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Federal Judge: Maine Municipal Association's PAC Activities "Orwellian"

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By S.E. Robinson

U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock Thursday invoked George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four in a decision analyzing Maine Municipal Association’s (MMA) involvement in several ballot initiatives over the past decade.

“There is… a certain Orwellian aspect to the vision of government-sponsored speech drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens and in so doing assuring the continued sustenance and primacy of government itself,” wrote Judge Woodcock in a 56-page decision which ultimately dismissed First Amendment claims levied against MMA.

“As a matter of policy, there is something intuitively odd about the government taxing tax protesters and others to defeat citizen efforts to control taxes,” wrote Woodcock.

The lawsuit against MMA was filed in June of 2010 by the MHPC’s Center for Constitutional Government (CCG) on behalf of three individual plaintiffs and Cyr Plantation.

Among other claims, the complaint alleged MMA had violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when it engaged in taxpayer-subsidized political activities involving five ballot measures from 2002 to 2009.

The initiatives were: (1) the 55% School Funding Initiative (2002-2004), (2) the Palesky tax reduction initiative (2004), (3) TABOR I (2006), (4) TABOR II (2009) and (5) the Auto Excise Tax initiative (2009).  In each case, the MMA actively organized and funded in part the campaigns in support or opposition. The MMA’s total expenditures (monetary and in-kind) from 2002-2009 totaled nearly $2 million dollars.

While MMA’s spokesman Eric Conrad has called the ruling a victory – and the local newspapers have portrayed it as such – Woodcock emphasized that his narrow ruling in no way endorsed MMA’s unusual political activities or invalidated all of the plaintiffs’ claims.

“The Court’s conclusion that the government speech doctrine applies does not mean that the Plaintiffs have no good claims against MMA, nor does it mean that the Court endorses or does not endorse MMA’s advocacy activities as a matter of policy,” wrote Woodcock.

Multiple calls placed to Conrad were not returned.

“Although he ruled against the plaintiffs’ First Amendment Free Speech claims, Judge Woodcock invited the plaintiffs to notify him of further aspects of the First Amendment case that should be briefed,” said CCG Director and attorney David Crocker.

“The plaintiffs will take the Judge’s extraordinary invitation seriously as well as his invitation to argue their case in the court of public opinion,” said Crocker, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case.

Details related to the case can be found at The Maine Wire’s “MMA Files” webpage.

Woodcock’s entire decision can be read below:

2013-02-14 Order on MMA MSJ

 

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson was the editor of The Maine Wire from 2013 through 2014. A native of Dexter, Maine, Robinson is a graduate of Bowdoin College, and is currently a Producer for The Howie Carr Show in Boston.

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