League of Women Voters sues City of Cupertino over lobbyist disclosure rule

The League of Women Voters of Cupertino-Sunnyvale has filed a federal lawsuit arguing Cupertino’s lobbyist ordinance is unconstitutional and anti-nonprofit.

The lobbyist ordinance in question was approved in February 2021 and defines several categories of lobbyists, and requires them to register, and pay an annual fee. It has an exception for board members or employees of nonprofits, but it also indicates that nonprofits can be subject to the ordinance if they’re lobbying for a “specific project, issue or person.”

The group claims that the ordinance’s definition of a lobbyist is too vague and has a chilling effect on voter engagement; deterring people from being critical of government out of fear they will be considered a lobbyist, and have to comply with the ordinance.

In other words, the League of Women Voters argues that the ordinance gives the city of Cupertino permission to treat any organization that advocates at council meetings or to council members as paid lobbyists.

“This ordinance is an attack on nonprofit organizations that seek to educate and empower voters and engage with their elected officials to seek reforms. Ultimately, the voters will suffer,” said Tracey Edwards, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Cupertino-Sunnyvale in a press release last week. “At the League, engaging with state and local officials on behalf of voters and communities is a key part of protecting a fair, equitable, and representative government, and our voices deserve to be heard.”

The lawsuit follows a move this spring by Cupertino’s city council to further broaden and the ordinance and strengthen enforcement, when it recommended adding a ‘private right of action’ component which would allow residents to sue individuals believed to be in violation.

The League of Women Voters (LWV) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit that works to engage, educate and organize voters across the United States.