Legislator Says Gift Ban Violates His Freedom of Speech

A ban on accepting lobbyists' invitations to parties, gifts, or payment for food infringes on Kentucky legislators' access to people who want to help them, a lawsuit says.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 24:  A gallery assistant at Bonhams auction house holds a Cuban cigar owned by Sir Winston Churchill, which is expected to fetch 700 GBP in their forthcoming 'Gentleman's Library Sale', on January 24, 2013 in London, England. The auction includes an eclectic mix of rare items such as a pygmy hippo skeleton and a MI9 spy catalogue. It will take place in Bonhams Knightsbridge on January 29 and 30, 2013.  (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The Supreme Court, in its Citizens United decision, ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts in elections. Now politicians in Kentucky are claiming they have a Constitutional right to receive gifts from lobbyists.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Republican Kentucky state Sen. John Schickel, along with two Libertarian political candidates, are suing to overturn state ethics laws, claiming that the campaign contribution limit of $1,000 and a ban on gifts from lobbyists and their employers are a violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The lawsuit notes that lobbyists and the employers of lobbyists are prohibited by Kentucky law from inviting legislators to parties, offering gifts, or paying for food for legislators. “This infringes on the legislator’s, lobbyist’s, and employer of lobbyist’s right to freedom of association, and freedom of speech,” Schickel claims in the suit.

View a copy of Schickel’s complaint below:

Kentucky’s ethics laws were passed in 1992 after an FBI investigation exposed a number of local politicians selling their votes.

As the Lexington Herald-Leader noted, federal courts have “proven willing in recent years to overturn campaign-finance restrictions that judges believe violate the constitutional rights of donors and candidates.” One court, for instance, struck down the $50,000 limit mandated by Kentucky law on how much gubernatorial candidates may loan their campaigns.

Corporations have increasingly turned to new interpretations of the First Amendment as a legal strategy. Bond-rating agencies that gave high grades to toxic mortgage-backed securities claimed in court that doing so was their First Amendment right. Lobbyists have argued that food-labeling laws undermine the meat industry’s right to free speech. And similarly, AT&T recently argued that net neutrality violates the ISP industry’s First Amendment rights.

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