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Free speech lawsuit could affect Michigan tourism

Mackinac Center for Public Policy


A lawsuit filed Wednesday against a tourism bureau in northern Michigan could affect tourism businesses statewide. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy filed the lawsuit against the Indian River Michigan Tourist Bureau on behalf of an Indian River resort owner. It says the bed fees the bureau charges guests for each rental are unconstitutional. 

The tourism bureau is primarily encouraging tourism by advertising local hotels and resorts on a website and by going to visitor shows. George Galbraith is the owner of The Landings on Indian River, one of the hospitality businesses advertised on the website.

Galbraith's guests pay a five percent fee on each rental to support this advertising, but Galbraith says the advertising isn’t effective for his business.

"How would you like to have to join a club and pay dues that you don’t want to belong to?" asks Galbraith.

Derk Wilcox, the senior attorney at the Mackinac Center, says the room fee is unconstitutional.

“He is forced to be taxed to pay for this regional advertising, and under First Amendment law, you can’t be compelled to pay for speech that you don’t want to pay for," says Wilcox.

Wilcox says advertising is considered speech.

Tourism bureaus around the state collect similar fees. The Mackinac Center is also suing the Michigan Strategic Fund, which works with tourism bureau’s throughout the state. 

Morgan Springer is a contributing editor and producer at Interlochen Public Radio. She previously worked for the New England News Collaborative as the host/producer of NEXT, the weekly show which aired on six public radio station in the region.