In 2019, the Gaspee Project and Illinois Opportunity Project, two nonprofit advocacy organizations that wanted to spend thousands of dollars distributing election-related mailers to Rhode Island voters without identifying themselves or their large contributors to the public, initiated a First Amendment challenge to Rhode Island’s political transparency regime. They challenged three components of Rhode Island law, including requirements that: (1) groups spending $1,000 or more to influence elections — through campaign spending or political ads —disclose donors who gave at least $1,000 and did not expressly prohibit their donation from being used for election-related purposes; (2) groups working to influence Rhode Island elections include disclaimers on advertisements stating who paid for them; and (3) certain organizations making election-related expenditures disclose their top five donors during the previous year on electioneering ads.
Campaign Legal Center (CLC), along with Common Cause Rhode Island and the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, filed an amicus brief in defense of Rhode Island’s disclosure and disclaimer requirements in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which rejected the plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge in September 2021.
The plaintiffs sought review of that decision in the U.S. Supreme Court but only with respect to the top-five donor disclaimer provision. CLC served as co-counsel to the state defendants, along with the Rhode Island Office of Attorney General. The Supreme Court ultimately denied the challengers’ petition, letting Rhode Island’s transparency measures stand.