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NYCLU Files Lawsuit Against Lobbying Commission Over Free-Speech Billboard

The NYCLU today filed a federal lawsuit in Manhattan against David Grandeau, the Executive Director of the New York Temporary State Commission on Lobbying. The lawsuit was triggered by a letter the NYCLU received last week demanding that it file with the Commission information about a billboard message sponsored by the NYCLU outside a shopping mall in April concerning the issue of free speech in private, shopping malls.

The billboard’s text read: “Welcome to the mall. You have the right to remain silent. Value free speech.”. The NYCLU had sponsored the billboard in response to a highly-publicized March 2003 arrest of a patron at the mall for wearing an anti-war T-shirt. 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. The Lobbying Commission has taken the position that NYCLU sponsorship of the billboard is lobbying, even though the billboard makes no mention of any legislation.

The NYCLU will seek an immediate court order to block the Lobbying Commission from requiring the NYCLU to produce information to the government 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.

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said, “Mr. Grandeau and the Lobbying Commission are out of control. 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.”

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

Click here to read the NYCLU’s complaint.

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