Illinois recently raised the registration fee for lobbyists from $350 to $1,000, for each person who lobbies, and for each organization that employs such a person. Thus, for a non-profit organization that employs one lobbyist, the registration fee has jumped from $700 to $2,000. The ACLU of Illinois, with two full-time legislative advocates, must now pay $3,000. In this regard, Illinois is an anomaly: in 42 states, the lobby registration fee is $150 or less for a non-profit group and its lobbyist employee; and in the other 7 states, that fee is less than $365. The federal government charges no lobby registration fee at all. Moreover, Illinois exempts from this fee media organizations, and certain lobbying by religious groups.
On December 11, the ACLU filed a lawsuit, alleging that the Illinois lobby registration fee violates the First Amendment rights to speech, association, and petition, for two reasons. First, the government cannot prove a proper nexus between the large size of the fee, and the government's actual and reasonable costs in administering the lobby registration rules. Second, the exemption for media and religious groups are unlawfully discriminatory. The ACLU asked the Court for a temporary restraining order ("TRO"), enjoining the government from requiring non-profit organizations, and their employees, from paying any registration fee.
On December 23, the Court granted plaintiffs' TRO motion. That TRO will last until mid-January, when the Court holds a hearing on plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. The Court on December 23 also issued an 11-page memorandum stating the reasons for the TRO order. The memo explained that plaintiffs' have a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits of their claims that the new lobby fee is excessive in size, and that it unlawfully privileges religious speech over non-religious speech. The Court also rejected the government's assertion that jurisdiction was barred by the federal Tax Injunction Act.
We are pleased by the Court's decision today and look forward to seeking a permanent injunction in the new year.