A&A: Fee to place political campaign signs

Q: In my community, any person, business, campaign organization, or other entity who proposes to post or display more than five off-site event signs shall obtain a permit, pay a fee and/or deposit to the Code Enforcement Division:

• No person, business, campaign organization, other entity may apply for more than one (1) off-site event sign permit that relates to signs that are identical or substantially similar.

• Off-site event sign permit approval sticker shall be permanently and legibly attached to the lower right-hand corner of every off-site event sign.

• Off-site event signs shall not be posted on any sidewalk surface, mailbox, utility box, electric light or power or telephone wire, pole of appendage, hydrant, tree, shrub, tree stake or guard, public bridge, fence or wall, fire alarm or police telegraph system, drinking fountain, or traffic control devices.

The fee for the permit is $60 for 100 signs. Real Estate for Sale Signs do not qualify as off site event signs and do not need a special permit.

Is this sign permit and fee legal? Can they restrict posting of a sign on a private property fence?

A: The issue of sign ordinances and when they are and are not constitutional is highly complex. Generally, municipalities are permitted to distinguish between signage for off-site and on-site events. And prohibitions on the use of municipally-owned utility poles, walls, etc. See City Council v. Taxpayers for Vincent, 466 U.S. 789 (1984).I

However, they are limited in, although not prohibited from, foreclosing the ability of individuals to use their own property to communicate their political positions. See City of Ladue v. Gilleo, 512 U.S. 43 (1994).

Bryan Cave LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.