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In lawsuit, ACLU says the First Amendment protects anonymous political speech

Missouri law says campaign communications must include the name and address of the sponsor. But the businessman says he’s afraid of retribution if he identifies himself, so he wants to provide the material anonymously.
Missouri law says campaign communications must include the name and address of the sponsor. But the businessman says he’s afraid of retribution if he identifies himself, so he wants to provide the material anonymously.

The Missouri office of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking to protect anonymous political speech in the state.

The group is representing “John Doe” — a businessman in Ferguson, Mo., who wants to publish material about the city’s upcoming municipal elections.

Missouri law says campaign communications must include the name and address of the sponsor. But the businessman says he’s afraid of retribution if he identifies himself, so he wants to provide the material anonymously.

The ACLU’s lawsuit says requiring a name and address on political communications violates the First Amendment.

“From the founding of our nation, anonymous speech has played an important role in political debate,” ACLU attorney Tony Rothert said in a statement.

The members of the Missouri Ethics Commission are the defendants in the case. The commission staff did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit asks the court to suspend enforcement of the law so the businessman can publish his campaign material before the April 7 election in Ferguson.

Anonymous donations to nonprofit “social welfare” companies are a growing phenomenon in Missouri and other states. Those anonymous donations are often sent to political committees, effectively disguising campaign donations.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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