Breaking News: Federal Court strikes down provisions of City of San Diego’s campaign finance laws

Barry Jantz Barry Jantz 7 Comments

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In a partial rebuke to the City of San Diego that will likely have broader implications, a federal court today declared unconstitutional a city-hoped for $1,000 limit on the amount political parties can donate to local candidates, while further striking down the existing prohibition on candidates spending personal money 12 months in advance of an election.

In a summary judgement on nine separate cross-motions in the case of Thalheimer vs. City of San Diego, Chief Judge Irma Gonzalez of the U.S. District Court’s Southern California division ruled in favor of some of the plaintiff’s motions, while denying others, as follows:

  • City prohibition on candidates spending their own money prior to the twelve-month period — GRANTED for Plaintiffs.
  • City barring the making and accepting contributions prior to the twelve-month period — GRANTED for the City.
  • City imposing a $500 limit on individual contributions to candidates — GRANTED for the City.
  • City ban on contributions to candidates by political parties — GRANTED for Plaintiffs.
  • City banning contributions to candidates by non-individuals other than political parties — GRANTED for the City.
  • City $500 limit on individual contributions to committees making independent expenditures — GRANTED for Plaintiffs.   According to the ruling, “This includes contributions by individuals and non-individuals to political parties making independent expenditures. This does not include the $500 limit on individual contributions to these committees to the extent those committees make direct contributions to candidates, which the City may continue to enforce.”
  • City ban on contributions by non-individuals to committees making independent expenditures — GRANTED for Plaintiffs. “This includes contributions by non-individuals to political parties making independent expenditures,” reads the document.
  • City’s $1,000 limit on contributions to candidates by political parties — GRANTED for Plaintiffs.
  • City imposing a $500 individual limit on contributions to political parties making direct contributions to candidates — GRANTED for the City.

With the 32-page document still being analyzed by campaign professionals and legal analysts, it seems clear the overall gist of the ruling is to uphold contribution limits made directly to candidates, while generally declaring unconstitutional any limits on the campaign activities of political parties, as well as non-individuals (corporations and unions) involved in independent expenditures.  The court also struck down any limits on individual candidates being able to spend their personal monies when they deem fit, even if more than 12 months prior to an election.

More to follow, obviously.

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  1. Just rc’d from the GOP…

    FEDERAL DISTRICT COURT JUDGE: SAN DIEGO’S CAMPAIGN RESTRICTIONS ON POLITICAL PARTIES ARE UNCONSTITUTIONAL

    Federal District Court Judge strikes down attempts by the City of San Diego and its bureaucrats to limit free speech and association rights of political parties

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    FRIDAY, JANUARY 20

    SAN DIEGO — After a multi-year fight by the Republican Party of San Diego and fellow Plaintiffs, today’s ruling by Federal District Court Judge Irma Gonzalez provided welcome victory for free speech and associational rights in the City of San Diego. In response, local Chairman Tony Krvaric made the following statement:

    “The City of San Diego’s obsession with protecting incumbents and curbing free speech received a severe blow today after three major restrictions were ruled unconstititional.

    “It should be noted that campaign finance laws are written by incumbents to protect incumbents who have the natural advantages of holding an office such as name ID, staff, access to press, etc.

    “Today’s ruling is a victory for democracy as it will make it easier for challengers to take on entrenched incumbents and as a result elected officials will be held more accountable,” Krvaric said.

    Specifically the Court ruled that:
    • It is UNCONSTITUTIONAL to ban potential candidates from spending their own money more than a year in advance of the election.
    • It is UNCONSTITUTIONAL to ban contributions by non-individuals (unions, corporations) to committees making Independent Expenditures.
    • It is UNCONSTITUTIONAL to ban political parties from making contributions to their endorsed candidates. The City’s “fallback” position of a $1,000 contribution limit per election was also found to be UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
    “We applaud the Judge’s decision and vow to continue to vigorously fight for the free speech and associational rights of ALL political parties in San Diego,” Krvaric concluded.
    James Bopp, Jr., lead counsel in the lawsuit, stated, “This decision is a victory for the First Amendment and all citizens of San Diego. Their First Amendment rights have been vindicated by the court.” Mr. Bopp explained, “The Supreme Court has made it clear that the First Amendment does not allow laws that keep candidates from spending their own money, or prevent political parties from contributing to their candidates. Organizations have a First Amendment right to spend their money, independent of any candidate, for political speech purposes.”

    Bopp Law Firm full press release…
    http://ow.ly/d/tli

  2. H*U*R*R*A*Y for Phil Thalheimer and Tony Krvaric, who appear to think the First Amendment to the US Constitution actually MEANS what it says. Who Knew ?

  3. This is good news! Sidebar: that might be the best press release I’ve seen from the SDGOP in quite some time. Kudos to the author.

  4. I don’t remember reading anything in the Constitution that specifically gives the right to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns. I also don’t remember reading anything that says corporations or unions have any specific rights at all. I guess as long as a court interprets the Constitution the way we want them to, then we are not quite as concerned about activist judges.

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