Ninth Circuit Upholds Corporate Contribution Ban and Other San Diego Campaign Finance Restrictions


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion today in Thalheimer v. City of San Diego, affirming the district court’s decision not to preliminary enjoin several challenged campaign finance restrictions of the City of San Diego.  The Campaign Legal Center, together with Common Cause, filed an amici curiae brief with the Ninth Circuit supporting the City of San Diego.

The Ninth Circuit explained: “The district court considered the constitutionality of five provisions [of San Diego’s campaign finance laws] and generally upheld the City’s pure contribution limits, but enjoined a provision that restricts both the fundraising and spending of independent political committees.”  The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision.  The decision to enjoin the contribution limits as applied to independent expenditure committees is consistent with the D.C. Circuit’s decision in v. FEC and FEC rulings in this area.

Among the campaign finance laws upheld by the Ninth Circuit is San Diego’s prohibition on political contributions by “non-individual entities” (e.g., corporations, labor unions and other groups) to candidates, political parties and other PACs that contribute to candidates.

The Ninth Circuit rejected plaintiffs’ argument that the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Citizens United requires invalidation of the corporate/union contribution ban.  Instead, the Ninth Circuit correctly applied the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in FEC v. Beaumont upholding the century-old federal law ban on corporate contributions and wrote: “[T]here 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.”

“The Ninth Circuit’s correct understanding and application of Supreme Court precedent is a refreshing contrast to the judicial activism displayed earlier this week by Judge Cacheris of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia in the Danielczyk case,” stated J. Gerald Hebert, Executive Director of the Campaign Legal Center.  “Whereas the Ninth Circuit correctly did its job, Judge Cacheris grossly overstepped his authority when he ignored Supreme Court precedent and struck down the century-old federal restriction on corporate contributions to candidates and political parties.”

In addition to upholding San Diego’s prohibition on contributions by non-individual entities, the Ninth Circuit also upheld the city’s law prohibiting contributions to candidates outside of a 12-month pre-election window.  The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to preliminary enjoin a $500 limit on contributions to political committees that make only independent expenditures, including contributions by both individuals and non-individual entities.  The Ninth Circuit also affirmed the lower court’s injunction of the prohibition on “non-individual entity” contributions as applied to political party contributions to candidates.

To read the Legal Center’s brief, click here.