Florida nonprofit pushing local right-to-work ordinances sues KREF

06/18/2015 11:13 PM

FRANKFORT — A Tampa, Fla., nonprofit focused on enacting local right-to-work ordinances sued the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance in federal court Thursday, claiming the state’s ban on corporate political donations violates its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The Goldwater Institute filed the action in U.S. District Court in Frankfort on behalf of Protect My Check Inc., a 501(c )(4) formed in September that’s involved in defending right-to-work ordinances passed by local governments in Kentucky.

The Kentucky Constitution bans contributions by corporations to candidates, parties and political action committees, and in-state corporations that violate that ban would be subject to dissolution while out-of-state companies would be barred from doing further business in Kentucky.

Jim Manley, senior attorney at Goldwater Institute, said his client’s inability to make political contributions puts the nonprofit at a disadvantage against interests attempting to block local right-to-work ordinances from taking effect.

“While it’s fighting for right-to-work laws, unions are fighting on the other side against them, and Protect My Check has to fight with one hand tied behind its back because while its union opponents can contribute to candidates that support their cause, Protect My Check is shut out of that aspect of the political process,” Manley said, noting the state ban is contrary to recent federal court rulings.

Kentucky is one of eight states that outlaw corporate political contributions. The Goldwater Institute filed a similar lawsuit challenging Massachusetts’ ban on corporate contributions in February, Manley said, but Brent Yessin, an attorney on Protect My Check’s board of advisors, said his group is not involved in that case.

The complaint can be viewed here: Protect My Check Complaint.pdf

While corporations like AT&T and Time Warner Cable have formed PACs to fund their selected candidates and causes in Kentucky, Yessin says the process to form a PAC is cumbersome and unfair.

“It’s a burden that the union doesn’t have and no one else has, so you’re asking a corporate employer to undertake all the expense, all the burden of setting up a PAC in order to take its check and give it to the candidate that it supports whereas the other party simply snaps it out of the checkbook and hands it to the candidate,” Yessin said.

“So that’s an unequal burden, and that’s exactly what the law prohibits.”

Yessin says he hopes the case sets new precedent in Kentucky on the issue, opening the door for other businesses to support their political causes monetarily.

John Steffen, executive director of KREF, said he had not seen the complaint when reached Thursday afternoon.

“The law that I believe they are challenging is based on the Constitution of Kentucky, and section 150 of the Kentucky’s Constitution is where it’s prohibited for corporations to make donations to candidates, indirectly or directly,” Steffen said in a phone interview. “That’s what we have to work with, what the Constitution says.”

The suit lists Steffen and Craig Dilger, chairman of the KREF board, as defendants.


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