Austin American-Statesman: Zimmerman’s lawsuit over Austin fundraising rules heads to court

Lilly Rockwell
Dec 13, 2015
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Paul S. Ryan is the deputy executive director for the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center. He tracks various court cases dealing with municipal campaign finance law. Austin stands on “firm constitutional ground” over its $350-per-donor limit, he said. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld an even lower contribution limit of $200 in state office races, Ryan said. “There is a strong defense of such limits that could be mounted,” he said.

The city’s blackout period on fundraising until six months before the election is more of a legal gray area, he said.

Ryan noted that San Diego’s ban on fundraising a year before an election was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. (Texas is in a different circuit.)

Ryan said there’s little case law on geographic fundraising limits, in part because such rules are so rare. Austin notes in its court filings that in 1998 a federal court invalidated an Oregon ballot measure that barred candidates for state office from using campaign contributions from outside their district. But the city takes pains to distinguish the city’s geographic-based contributor caps from the Oregon case.

“The geographic restriction might be harder to defend,” Ryan said. “Can the city of Austin show contributions from nonresidents pose a greater threat of corruption?”

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