Judge to hear challenge to new campaign finance disclosure rules

A federal judge in San Francisco will hear arguments on Feb. 14 on a political campaign committee’s free-speech challenge to new donor disclosure rules enacted by city voters in November.

The federal lawsuit against the city was filed on Jan. 28 by the Yes on B committee and its treasurer, Todd David. The committee is supporting Proposition B, an earthquake safety bond measure on the March 3 ballot.

The lawsuit claims that rules approved by San Francisco voters as part of Proposition F in November violate the committee’s First Amendment free-speech rights because the required disclosures occupy so much space in audio, video and newspaper advertisements that they “effectively drown out” the political message.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer will consider the group’s request for a preliminary injunction blocking the rules at the Feb. 14 hearing.

City Attorney’s Office spokesman John Cote said in a statement, “We are defending this ballot measure consistent with First Amendment law.”

Proposition F is known by its supporters as the Sunlight on Dark Money Initiative.

The portions of the measure challenged in the lawsuit include a requirement that an ad must list the contribution amounts as well as the names of the top three donors of $5,000 or more, plus the names and amounts of the top two donors of more than $5,000 to a secondary committee that contributes to the primary committee.

The suit also disputes the lowering of the donation disclosure threshold to $5,000 from the previous threshold of $10,000, and a requirement that donation disclosures must be made at the beginning rather than the end of an audio or video message or telephone call. Proposition F supporter Jon Golinger charged in a statement, “This lawsuit is designed to keep voters in the dark so that secretive Super PACs can hide the real agenda behind their campaign ads.”

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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