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Federal judge strikes down Florida campaign law

A Florida campaign law requiring nonpartisan groups to register as elections groups unconstitutionally limits political free speech, a federal judge has ruled.  (Read the ruling here.)

“This is a tremendous victory for the First Amendment right to speak about politics without the government getting in the way,” said Bert Gall, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, which filed suit on behalf of the Broward Coalition of Condominiums, Homeowners Associations and Community Organizations, the University of Florida College Libertarians and the National Taxpayers Union.

“Florida’s law put everyday political speech under the thumb of campaign finance bureaucrats. But with today’s ruling, all Floridians—not just political insiders—can now discuss important political issues without fear of being punished or forced to submit to onerous regulations," Gall said.

U.S. District Judge Stephan P. Mickle ruled Friday. The law requires even nonpolitical organizations to register with the state if they merely mention candidates or issues in publications or through other communications such as Web sites. In October, Mickle granted a preliminary injunction that stopped the state from enforcing the law pending the final ruling in a suit filed by some affected groups.

A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Kurt Browning said Tuesday that he will appeal the decision to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

"I can't believe the state will spend tax dollars to appeal this," said Charlotte Greenbarg, president of the Broward Coalition, which printed a newsletter discussing items on the November ballot only to find out it would have to register as an elections group. She said she was "delighted" by the ruling.

Reporting by The Associated Press and Alex Leary

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