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.