September 5, 2019 •

Washington D.C. Fair Elections Temporary Amendment Act of 2019 Becomes Law

Washington D.C. City Hall

Following a 30 day congressional review period, the Washington D.C. Fair Elections Temporary Amendment Act of 2019 is now official law number L23-0013. The law amends the definition of a qualified small-dollar contribution to set a minimum value of cash […]

Following a 30 day congressional review period, the Washington D.C. Fair Elections Temporary Amendment Act of 2019 is now official law number L23-0013.

The law amends the definition of a qualified small-dollar contribution to set a minimum value of cash or in-kind contributions at a value of $5.

L23-0013 became effective August 24 and expires on April 5, 2020.

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July 31, 2015 •

Austin, Texas Campaign Finance Laws Challenged in Court

On July 27, city of Austin, Texas Councilman Don Zimmerman filed suit seeking a preliminary injunction against city campaign finance provisions relating to blackout periods. The current law only allows officeholders, candidates, and their respective committees to accept campaign contributions […]

Austin SunriseOn July 27, city of Austin, Texas Councilman Don Zimmerman filed suit seeking a preliminary injunction against city campaign finance provisions relating to blackout periods. The current law only allows officeholders, candidates, and their respective committees to accept campaign contributions during the last 180 days before an election or recall election. Zimmerman asserts the blackout period banning contributions in the city violates his First Amendment rights of free speech. On February 2, 2015, in Gordon v. City of Houston, a federal district court declared a similar ordinance in the city of Houston as facially unconstitutional and permanently enjoined the city from enforcing the ordinance.

Zimmerman v. City of Austin, Texas, filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, also claims the law’s imposition of aggregate limits of the total contributions a candidate can accept from sources other than natural persons eligible to vote in a postal zip code completely or partially within the Austin city limits is unconstitutional, creates a burden on campaigns, and does not relate to any threat of corruption. The lawsuit also challenges a 90 day requirement for campaign account terminations. “Political speech is the very core of the First Amendment, but Austin’s campaign finance system seeks to control debate by controlling fundraising and spending,” stated Zimmerman’s attorney, Jerad Najvar, in a press release.

Photo of the Austin, Texas skyline by Erik A. Ellison on Wikimedia Commons.

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April 17, 2012 •

Preliminary Injunction Denied: Plaintiff federal contractors still prohibited from making federal political contributions

Wagner v. FEC

FECA Federal District Court denied a preliminary injunction request demanding the Federal Election Commission (FEC) not enforce a law prohibiting individuals with federal contracts from making political contributions to federal candidates or political parties.

In Wagner v. Federal Election Commission, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the Court rejected challenges to the constitutionality of section 441c of Title 2 of the U.S. Code, which prohibits any vendors with contracts with the federal government from making such contributions.

The case, brought by the ACLU, asked the Court to declare the law unconstitutional as applied to individuals who have personal services contracts with federal agencies. Because federal workers who are not contractors may make federal political contributions, while contractors performing the same work may not, the suit argued section 441c violates both the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and the First Amendment.

In denying the preliminary injunction request, the Court concluded the plaintiffs do not have a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims.

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December 30, 2011 •

Automated Robocalls Remain Restricted in Indiana

Requiring a live operator does not violate the right to free speech.

Thursday’s 4-1 decision by the Indiana Supreme Court upholds the Indiana law that restricts automated robocalls.

The court determined that requiring a live operator did not violate the right to free speech.

View the original press release, “State supreme court upholds Indiana robocall law” from the Associated Press.

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November 16, 2010 •

Houston Group Sues to Strike Down Texas Campaign Finance Law

The King Street Patriots, a non-profit, non-partisan group, have counter-sued the Texas Democratic Party while simultaneously asking a state judge to strike down significant portions of the Texas Election Code.

Texas State CapitolCiting extensively to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, King Street Patriots, with the aid of Indiana attorney James Bopp, allege Texas law governing campaign finance contributions is unconstitutional. King Street Patriots claim Texas’s general ban on corporate political contributions violate the principles established in Citizens United because it permits non-corporate groups and individuals to make political contributions, but bans corporations from making the same speech.

The claim is also advanced Texas’s ban violates the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendments because it creates an unconstitutional content and speaker-based restriction on speech.King Street Patriots have also targeted Texas law’s reporting requirements associated with direct campaign expenditures by individuals as well as the 30 and 60-day blackout provisions banning contributions by political committees which form close to election dates.

Finally, The King Street Patriots allege Texas law unconstitutionally burdens the free speech of individuals by imposing the same reporting burdens on individuals who wish to make direct campaign contributions over $100 as are associated with political committees conducting a similar activity. The case is currently pending in Travis County District Court.

