A West Virginia state law limiting contributions to political action committees independent of candidates is a clear violation of the First Amendment. It never should have been enacted. Now that it is on the books, it should be stricken.
Donations of more than $1,000 to "independent-expenditure political action committees" are banned by the law. That means a Mountain State resident who may be especially upset about an issue, and has the means to spend money making his point, is prohibited from using donations to such committees to do so.
Several weeks ago, the Stay the Course Political Action Committee, located in St. Albans, filed a lawsuit seeking to have the statute overturned. Two individuals and the Pineville Lumber Co. joined the PAC.
According to published material, Stay the Course was formed to support the re-election of "certain incumbents," who have not been named.
It can do that, providing its operations and management are independent of the candidates themselves.
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, West Virginia's chief election officer, has defended the contributions limit. It is necessary to limit the perceived influence of money on elections, her office argues.
But federal courts already have overturned some limits on contributions to PACs in other states. The U.S. Supreme Court, in one case, made it clear restrictions are an infringement against freedom of speech.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Johnston, of the Southern District of West Virginia, will hear the case. He has scheduled a Wednesday hearing on a request for a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law.
Johnston should rule in the plaintiffs' favor, of course, using the same logic the Supreme Court has cited.
The First Amendment was intended to safeguard Americans' right to speak out - and enforcing it rigidly has served us well for more than two centuries.