A federal appeals court has rejected as unconstitutional Iowa laws that subjected not-for-profit organizations to political action committee-style reporting rules when they make political expenditures.

In Iowa Right To Life Committee v. Tooker, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit partially revived the committee’s First and Fourteenth Amendment challenges to the laws. The organization promotes right-to-life positions but is not controlled by a candidate.

Southern District of Iowa Judge Robert Pratt issued a summary judgment for the state in February 2012, ruling that the committee lacked standing to challenge several provisions and that others were constitutionally valid.

Judge Duane Benton wrote the Eighth Circuit’s majority opinion, which the court released on June 13, joined by Judge Lavenski Smith. Senior judge Michael Melloy filed a concurring opinion.

The court upheld registration requirements for groups making independent expenditures of more than $750 as applied to the committee and “other groups whose major purpose is not nominating or electing candidates.”

But he balked at a requirement that such organizations provide detailed financial and contributor information.

“[The committee] does not explain how ongoing reporting impinges its associational rights. But it does show how it hinders its free speech rights,” Benton wrote. “Iowa fails to advance a sufficiently important governmental interest that bears a substantial relation to the ongoing reporting requirements as applied to [the committee] and other non-PAC groups.

Furthermore, the state failed to show an important governmental interest in requiring groups whose major purpose is not electing candidates to file termination papers when they dissolve, he continued.

The panel agreed with Pratt that a ban on corporate contributions to groups like the committee is content-neutral and does not violate the fourteenth amendment.

The Iowa attorney general’s office, which defended the law, did not respond to a request for comment. Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Thompson had argued the case.

The ruling represents a victory for free speech, said lead plaintiff’s counsel James Bopp Jr. His firm, The Bopp Law Firm in Terre Haute, Ind., provides legal services to the Madison Center for Free Speech.

"The Eighth Circuit today reaffirmed its 2012 decision applying the major-purpose test to state law. It joins similar published decisions from the Fourth, Tenth, and Eleventh circuits,” Bopp said.

Randy Elf, attorney for James Madison Center for free Speech, argued for the plaintiffs.

Sheri Qualters can be contacted at squalters@alm.com.