Assisted-suicide foes want donor privacy
Opponents of an assisted-suicide initiative don't want to disclose the donors behind their planned radio ads. In a recently filed federal...
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Opponents of an assisted-suicide initiative don't want to disclose the donors behind their planned radio ads.
In a recently filed federal lawsuit, Human Life of Washington argued it shouldn't have to register with the state as a political-action committee, because it wants to sponsor ads about the issue of assisted suicide — not ones explicitly about Initiative 1000.
The group says its free-speech rights are being violated by state law that requires political-action committees (PACs) to register and disclose their donors.
Initiative 1000, which mirrors a 1997 Oregon law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, would allow terminally ill people to obtain lethal prescription drugs for ending their own lives.
Supporters need to collect about 225,000 valid voter signatures by July to get the "Washington Death with Dignity Initiative" on the November ballot.
An opposition campaign has formed, calling itself the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide.
Human Life of Washington officials wouldn't speak about the lawsuit, referring all questions to an Indiana-based law firm that is representing them.
James Bopp Jr., general counsel for the Terre Haute, Ind.-based James Madison Center for Free Speech, said Monday that Washington's campaign-disclosure law is an unconstitutional restraint of free speech.
"People are free to discuss issues without regulation," Bopp said. "It's only when speech is campaign-related that it can become regulated."
Christian Sinderman, a consultant on the Yes on 1000 campaign, said Bopp's assertion that the group's proposed ads aren't campaign-related "doesn't pass the straight-face test."
"Obviously they're participating in the election if they're running an ad campaign related to something on the ballot," he said.
A hearing is set for June 6.
In its lawsuit, Human Life of Washington said that under state law — which the group considers unconstitutional — it fears it will "suffer an investigation, enforcement, and penalties for not complying with Washington's burdensome requirements for groups engaging in political advertising."
Voters enacted the public-records law with the overwhelming passage of Initiative 276 in 1972.
The measure called for disclosure of campaign finances, lobbyist activity and financial affairs of elective officers and candidates, as well as access to public records.
In its response, the state Public Disclosure Commission, represented by the state Attorney General's Office, said Human Life of Washington "is looking to deprive the voters in Washington of the right to know who is speaking to them by attacking the definition of political committee and trying to hide the source of contributions it may receive and what expenditures it may make regarding a state ballot measure proposal, Initiative 1000."
But Bopp cited several rulings, including one last year by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, that found a state may not impose PAC status or PAC-like burdens on an organization that engages in issue advocacy.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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