Federal judge blocks contribution cap for ballot initiatives
Petition cards

Petition Cards
The bill just kicked in.

A federal judge has halted Florida’s law placing limits on early donations to citizen initiative campaigns the day it was set to take effect.

The judge sided with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which sued to defeat the bill (SB 1890) last month. The ACLU argues the measure unconstitutionally burdens and chills Florida citizens’ free speech.

“Senate Bill 1890 is just another attempt to undermine Florida citizens’ rights and we are pleased the court blocked it from going into effect today,” said ACLU of Florida staff attorney Nicholas Warren in a statement. “The Florida Legislature has made it increasingly harder and costlier to propose citizens’ initiatives and get them on the ballot. We know this effort is unconstitutional because it violates Floridians’ First Amendment rights, and we look forward to getting the law permanently struck down.”

The measure would cap donations to political committees backing proposed constitutional amendments at $3,000 during the signature-gathering process. That’s the same restriction placed on donations to statewide candidates.

After Sine Die, DeSantis suggested to reporters that he would likely sign the bill despite questions over its constitutionality. Those questions stem from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision protecting political contributions as free speech.

“I think it strikes a good balance because you do have the ability to speak, but we also want it to be more of a grassroot thing,” DeSantis said.

However, Judge Allen Winsor in the Northern District of Florida wrote in his order Thursday that Florida has no significant interest in limiting political speech, in the form of donations, of political committees with fewer but bigger contributors.

“Binding decisions from the United States Supreme Court … concluded that the First Amendment forbids limitations like those SB 1890 imposes,” Winsor wrote.

Sean Shaw, chairman of several committees supporting Fair Elections for Democracy Amendments, said he was grateful for the court stepping in to defend the First Amendment.

“Today’s decision by U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor is a huge win for Floridian’s right to direct democracy,” Shaw said. “The citizen initiative process is protected by our State Constitution, and the contribution limits placed on ballot initiatives under SB 1890 are blatantly unconstitutional.”

In the past, some donors have poured millions of dollars into political committees backing ballot initiatives. Republican lawmakers and the Florida Chamber of Commerce contend the proposal is needed to stop deep-pocketed donors, including out-of-state donors, from financing ballot initiatives on policy issues they believe should not be in the state constitution.

At least one lobbyist has dubbed the measure the “anti-John Morgan bill” after the Orlando-based lawyer who has been the main driver of several successful ballot initiatives, including the recent minimum wage increase and the legalization of medical marijuana.

Lawmakers in recent years imposed a variety of restrictions on the citizen initiative process to limit paid signature gatherings and shorten the time for gathering signatures. Democrats contend the costs for campaigns to get initiatives on the ballot have increased because of recent legislation.

The new legislation could reduce the amount of resources available during the signature collection process. Opponents fear, and proponents hope, fewer initiatives will make it to the ballot stage.

With backers of proposed amendments required to submit 891,589 petition signatures to get measures on the 2022 ballot, paid petition-gathering drives likely would cost millions of dollars.

The citizen initiative process is one of five ways to amend the Florida Constitution. Voters must approve citizen initiatives by a 60% vote for provisions to get amended to the constitution.

Winsor’s ruling comes less than a day after another federal judge pumped the brakes on Florida’s pending law to crack down on what many Republicans see as disproportionate punishments handed down by social media companies against conservatives.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


3 comments

  • Ron Ogden

    July 3, 2021 at 5:29 am

    The left likes to weep and moan about the pernicious effect of big money on politics. . .unless, of course, it does something they like.

    Somebody told me the other day that when you have a “D” by your name it stands for “Damned” as in “Children of the . . . .”

  • Tom Palmer

    July 3, 2021 at 11:04 am

    The right does its share of weeping and moaning when the people vote for stuff they don’t like. The ballot initiatives are born out of frustration with a Legislature that refuses to act on things the public wants. Getting funding from people like John Morgan levels the playing field.

    • Ron Ogden

      July 3, 2021 at 4:27 pm

      “Getting fund from people like. . . .” In other words, “big corporate money bad” unless “big corporate money good.” Who gets to decide? I guess just the perfect proggy people like those who populate these pages. (see! I could have said “infest” but I didn’t, just for the sake of alliteration. You’re welcome.)

Comments are closed.


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