A Victory for Nonprofit Volunteers

On November 1, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in Calzone v. Summers, striking down a Missouri Ethics Commission decision that imposed the same registration and filing requirements on an unpaid volunteer for a small nonprofit as the largest corporate lobbyists in the state.

Ronald Calzone is an unpaid volunteer and the sole officer, president, director and registered agent of the nonprofit Missouri First. Missouri First spent no money and received no contributions for Calzone’s communications with Missouri General Assembly legislators.

Missouri law requires “any natural person who acts for the purpose of attempting to influence” legislative activities and has been “designated to act as a lobbyist by any . . . nonprofit corporation, association[,] or other entity” to register as a lobbyist with the state. The requirements include filing a registration form, paying a fee, and reporting lobbying activity up to 14 times per year. The Ethics Commission’s interpretation of the law would have imposed the same requirements on Calzone and Missouri First as Ameren, an energy company that made the most lobbying expenditures of any company in Missouri over the last two years according to St. Louis Public Radio. Calzone, in partnership with the Institute for Free Speech and Freedom Center of Missouri, challenged the constitutionality of the law as applied to him.

In January, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the state, but the court reheard the case en banc and reversed the ruling. The majority agreed with Calzone,  writing “given that Calzone’s political activities do not involve the transfer of money or anything of value, either to him or to anyone else, Missouri’s interest in transparency does not reflect the seriousness of the actual burden on his First Amendment rights.”

“It has been a long time coming, but I’m pleased that the Court of Appeals got this right,” Calzone said. “Unpaid citizen activists like myself keep our elected officials informed and accountable by sharing our views about public policy. A government cannot force unpaid activists to jump through regulatory hoops in order to exercise their First Amendment rights.”

This ruling is a victory for nonprofits that rely on volunteers in their efforts to advocate for social change. Read more on this case at the Institute for Free Speech.

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