MN Court of Appeals: Campaign disclosure requirement not a violation of free speech

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has rejected Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson’s assertion that requiring candidates to place a disclaimer on their political ads violates their free speech rights.

The case involves four signs that Hutchinson made for his campaign in early 2017 — two of which never left his garage, one of which ended up on the lawn of his dad’s residence, and one was posted on the lawn of a friend in Minneapolis.

When he announced his candidacy nine months later, all of Hutchinson’s lawn signs complied with the law requiring “Paid for and prepared by the Hutch for Sheriff volunteer committee” be printed on them.

But because the two original signs stayed up through the campaign, the campaign of then sheriff Rich Stanek filed a complaint.

A three-judge panel of the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) ruled it was inadvertent, and fined Hutchinson $200.

In his appeal, Hutchinson said the law restricts free speech, pointing to a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down an Ohio law prohibiting anonymous political or campaign literature.

But the Court of Appeals rejected the comparison, noting that the case involved the right of independent individuals to speak freely, not the actual candidates.

The court said the Supreme Court has affirmed requirements on candidates, conceding that “while such requirements burden free speech, they are permissible because they serve important governmental interests in: (1) ‘provid[ing] the electorate with information as to where political campaign money comes from and how it is spent by the candidate,’ (2) avoiding corruption, and (3) detecting campaign-finance violations.”

Hutchinson, who was elected last November, also said the requirement unfairly burdens first-time candidates.

The Court of Appeals on Monday rejected that, too.

“Every political candidate must know— indeed, is presumed to know—the laws governing campaign practices, which are published in publicly available statutes. Difficulty learning the applicable laws does not make compliance with the laws themselves unfairly onerous. And equal application of those laws is the only way to further their substantial governmental purposes,” Judge Louise Dovre Bjorkman wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel.

  • tboom

    comment deleted – takes post in a different direction

  • In a way, it says more to me about the litigants themselves than the actual issue, which seems incredibly petty.

    • I’ll bet if I looked through the junk file of political press releases from the campaign, there’s one there from Stanek’s with a bold headline of campaign violations that makes no mention of the number of signs involved.

      • MrE85

        Stanek may have won his day in court, but as the old saying goes, there’s a new sheriff in town. I don’t live in this county, but I must say Hutchinson’s narrow victory took me by surprise.

        • Barton

          in a good way, I hope. I do live in this county and I was very pleased to not see Stanek continue as sheriff.

        • crystals

          It was the single most surprising outcome of the night for me (happily so). I did some door knocking with Hutch leading up to election day and am so, so thrilled he is now leading the sheriff’s department.

  • Barton

    2 posters no one saw except for watch dogs (or worse) plus 2 that never saw the light of day. Interesting academic discussion but a waste of actual court time when the day is done.

    • Not really. It’s a published opinion. That makes it important in that it can be cited in future cases. It affirms the constitutionality of the political disclaimer. It’s pretty big, yes.

  • crystals

    Stay classy, Stanek. (I do understand and respect the importance of the published opinion for future matters – I just think Stanek himself is petty AF.)

    Two of his signs remained up on Nicollet in Richfield all the way through winter, and only left with the melting of the snow. It was poetic.