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Originally published July 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 10, 2008 at 12:52 AM

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Judge: Human Life must disclose donors

A federal-court judge says Human Life of Washington cannot hide the identity of donors who fund radio ads against assisted suicide, even if the ads do not mention Initiative 1000, which would legalize physician assistance in dying.

Seattle Times health reporter

A federal-court judge says Human Life of Washington will risk state sanctions unless it discloses donors who fund radio ads against "assisted suicide," even if the ads do not mention Initiative 1000, which seeks to legalize physician assistance in dying.

U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour Wednesday refused to grant an injunction against Washington's elections laws, which require disclosure of the identity of donors to election campaigns, until the case is decided. No trial date has yet been set. I-1000, which supporters call the "Death with Dignity" initiative, is expected to qualify for the fall ballot.

Human Life argued that it has a constitutionally protected right to run radio ads about the issue, which it says is one of its long-standing educational concerns. It says it should not be considered a "political committee" and shouldn't have to report the identity of donors.

The group argued that "issue advocacy" is different from "campaign speech," also known as "electioneering."

But attorneys for the State of Washington argued that state laws requiring disclosure of donors to election campaigns could apply to whatever ads Human Life might run, if I-1000 makes the ballot. "Washington voters are entitled to follow the money in political campaigns," said Linda Dalton, a senior assistant attorney general. In its brief, the state argued that an "informed electorate" is the ultimate countervailing force to "the impact of disguised electoral funding by secret special interest groups...."

Groups often argue that they should be allowed to talk about "issues" during elections without following elections laws, Dalton said. "They call it education. We call it influencing voters."

In denying Human Life's motion, Coughenour acknowledged Human Life's claim that it might suffer "irreparable injury" if forced to disclose donors. But, he added, the alleged harm did not compensate for the case's "lack of probable success on the merits."

Furthermore, if Washington's laws are found to be constitutional, Coughenour wrote, "the public has a strong interest in their continued enforcement, for the very reasons they were adopted in the first place."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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