CRP Blog

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

San Diego’s Campaign Finance Law Challenged in Federal Court

Last week, a coalition of plaintiffs asked a federal court to grant a preliminary injunction to keep San Diego from enforcing campaign finance laws that violate the First Amendment. One of the plaintiffs, Phil Thalheimer, wants to be able to spend his own money to announce his run for City Council, yet he is prohibited by the law from so much as mailing a letter that even implies he might be a candidate. Another plaintiff, Lincoln Club, wants to be able to spend as much of its own money as it wants for independent expenditures—that is, spending that is made totally without any coordination with any candidate, while plaintiff Associated Builders and Contractors PAC wants to be able to spend money it raises from its supporting businesses for independent expenditures. Plaintiff John Nienstedt, meanwhile, wants to be able to give more than $500 to the candidates he supports. And, the Republican Party wants to be able to contribute money to its candidates’ campaigns, and make coordinated expenditures on their behalf. Yet, San Diego’s laws prohibit each of these plaintiffs from engaging in these activities.

James Bopp, Jr., lead counsel in the suit, stated, “Each of the challenged laws violates the rights guaranteed to all Americans under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has made clear that candidates should never be told that they cannot spend their own money to support their campaign. Nor should any political party be told that they cannot support their own candidates. The Supreme Court has said that groups that want to spend money independent of candidates have the right to spend as much as they want. And, the contribution limits of $500 are lower than any the Supreme Court has ever found constitutional. These laws infringe on the rights of all citizens of San Diego.”

Mr. Bopp further explained that while the plaintiff organizations tend to be pro-business, if the court declares the law unconstitutional, it will benefit labor as well. Similarly, if the court decides that the Republican Party should be able to contribute to its own candidates, other political parties will be able to, also. Mr. Bopp commented, “This is not a lawsuit that will only benefit conservatives. If the court agrees that these laws are unconstitutional, all San Diego’s citizens will be able to exercise their First Amendment rights.”

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