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Attorney General Neronha successfully defends state election finance disclosure laws

United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the constitutionality of state election finance law requiring disclosures and disclaimers for certain election-related expenditures of $1,000 or more

PROVIDENCE, R.I. Attorney General Peter F. Neronha's defense of a state law requiring disclosure of persons or entities that spend more than $1,000 on certain election communications was upheld by a federal appeals court decision in The Gaspee Project v. Mederos. Attorney General Neronha applauded the decision upholding the constitutionality of Rhode Island's Independent Expenditures and Electioneering Communications Act (Act), a law designed to promote transparency and maintain the integrity of elections.

"The First Circuit's recent decision upholding Rhode Island's campaign expenditure disclosure law is a win for transparency, and accordingly for all Rhode Islanders. As I have said previously, state campaign and election finance laws exist for a reason: to inform Rhode Islanders of the sources of financial support, directly or indirectly, for candidates for public office. Such information is critical to voters evaluating the motivations and positions of those who would hold high office," said Attorney General Neronha. "An informed electorate is integral to our democracy, and the Court's decision significantly advances that principle."

In 2019, plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the Act which, subject to certain exceptions, requires disclosures and disclaimers for election-related expenditures of over $1,000 or more in any calendar year for either independent expenditures or electioneering communications. Attorney General Neronha defended the constitutionality of the statute in Federal District Court and later before the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

On August 28, 2020, Judge Mary S. McElroy of the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island issued a decision dismissing the plaintiffs' lawsuit and upholding the constitutionality of the Act. Plaintiffs subsequently appealed to the First Circuit, which issued a decision on Tuesday.

Writing for the Court, Judge Bruce M. Selya noted: "Mindful that a well-informed electorate is as vital to the survival of a democracy as air is to the survival of human life, we hold that the challenged provisions of the Act bear a substantial relation to a sufficiently important governmental interest and are narrowly tailored enough to withstand exacting scrutiny."

The First Circuit also noted how Rhode Island's Act is consistent with United States Supreme Court precedent.

Assistant Attorney General Michael Field and Special Assistant Attorney General Katherine Sadeck litigated the case on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General.

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