Sarah Lee, Center for Competitive Politics, 703-894-6800, [email protected]
Paul Jefferson, Partner, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, 317-231-7550, [email protected]
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Thanks to a ruling today in federal court, the non-profit group Patriotic Veterans, Inc. can finally begin exercising its political speech rights over the phone.
Judge William T. Lawrence of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana issued an injunction today against enforcement of an Indiana law barring prerecorded telephone calls that contain a political message. Patriotic Veterans argued that the law violates the free speech rights of advocacy organizations like the Illinois-based non-profit, which makes political calls in advance of general elections. Patriotic Veterans is represented by Paul Jefferson of the Indianapolis firm of Barnes & Thornburg, LLP, and the Center for Competitive Politics of Alexandria, Virginia.
The Court held that Federal law preempted the Indiana statutory regulation prohibiting automatic calls.
“This is an important ruling on behalf of freedom of political expression,” said Paul Caprio, President of Patriotic Veterans. “We are now able to legally make calls in the State of Indiana discussing the positions of Federal candidates for Congress and the U.S. Senate. It’s been over a year, but it has certainly been well worth the wait.”
While the government claimed its interest was in preventing harassment of households, in fact the law limited the ability of underfunded campaigns and organizations to speak to voters. Belying the government’s claim that the statute prevented unwanted intrusions into the home, the challenged statute allowed any campaign, party or political group to call Hoosier households with political messages as often as it wanted, every 90 seconds, 24 hours a day-as long as it used a live operator. Patriotic Veterans, by contrast, does not make evening or early morning calls and provides recipients with the ability to opt out of future calls.
“Requiring a live operator for calls helps big budget campaigns and establishment groups that can afford live operators, while silencing insurgent campaigns and grassroots groups without similar resources,” said Brad Smith, former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission and founder and Chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics. Industry information suggests that live operator calls could be as much as 1,500 percent more expensive as recorded, automatic dial calls, which often cost less than 2 cents per call.
“We believe that these laws violate the First Amendment rights of speakers and voters,” said Smith, “While the Court did not address our First Amendment arguments, the end result is the same: today’s ruling advances the First Amendment and provides for more competitive elections in the state.”
Patriotic Veterans is a non-profit organization founded in 2009 to inform voters of the positions taken by candidates and office holders on issues of interest to veterans. The organization’s national spokesman is Colonel Chuck Thomann, U.S. Army retired, of Annapolis, Maryland. Colonel Thomann is one of the few surviving combat veterans who fought in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
The Center for Competitive Politics is a non-profit organization whose mission is to support free speech in politics and competitive elections.