(Reuters) - A federal appeals court said Delaware may enforce a state election law requiring advocacy groups that run political advertising to reveal their donors.
Thursday’s 3-0 decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia reversed a lower court ruling that had favored Delaware Strong Families, a conservative-leaning group that publishes “voter guides” ahead of elections.
At issue was a 2013 state law requiring third-party advertisers to reveal their donors’ identities if they spend more than $500 in an election cycle on ads that refer to specific candidates, even if they do not recommend how to vote.
Delaware Strong Families said the law was too broad and overburdened its free speech rights, and in April 2014 won a preliminary injunction from U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson in Wilmington, Delaware against the law’s enforcement.
Writing for the appeals court, however, Circuit Judge Joseph Greenaway said Delaware narrowly tailored the law to advance its important interest in ensuring an informed electorate.
He also said Delaware had a “unique election landscape,” reflecting its low population and reliance on media in neighboring Pennsylvania and Maryland, to justify limits that might not pass muster in larger states.
“The district court abused its discretion in granting the preliminary injunction,” Greenaway wrote.
Allen Dickerson, a lawyer at the Center for Competitive Politics representing Delaware Strong Families, said the group intends to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“In allowing Delaware to police non-political groups as though they were political parties, and destroy the privacy of supporters contributing years before any election, the Third Circuit committed a grave error,” he said in an email.
Delaware Attorney General Matthew Denn is pleased with the court’s decision, and with its finding that reasonable disclosures are required “when organizations are spending money to influence state elections,” spokesman Carl Kanefsky said.
Delaware Strong Families sued for the right to distribute its 2014 voter guide online without having to reveal its donors.
Its 2012 guide expressed opposition to same-sex marriages and to insurance coverage of abortions under the 2010 federal healthcare law, and listed Delaware federal and state candidates’ positions on various issues.
The case is Delaware Strong Families v. Attorney General of the State of Delaware et al, 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 14-1887.