CIR Challenges New York Campaign Limits

Empire State campaign finance laws violate constitution

Washington, D.C.— With a month to go before New York City’s mayoral election, the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), co-counsel in the New York Progress and Protection PAC’s (“NYPPP”) recent suit challenging New York’s campaign finance law, today blasted the New York State Board of Elections for failing to protect the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of Americans.

The New York law, which limits campaign contributions to $150,000 in any one calendar year, including contributions to independent committees, prevents NYPPP from accepting needed contributions from individuals in time to run television and newspaper ads in support of New York mayoral candidate Joe Lohta. The NYPPP does not coordinate with any candidate or campaign in any way.

“The New York State Board of Election’s actions are reprehensible and so clearly unconstitutional that every Court of Appeals and district court that has addressed the question has maintained that bans on contributions to independent committees serve no legitimate purpose,” said CIR President Terry Pell. “A contribution to an independent committee for an independent expenditure shouldn’t be treated any differently than an independent expenditure itself. If the expenditure is constitutionally protected speech, then so is the contribution.”

New York Board of Election officials implausibly claim that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizen’s United v. FEC did not affect the constitutionality of New York’s campaign finance law, which continues to hold contributions to independent committees to the same limits as direct contributions to candidates. NYPPP contends that the Citizens United ruling not only frees independent expenditures by corporations from such campaign limits, but also confirms well-settled principles that contributions made to independent campaign committees are free of such restrictions as well. It is well established that NYPPP’s advertising and contributions from individuals made to support that advertising are both core political expression protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Although a state may impose carefully tailored limits on direct contributions to candidates in order to prevent quid pro quo corruption, a state is categorically barred from limiting spending by individuals to speak about elections independent of candidates. Because independent expenditures “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,” there simply is no governmental interest in restricting independent expenditures. Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, 131 S.Ct. 2806, 2826 (2011), (quoting Citizens United v. FEC, 558 U.S. 310, 314 (2010).

The NYPPP suit was filed on September 25 and a preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday, October 8 in the United States District Court in Manhattan. Michael Carvin, a partner at Jones Day, is serving as lead counsel.