A federal appellate court on Thursday ruled that a conservative group supporting the mayoral candidacy of Joseph J. Lhota may accept contributions of any size, saying that New York State’s limit on donations to independent political groups was probably unconstitutional.
The ruling, which came 12 days before the election for mayor of New York City, would allow supporters of Mr. Lhota, a Republican, to pump as much money as they want into an independent-expenditure effort that is backing his campaign.
Last week, Manhattan Federal Judge Paul Crotty said allowing the PAC to flout the contribution cap would cause chaos with the election just around the corner.
But the Second Circuit on Thursday overruled Crotty, finding that timing and confusion were not good enough excuses to violate free speech rights.
“Although we express no opinion on the ultimate outcome, the plaintiff here has a substantial likelihood of success on the merits,” the Second Circuit said. “The Supreme Court held in Citizens United … that the government has no anti-corruption interest in limiting independent expenditures.”
“It follows that a donor to an independent expenditure committee such as NYPP is even further removed from political candidates and may not be limited in his ability to such committees. All federal circuit courts that have addressed this issue have so held.”
PAC’s backers hailed the ruling.
“Today is a victory for the citizens of New York,” said Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights and a lawyer for the PAC.
“The right of individuals to participate in election speech is protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendment and the state cannot ration independent campaign speech. We are pleased that today’s ruling will allow New York’s mayoral election to proceed without the burden of unconstitutional campaign limits.”
“With this decision, New York City voters will now get a more democratic mayoral race, one with an even financial playing field,” he said.
Mr. de Blasio campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith took the chance given to cry foul about the Tea Party hijacking the mayoral election. “Today’s decision will 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,” said Smith. “The stakes are too high to let the same Republican extremists who shut down the government hijack the mayoral election.”
The de Blasio campaign also released a online ad named “Don’t Let the Koch Brothers Buy this Election.”
Responding to De Blasio’s attack, Mr. Lhota’s campaign released a memo highlighting Bill de Blasio’s “hypocrisy on Campaign Finance.”
“It’s a pattern we’ve seen before with Pandering Bill: Talk the talk, but walk very differently when it benefits him or his special interests pals,” Jessica Proud, Lhota’s spokeswoman, said.
Calling Citizens United a “Body Blow” to Democracy, de Blasio claims to be a fighter for fair election & campaign finance reform:
- “Fighting Against Citizens United. The Citizens United decision delivered a body blow to our democracy and a fair and equitable election system. Over the past three years, Bill de Blasio has successfully pressured companies such as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley to adopt policies against spending their corporate treasury dollars in elections. In August 2010, de Blasio also founded the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending (CAPS), the nation’s first and only bipartisan coalition of elected officials dedicated to curbing corporate influence in our elections.” (De Blasio policy book, p. 40, http://www.billdeblasio.com/issues/rising-together, accessed 10/2/13)
But, in 2005, de Blasio sponsored legislation to loosen campaign finance rules for unions
(New York City Council Legislative Research Center) http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=443763&GUID=C3F206D0-8726-4F3A-89B2-E42AFFBDDE38&Options=&Search, accessed October 2, 2013)
- This was the first time since enacting the nation’s preeminent campaign finance law in 1988 that the Council overruled the CFB. (City Council Plans to Loosen Limits on Political Contributions by Unions, Nicholas Confessore, NYT, 6/2/05) http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/02/nyregion/metrocampaigns/02finance.html
Good Government advocates were horrified
- CFB Chair Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr. said it “would create a gaping loophole for union contributions, undermining the contribution limits established by the Campaign Finance Act.”
- Gene Russianoff, senior counsel to the New York Public Interest Research Group called the law a “unique situation,” noting “This is the first time I’ve seen the Council weaken the substance of the law after the beginning of the election season.”
- Dick Dadey of Citizens Union said “With these criteria, you could have the same officer for several different entities that could be commonly controlled, if not commonly governed.” (City Council Plans to Loosen Limits on Political Contributions by Unions, Nicholas Confessore, NYT, 6/2/05) http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/02/nyregion/metrocampaigns/02finance.html
This year, the de Blasio-linked political consultancy Advance Group attacked Christine Quinn during the primary.
- The Advance Group worked with the anti-Quinn group, New York is Not for Sale. New York City is not for sale was a coalition of unions and activists.
- The Advance Group produced an attack ad, with pledges of a $1 million buy, for a coalition of unions and activists. Mailers and radio ads were also produced.
