Friday, October 25, 2013
A few days after hearing oral argument, a Second Circuit panel has reversed the district judge and entered an order enjoining the enforcement of New York Election Law §14-114(8) and §14-126(2) in its 14 page unanimous opinion in New York Progress and Protection PAC (NYPPP) v. Walsh.
NYPPP challenged New York's $150,000 individual contribution limit to a PAC alleging that it has a "donor waiting to contribute $200,00 to its cause" and that the contribution limit violates NYPPP's "core First Amendment right to advocate in favor of Joseph Lhota in the upcoming New York mayoral election." According to the NY Times, that "donor" is none other than Alabama businessman, Shaun McCutcheon - - - the plaintiff in the campaign finance challenge McCutcheon v. FEC heard by the United States Supreme Court earlier this month as we discussed here.
While stating that the court expressed "no opinion on the ultimate outcome," it did hold that there was a substantial likelihood on the merits, citing Citizens United v. FEC for the proposition that the government "has no anti-corruption interest in limiting independent expenditures." The panel rejected the district court's finding that the "so-called independent expenditure only committees" have "only one purpose - advancing a single candidacy at a single point in time - - - " and are thus "not truly independent as a matter of law." Instead, the panel concluded that NYCPP was independent and its choices "irrelevant." Thus, a donor to an independent expenditure PAC such as NYPCCC is "even further removed from the candidate and may not be limited in his ability to contribute to such committees." The panel noted that this issue has been resolved "consistently" by all the federal courts that have considered it.
Balancing the equities, the panel easily concluded that the hardship faced by NYPPP and its donors was significant: "Every sum that a donor is forbidden to contribute to NYPPP beacuse of this statute reduces constitutionally protected polictical speech."
The Second Circuit's injunction against the enforcement of the NY campaign finance statutes was criticized by the rival of Republican Joe Lhota: a spokesperson for Democrat Bill deBlasio, reportedly stated the ruling would "empower the right-wing billionaires, like the Koch Brothers, and Tea Party groups who support Joe Lhota to drown out the voices of New Yorkers."
The race between the mayoral candidates remains heated, if not especially close so far. The question is whether an influx of money can change the outcome on November 5.
Meanwhile, watch the most recent debate between the candidates: