SAN DIEGO – -While supporting the worthy goal of making government accountable to the people, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties today filed an amicus brief in federal court challenging three campaign restrictions in the San Diego Municipal Election Campaign Control Ordinance (ECCO) that go too far and violate First Amendment rights. The disputed provisions are 1) the city’s ban on candidates using their own resources to campaign for office more than twelve months before the primary election; 2) its prohibition on seeking or accepting contributions more than twelve months before the primary election; and 3) its restrictive limits on independent expenditures for or against a candidate’s election.
“Although the City’s attempt to regulate local elections is understandable, the regulations go too far and need to be brought in line with our Constitution,” said Kevin Keenan, executive director of the San Diego ACLU.
“Restricting candidates from spending their own time and money to campaign for office is unconstitutional no matter how long before an election,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “The Supreme Court has been clear that this is a First Amendment violation that goes to the heart of what each of us is allowed to say and how.”
Also, by focusing on the timing of contributions, the ACLU brief notes, the city compresses fundraising into a narrow twelve-month window that forces candidates to focus on large contributions. “Ironically, if the city were to open, rather than close the window on when contributions could be collected, the city would encourage candidates to raise more funds from a larger pool of contributors and would encourage non-incumbents in competing in the marketplace of ideas,” Blair-Loy said. According to the brief, the City may protect its legitimate interests with appropriate limits on the source and amount of contributions, rather than their timing.
The ACLU brief further argues that the City’s restrictive limits on independent expenditures also violate the First Amendment. “By definition, ‘independent expenditures’ are not coordinated with or approved by candidates,” said Blair-Loy. “The city’s restrictions on independent expenditures unconstitutionally limit the right to speak out effectively for or against a candidate.”
The brief is filed in support of plaintiffs in Thalheimer v. City of San Diego, which was filed by the Republican Party of San Diego County and a coalition of conservative organizations and candidates.