Thursday, February 2, 2012
U.S. Appeals Court: "Pay To Play" Rules Do Not Violate Free Speech Rights
NEW YORK, Dec 21 (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday tossed out a challenge to New York City anti-corruption campaign finance laws, finding the so-called "pay to play" rules do not violate free speech rights.
In an opinion affirming a 2009 lower court ruling, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said city rules prohibiting corporate contributions to political campaigns, and requiring candidates to disclose contributions from people and groups that do business with the city, were appropriate given legitimate concerns about corruption.
"Contributions to candidates for city office from persons with a particularly direct financial interest in these officials' policy decisions pose a heightened risk of actual and apparent corruption, and merit heightened government regulations," the opinion by judges Debra Livingston, Guido Calabresi and Paul Crotty said.
The lawsuit, brought by Republican politician Tom Ognibene and others, sought to use the landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to attack the New York City laws.
In Citizens United, the Supreme Court found that the government cannot ban political spending by corporations in elections. The 2nd Circuit judges said that ruling only applies to independent corporate expenditures, and not to contributions limits such as those enacted in New York.
"There is no doubt that the threat of corruption or its appearance is heightened when contributors have business dealings with the city," the court said. "Accordingly, it is reasonable and appropriate to further limit their contributions."
A lawyer for Ognibene did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
In a separate concurring opinion, Judge Calabresi said he agreed with the majority view, but criticized the Supreme Court "Citizens United" decision. By preventing governments from regulating contributions in an effort to protect the free speech of donors, the decision had the effect of prohibiting them from "leveling the playing field," Calabresi said.
"In much the same way that anti-noise ordinances help to prevent megaphone users from downing out all others in the public square, contribution limits can serve to prevent their wealthiest donors from rendering all other donors irrelevant --from, in effect, silencing them."
(Reporting by Basil Katz)