Transparency Law Remains In Place In Rhode Island

The state flag of Rhode Island with the sun shining behind it
The state flag of Rhode Island.

Efforts in the state of Rhode Island to increase transparency in regard to election spending will remain intact following a ruling out of the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Campaign Legal Center (CLC), along with Common Cause Rhode Island and the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, filed an amicus brief in support of the state. 

Among other provisions, Rhode Island’s political transparency rules require groups spending $1,000 or more on electioneering ads to disclose donors that gave at least $1,000 to fund the ads and provide that ads run by certain groups must include “top-five” disclaimers identifying their five largest contributors. 

Challenging these rules were the Gaspee Project and Illinois Opportunity Project, two nonprofits 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.

In August 2020, the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island dismissed the complaint, finding the provisions constitutionally serve the state’s vital interest in equipping voters with essential information about special interests spending to influence their vote. 

The circuit court held that Rhode Island's law satisfies exacting scrutiny and is narrowly tailored to the state’s important interest in an informed electorate, rejecting the plaintiffs’ attempts to compare their privacy concerns to NAACP v. Alabama and Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta

To reduce political corruption, we need real transparency about who is spending on our elections. In this ruling, the circuit court upheld Rhode Island voters’ right to know who is trying to influence their vote. 

As the circuit court recognized, “a well-informed electorate is as vital to the survival of a democracy as air is to the survival of human life.” 

Protecting Political Disclosure Laws at the State and Local Levels