Williamson Strong, a group of Williamson County parents focused on supporting excellent schools, has filed a federal lawsuit against the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance for the fine the Registry levied against the group after finding it was operating as an unregistered political action committee (PAC).
In filing the suit, members of Williamson Strong said:
“The Registry’s primary conclusion, that any two people who spend even one penny to present political opinions can be deemed a political campaign committee, has very serious implications for everyone in the State of Tennessee. This decision is completely contrary to both the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution.”
The complaint further alleges that the Registry’s actions will have a chilling effect on parents in Tennessee who come together to express opinions about public schools. It notes that the Registry’s assertion that individuals with a union affiliation are subject to additional scrutiny places such individuals and others who affiliate with those individuals in a disadvantaged class.
That is: If you express political opinions in a group that includes union members, your political speech may be subject to penalties not applied to groups that do not include union members.
In fact, the Registry’s actions create just that impression: That parent groups will not be construed as true “volunteer groups” or “loose associations” if even one member happens to also be a union member.
As the complaint alleges, this special scrutiny violates the First Amendment’s protection of free association.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the long term and how the Registry handles future complaints regarding unregistered PACs while the lawsuit is in progress.
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