Monday, May 3, 2010
Court Rejects Part of Long Beach Campaign Finance Law
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A city cannot limit contributions to political committees that make independent expenditures supporting or opposing candidates in city elections, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.
The panel, in an opinion by Judge Kim M. Wardlaw, overturned a ruling by U.S. District Judge John Gutierrez of the Central District of California. Gutierrez had upheld a provision of Long Beach’s 1994 Campaign Reform Act that limits contributions to independent expenditure committees to $350 or $650, depending on the office involved.
Three political action committees associated with the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as the chamber itself, challenged the limitation as a First Amendment violation. Gutierrez ruled that the law was unconstitutional as to the chamber itself, but that the city had strong interests in regulating donations by the PACs.
Wardlaw, however, concluded that the chamber lacked standing to challenge the law, since it does not make, and has not indicated that it intends to make, independent expenditures in city elections. She further concluded, however, that the PACs had standing and that none of the interests identified by the city and the district judge justified the limitations in light of the Supreme Court’s campaign finance jurisprudence.
The city, she said, failed to show that the limitations were necessary to protect the public against corruption. While direct contributions to candidates may constitutionally be limited for that reason, she explained, “the need for contribution limitations to combat corruption or the appearance thereof tends to decrease as the link between the candidate and the regulated entity becomes more attenuated.”
The city, she noted, had acknowledged that there was no evidence of corrupt activity involving the plaintiffs or other independent expenditure committees in connection with city elections. And she rejected an effort by the California League of Cities, as amicus, to present evidence of occurrences in other cities, saying the evidence should have been presented to the district judge.
“In sum, the City offers no basis on which to conclude that the Chamber PACs have the sort of close relationship with candidates that supports a plausible threat of corruption or the appearance thereof. IECs are intended to provide a distinct medium through which citizens may collectively enjoy and effectuate those expressive freedoms that they are entitled to exercise individually....Just as the soloist’s song becomes more powerful when joined by a chorus of people singing along, a citizen’s message may become more widely and effectively disseminated when he joins an IEC of like-minded citizens...Other circuits have endorsed this view of IECs.”
Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and Senior Judge Dorothy W. Nelson joined in the opinion.
Attorneys on appeal were Charles H. Bell Jr. and Jimmie E. Johnson of Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, LLP in Sacramento and John C. Eastman, a candidate for the Republican nomination for state attorney general, for the plaintiffs and City Attorney Robert E. Shannon and Principal Deputy City Attorney Monte H. Machit for Long Beach.
The case is Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce v. City of Long Beach, 07-55691.
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