State Senator Rick Metsger
The Oregon Supreme Court heard oral arguments today on the constitutionality of SB 10 (2007) which limited gifts, travel, meals and other expenditures to public officials. The Supreme Court review came as a result of SB 577, sponsored by Senator Rick Metsger (D-Welches), which expedited the case that was in a lower court. “This issue is very important to citizens of the State,” said Metsger. “It is in the best interest of the State to have the Supreme Court issue a decision on whether or not SB 10 violates free speech rights of citizens. Receiving the decision from the Court will allow the Legislature during the February session to act, if necessary, dependent upon the Court’s decision. I am pleased that the Court responded to SB 577 in hearing arguments in such a swift manner. ”
Opponents of SB 10 contend that the bill limits the ability of the general public from using their free speech rights to influence public officials. The bill strictly limited the amount of expenditures that could be incurred on behalf of a public official from an individual who has an economic interest in legislative issues. This language has impacted small town mayors, city commissioners, school board members and State legislators among others.
Under current interpretation of the law, campaign contributions are protected under free speech. The Court will now have to determine whether that same interpretation is extended to other items that public officials may receive in the conduct of their position.
“The issue goes far beyond gifts and other expenditures to public officials,” said Metsger. “If the Court were to deviate from previous findings, that such actions are indeed free speech, it has the potential to provide grounds for overturning other court decisions for protecting free speech, such as panhandling.