- The group collected campaign contributions that far exceeded state limits. (Anti-Quinn group got $320k above legal limit, Chris Brag, Crains NY of August 14, 2014, accessed October 2, 2013 http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20130804/BLOGS04/130809963)
Marked the first time outside money played major role in a NYC Race post Citizens United
- The New York Times noted “outside money promises to play a major role in a hotly contested New York City race for the first time since the United States Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case.” (Outside Group Invests in Effort to Block Quinn’s Mayoral Campaign, NY Times of April 7, 2013, David Chen, accessed October 2, 2013) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/08/nyregion/outside-group-starts-spending-to-block-quinn.html?_r=0
Quinn notes it was a de Blasio linked group, and belies de Blasio’s “progressive” claims
- “This ad is paid for by a special-interest group, with strong connections to Bill de Blasio, working to circumvent the New York City campaign finance system,” Mr. Morey said.
- “If Bill de Blasio is the progressive he claims to be, then he should oppose this effort to undermine the most progressive campaign finance system in the country.”
- Quinn said this shows de Blasio is trying to “undermine” the most progressive campaign finance system in country.
(Outside Group Invests in Effort to Block Quinn’s Mayoral Campaign, NY Times of April 7, 2013, David Chen, accessed October 2, 2013)
Quinn said it had “No Place” in New York
- Quinn told Capital New York, “We have no place for this type of indecent expenditure in New York City’s campaign system.” (Christine Quinn Under Attack, Metro News of April 8, 2013, Danielle Tcholakian, accessed October 2, 2013) http://www.metro.us/newyork/news/2013/04/08/christine-quinn-under-attack/#sthash.PAVs7v7K.dpuf
That consultancy, the Advance Group, allegedly violated election rules days ago, using a fictitious company name to improperly coordinate between PACs and campaigns
- A super PAC “by the powerful city teachers’ union paid more than $370,000 to an apparently fictitious political consulting firm, which was actually the well-known New York firm the Advance Group, records and interviews show,” raising questions about illegal & improper coordination. (Teachers Union paid $370k to fake consultant, Crains NY of October 2, 2013, Chris Bragg, accessed October 2, 2013) http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20131002/BLOGS04/131009985
Again, Good Government advocates troubled, with Common Cause calling it an “end run” on campaign finance
- Common Cause/NY executive director Susan Lerner noted “It appears from the expenditure report that the UFT took pains to conceal a coordinated effort with a paid consultant for several union-backed candidates,” and that “This is a disturbing end-run around the campaign finance laws designed to limit the influence of big-dollar donors on the political process. The Campaign Finance Board should promptly investigate the UFT and the Advance Group to quickly determine whether any violations of the independent expenditure regulations took place and hold the culpable entities accountable.” (Teachers Union paid $370k to fake consultant, Crains NY of October 2, 2013, Chris Bragg, accessed October 2, 2013) http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20131002/BLOGS04/131009985
Advance Group allegedly used these improperly coordinated efforts in several races
- “As Mr. Levine, Ms. Cumbo and losing Manhattan borough president candidate Robert Jackson were paying the Advance Group, their campaigns also got outside help from the teachers union’s spending through mailers designed, printed and sent out by Strategic Consultants. The union’s super PAC paid the apparently fictitious firm more than $12,000 for mailers promoting Mr. Jackson, more than $18,000 to promote Ms. Cumbo and nearly $3,000 in support of Mr. Levine.” (Teachers Union paid $370k to fake consultant, Crains NY of October 2, 2013, Chris Bragg, accessed October 2, 2013) http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20131002/BLOGS04/131009985
Advance Group founder Scott Levenson has worked for ACORN, a Group which Bill De Blasio has deep ties to
- “ACORN endorsed de Blasio, who spent nearly $43,000 in campaign funds to hire an ACORN affiliate, N.Y. Citizens Services Inc., for ‘field staff,’ ‘consulting’ and ‘canvassing’ leading up to last Tuesday’s primary.” (ACORN’s roots go deep with Bill de Blasio and other city pols, Daily News of September 20, 2009, Robert Geary and Benjamin Lesser, accessed October 2, 2013) (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/acorn-roots-deep-bill-de-blasio-city-pols-article-1.403448#ixzz2gbbDVHUD
- “‘Without exaggeration, ACORN’s long-range plan since 2001 was to elect de Blasio mayor,’ said the Democratic insider. ‘De Blasio was a big ACORN project.’” (ACORN sowed seeds for de Blasio, NYP, Carl Campanile, 9/24/13) http://nypost.com/2013/09/24/acorn-sowed-seeds-for-de-blasio/
And de Blasio remains silent as unions raise millions for a super PAC to attack Joe Lhota
“A number of the city’s most powerful private and public labor organizations have come together to form New York Progress, a super P.A.C. that has raised more than $1 million so far and hopes to clear at least $2 million in the coming weeks, according to Josh Gold, political director for the Hotel & Motel Trades Council.”
“The group plans to spend its resources on broadcast and cable TV ads and will attack Lhota if the unions feel it necessary, Gold said.” (Unions raise for pro-de Blasio action committee to counter David Koch, Capital New York, 10/8/13, http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/politics/2013/10/8534461/unions-raise-pro-de-blasio-action-committee-counter-david-koch)