election contributions that can be used to repay a candidate’s personal loans during a federal campaign,” attorneys for the state agency wrote.

The ACLU of Florida and other plaintiffs challenged a 2021 state law that placed a $3,000 limit on contributions from in-state and out-of-state donors to political committees collecting petition signatures for the voting initiatives. U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor in July issued a preliminary injunction against the law on First Amendment grounds.

With the underlying case still pending, the Republican-dominated Legislature this year revamped the law to apply the $3,000 limit only to out-of-state donors. This has led to wrangling over whether the lawsuit is moot.

The 2021 law and this year’s measure (HB 921) were part of years of efforts by Republican leaders to make it harder for citizens’ initiatives to pass. Political committees typically must raise and spend millions of dollars to collect the hundreds of thousands of petition signatures needed to reach the ballot.

The 2021 law and new measure would limit contributions during the petition collection phase of initiatives. The limit would not apply once the initiatives qualified for the ballot.

But Winsor, who was appointed to the bench by the former president donald trumpsaid in last year’s preliminary injunction that the limit would inappropriately restrict political speech.

“First, contributions to political committees advocating for ballot initiatives are ‘undoubtedly a very important form of political expression,'” Winsor wrote, citing in part legal precedent.

The state “bears the burden of justifying restrictions on political expression by advancing at least ‘a significantly important interest’ that is ‘closely bound to avoid unnecessary restriction of freedoms of association,’ Winsor wrote.

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