NYCLU Files Lawsuit Against Lobbying Commission Over Free-Speech Billboard

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
November 3, 2003 12:00 am

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NEW YORK–The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed a federal lawsuit in Manhattan against David Grandeau, the Executive Director of the New York Temporary State Commission on Lobbying. The Commission has taken the position that NYCLU sponsorship of a billboard outside a shopping mall is lobbying, even though the billboard makes no mention of any legislation.

“Mr. Grandeau and the Lobbying Commission are out of control,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Like many advocacy organizations in New York, the NYCLU is involved in advocacy on a whole range of issues and that advocacy includes lobbying as well as other expressive activity that clearly is not lobbying. We freely file reports about our lobbying work, but we are not about to report to the government about all of our other work.”

The lawsuit was triggered by a letter from the Commission demanding that the NYCLU provide information about the billboard message it had sponsored in April in response to the highly publicized March 2003 arrest of a mall patron for wearing an anti-war T-shirt. In response, the ACLU had sponsored a billboard which said: “Welcome to the mall. You have the right to remain silent. Value free speech.” During the time the billboard was up, the NYCLU was separately engaged in lobbying in support a New York State Assembly bill bearing on the same issue.

“No reasonable person could think that this billboard was an act of lobbying,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn. “That the Lobbying Commission would target the NYCLU because of this billboard shows how willing it is to run roughshod over the First Amendment.”

The NYCLU said it will seek an immediate court order to block the Lobbying Commission from requiring it to produce information about activity that clearly is not lobbying. The Commission letter ordered an NYCLU response by November 7.

Currently pending in federal court is a separate suit challenging the Lobbying Commission’s effort to treat as lobbying a City Hall rally sponsored by Russell Simmons.

A previous news release about the billboard in the mall and the incident that inspired it is online at /node/8928

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