Defending a rape survivor’s right to free speech

In a blatant misuse of political power, New York’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which is tasked with regulating lobbying in New York, went after Kat Sullivan—a rape survivor who was pushing for the passage of the Child Victims Act. Ms. Sullivan maintained a website, posted billboard ads, and flew and airplane banner urging New York to pass the law. She did not contact any legislators directly.

Inexplicably, JCOPE began investigating Ms. Sullivan for what they deemed “unregistered lobbying” in support of the proposed legislation. Given this clear attempt to chill Sullivan’s right to free speech, GJC stepped in and filed a case on her behalf. JCOPE eventually dropped its investigation into Sullivan thanks to GJC’s backing.

Yet GJC continues to press Ms. Sullivan’s First Amendment challenge to New York’s Lobbying Law. Ms. Sullivan is not a lobbyist. She doesn’t have lobbying clients, nor has she ever. She’s never been paid to advocate. According to JCOPE, however, Ms. Sullivan is a grassroots lobbyist who has lobbied because she rented some billboards, ran a personal website, and flew a plane banner in support of her cause.

New York’s lobbying act is unconstitutionally vague and over broad, sweeping into its reach “any attempt to influence” legislation. The act infringes on Ms. Sullivan’s free speech and petition rights. It places undue restrictions on fundamental free speech rights without demonstrating a compelling state interest, in a manner not narrowly tailored to achieve its stated purpose. The law needs to be struck down and re-written to protect other unsuspecting advocates exercising their free speech rights.

The Albany County Supreme Court dismissed the case on the grounds that there was no longer a justiciable issue after JCOPE dropped its investigation. Ms. Sullivan appealed.