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


BB is watching you
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



  1. Actually, in explaining why he ruled against MHPC, the judge says the MMA’s activities were not Orweillian. This is done by having one sentence say you presented an Orweillian vision and then having another saying what actually happened wasn’t Orweillian. Here’s the paragraph where he lays that out: “There is also 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. See GEORGE ORWELL, NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR (1949). But here the Plaintiffs have not made the case, if it could be made, that government speech so dominated the debate that the views of others, including the Plaintiffs, were eclipsed.”

    In government speech cases, government entities can speak as long as they don’t dominate. The judge is saying you didn’t. You were a participant in the marketplace of ideas and your positions were rejected the voters. “Arguing in the court of public opinion” is boilerplate in government speech cases. Here’s a law review article on the concept: http://www.law.suffolk.edu/highlights/stuorgs/lawreview/Volume_44/upload/GrahamNote.pdf. And if you want a copy of the decision that’s readable, you can find it here: http://www.leagle.com/xmlResult.aspx?xmldoc=In+FDCO+20130214F52.XML&docbase=CsLwAr3-2007-Curr.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here