State regulators didn't violate the First Amendment rights of a Nebraska financial adviser when they looked into his regulatory compliance, in part because of his participation in the Tea Party movement and public criticisms of President Barack Obama, the Eighth Circuit ruled today.
Robert Bennie, Jr., had been a vocal critic of the president's, calling him a communist and an "evil man" in an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star. He'd also been playing loose with state disclosure requirements, regulators believed. So, when workers at the Nebraska Department of Banking and Finance started asking questions about Bennie's work, they also touched on his "polarizing" political activities. But while those questions might have crossed a line, they weren't enough for a reasonable person to stop exercising their free speech rights, according to the Eighth Circuit.