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November 2, 2010 •

Supreme Court Rejects Campaign Committee Appeal

Compliance Reporting Still Required Even With Unlimited Contributions

Seal of the U.S. Supreme CourtThe Supreme Court has rejected an appeal seeking to eliminate a political committee’s disclosure and administrative requirements. In SpeechNow.org v FEC, the appellants had argued the requirements violate the First Amendment.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found individual contribution limits to the committee unconstitutional. It additionally held independent expenditure–only groups like SpeechNow must still comply with organizational, administrative, and reporting requirements in the law.

SpeechNow is an unincorporated nonprofit association which supports candidates for federal office who share its views on First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom to assemble.

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October 7, 2010 •

Court Keeps Washington Campaign Spending Limit in Place

Court of Appeals Issues Stay of Decision Declaring Washington Law Limiting Late Campaign Spending Unconstitutional

State Capitol and Insurance BuildingThe Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the decision in Family PAC v. McKenna, et al. which declared a Washington law limiting campaign contributions in the final weeks of ballot measure campaigns unconstitutional.  U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton ruled last month that the Washington limit is an unconstitutional infringement on political speech.  Late Tuesday, a panel of Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges blocked that ruling from taking effect while the state appeals.

The three-judge panel wrote “Washington and its voters have a significant interest in preventing the State’s long-standing campaign finance laws from being upended by the courts so soon before the upcoming election.”  The Court also considered that Family PAC had failed to identify any contributions greater than $5000 that it expected to receive in the event the law would be overturned and appeared not to be participating in the upcoming general election, mitigating any harm that may come from the stay of the ruling.  Family PAC was created shortly after last year’s legal deadline for large campaign contributions had passed. The committee said it had an offer for a large donation to finance political ads but could not accept the money because of the state law.

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October 4, 2010 •

Campaign Laws under Fire Again in Florida

Group challenges Florida campaign law in federal court

The Institute for Justice, a group which touts itself as the only libertarian public interest law firm in the nation, has filed a challenge to Florida’s campaign finance laws in federal court. The suit has been filed on behalf of four Sarasota, Florida residents seeking to pool their monetary resources to buy radio ads against a proposed state constitutional amendment on the November ballot. However, due to requirements to register as a PAC and disclosure requirements associated with such communications, the residents feel their First Amendment rights are being infringed upon.

This is not the first instance wherein the Institute for Justice has challenged a restriction on political speech in Florida, as they were previously successful in having declared unconstitutional Florida’s electioneering communication law in the case of Broward Coalition of Condominiums v. Browning.

Photo of U.S. Federal Courthouse in Tallahassee by Urbantallahassee on Wikipedia.

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September 14, 2010 •

Hawaii Campaign Finance News

A lawsuit has been filed in federal court alleging Hawaii’s ban on political contributions by state and county contractors is in violation of the First Amendment.

Key to the suit is the state’s prohibition on contributions by contractors until completion of the contract. The suit, filed by A-1 A-Lectrician Inc., an electrical and construction firm in Hawaii, alleges the prohibition is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech, as well as in violation of the 14th Amendment’s citizenship protection of corporations and individuals.

Citizen advocacy groups, including Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters of Hawaii, have already voiced their opposition to the suit.

Satellite photo of Hawaii by NASA, posted on Wikipedia.

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September 9, 2010 •

Ohio – Doctors Challenge Contribution Restrictions

Nine Cleveland-area doctors have filed a lawsuit in a Cleveland federal court challenging an Ohio law which says they cannot make political contributions to the Ohio Attorney General or local county prosecutors if they treat patients on Medicaid.

The plaintiffs, who wanted to make campaign contributions to the reelection campaign of Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, allege the provisions of Ohio Revised Code section 3599.45 violates their First Amendment rights.

The plaintiffs are seeking an order from the U.S. District Court declaring the law unconstitutional as well as an order enjoining the Ohio Secretary of State from enforcing it.

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September 1, 2010 •

Michigan Campaign Contribution Limits To Remain Unchanged for Now

The state’s current campaign contribution limits will remain intact at least until after this year’s general elections.

A federal judge rejected Republican strategist Greg McNeilly’s request for an injunction on the limits, which have remained unchanged since 1976.

McNeilly argued the limits have not kept pace with inflation and constitute an infringement on his First Amendment rights. In Michigan, individuals can donate $500 to a candidate for state House, and $1,000 to a Senate candidate.

The lawsuit seeking to strike down these campaign contribution limits will be heard, but not before the November 2 election.

This post is a follow-up to a previous article on Michigan campaign finance from July 7 – “Michigan Campaign Contribution Limits Challenged,” by Steve Quinn.

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