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Central Maine Power Company v. Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices

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  1. First Amendment

Court: U.S. District Court for the District of Maine

Date Filed: Jan. 22, 2024

Background: In November 2023, voters in Maine approved a ballot measure intended to prevent foreign entities from spending money on local and state referendums. The measure had previously been vetoed by Maine Gov. Janet Mills, who expressed concerns about its constitutionality, noting how it would “entrap and silence otherwise legitimate voices and undermine the fundamental American cornerstones of free speech and free press.”

Many lawsuits were filed against Maine’s Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices in federal court to block the implementation and enforcement of the law, known as the Act to Prohibit Campaign Spending by Foreign Governments and Promote an Anticorruption Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Among those challenging portions of the law are the Maine Press Association and the Maine Association of Broadcasters, which specifically raised constitutional concerns about provisions of the law targeting the press, including one that requires news organizations that take political and issue ads to meet vague and ill-defined “due diligence” responsibilities. The law requires online platforms, including news organizations, to immediately remove any ad funded with foreign dollars and notify the government.

Our Position: The U.S. District Court for the District of Maine should block the implementation and enforcement of the provisions of the law that apply to the press.

  • The “due diligence” requirements the Act imposes on the press are unconstitutionally vague, making it almost impossible for news organizations to determine how to comply.
  • The law imposes unworkable burdens on news outlets both large and small. It will force them to devote significant resources to investigating political advertisers or to simply reject all such advertising, chilling political speech and posing additional financial burdens on news outlets.
  • Conscripting the press, as the law attempts to do, is unconstitutional and has properly been rejected by states and courts alike.

Quote: “While smaller local and regional newsrooms — many of which are already facing challenging economic circumstances — are likely to be hardest hit if forced to choose between attempting to comply with the Act’s imprecise requirements or declining to accept political advertising at all, larger news outlets also will suffer. And, importantly, it is the public that will suffer the most. News consumers may receive less information from news organizations that must divert scarce resources away from reporting in order to comply with the Act. And, by incentivizing (or forcing) some media organizations to reject political advertising entirely, the Act will harm Mainers who want to engage in or receive political speech through political advertising and will find no outlet to do so.”

Update: On Feb. 29, 2024, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine granted motions for a preliminary injunction blocking the state of Maine from enforcing the law. 

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