Spectrum News | October 24, 2019 | Nick Reisman
It can be hard to make a difference in Albany, but what happens when the state pursues a rape victim to register as a lobbyist? Advocates say it’s a violation of her First Amendment rights.
Kat Sullivan pushed for the passage of the Child Victims Act, a measure that makes it easier for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits. She took out a billboard and flew an airplane banner. And Sullivan is being pursued by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics to register as a lobbyist or face thousands of dollars in fines.
“The billboard content wasn’t lobbying, her website wasn’t lobbying, her airplane banner wasn’t lobbying under the law,” said Cam MacDonald, the Government Justice Center executive director.
But now Sullivan is fighting back. Along with MacDonald, Sullivan is suing the commission, alleging her First Amendment rights are being violated.
“Bottom line here is she is just a citizen who exercised her First Amendment right to speech, spoke out on an issue, took out some billboards to draw awareness on rape, sexual assault, and the Child Victims Act,” said MacDonald.
The commission has alleged Sullivan spent more than $5,000 for her push for the Child Victims Act, which was approved earlier this year. Passing that threshold triggers the state’s lobbying law. State lawmakers have criticized the commission for pushing the lobbying case against Sullivan, who was raped while a student at Emma Willard in Troy. MacDonald says the case calls into question the ability of citizens to petition their government.
“Nobody is going to know what it is that they are doing that is political speech that is regulated, that they need to register for, speaking out about a law, taking out an ad, writing an editorial, no one is going to know when you’re going to get that letter giving you two weeks’ notice that you need to report what you’ve been doing,” said MacDdonald.
JCOPE declined to comment when reached by Spectrum News, citing pending legislation. The commission will meet in Albany on Tuesday.