Breaking News: Ninth Circuit Affirms in San Diego Campaign Finance Case, Upholding Constitutionality of Ban on Entity Contributions and One-Year Time Limitation on Candidates Accepting Campaign Contributions; Court Holds Political Parties Have Constitutional Right to Contribute Directly to Candidates

You can read the opinion here.  [Disclosure: I am one of the attorneys for the City in this case.]

The opinion reaches a contrary conclusion to Danielczyk on the question of the constitutionality of a ban on non-human entities contributing directly to candidates.  (The federal ban at issue in Danielczyk covers corporations, not all non-human entities.)  Like the Second and Eighth Circuits, but unlike Judge Cacheris’s opinion in Danieczyk, the Court holds itself bound by the Supreme Court’s decision in FEC v. Beaumont, and it says that “there is nothing in the explicit holdings or broad reasoning of Citizens United that invalidates the anti-circumvention interest in the context of limitations on direct candidate contributions.” (page 32)

The opinion is also major in (1) deciding a matter of first impression in the circuit, upholding a San Diego law that prevents candidates from accepting contributions from others more than one year before the election and (2) holding that parties have a constitutional right to contribute directly to candidates [corrected].   (It is not a right to contribute unlimited amounts, however. After the district court’s opinion, the City passed a $1,000 contribution limit from parties to City candidates.  Plaintiffs challenged that new rule in the lower court and lost, and that issue was not in this appeal.)

The court also followed its earlier Long Beach case holding that the City cannot bar contributions to independent expenditure committees.

One caveat: all of these holdings are couched in the fact that the Ninth Circuit was affirming the trial court’s decision on a preliminary injunction, which includes consideration of the “likelihood of success on the merits.”  It is possible that the district court could reconsider some of these rulings on remand.  It is also possible for this Ninth Circuit ruling to go further in the appellate process.


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