Federal judge upholds part of New York City campaign-finance law

Two candidates for New York City Council sued arguing that the campaign-finance law violated their First Amendment rights by funding only those candidates who agreed to accept public funding for their campaigns. The judge ruled that there was an overriding need to change the public perception that special interests make contributions to influence political decisions. -DB

First Amendment Center
Feb. 9, 2009

NEW YORK — A federal judge has tossed part of a lawsuit challenging a 2007 New York City campaign-finance law, dismissing claims that the law is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain issued the decision Feb. 6, handing the city a partial victory in the case.

Swain dismissed claims that the law violates the First and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution, but she did not rule on other claims that the law discriminates against minority candidates and voters.

Former Councilman Tom Ognibene, former City Council candidate Yvette Velazquez and others sued last year.

The suit claimed the city’s campaign-finance law unfairly limits candidates’ ability to raise money by barring them from accepting contributions from certain companies and partnerships doing business with the city.

The suit also said the law infringes upon the First Amendment by funding the candidacies of those who agree to accept public funding to the exclusion of those who choose to decline participation in the public-funding program.

The law capped donations from people and entities that have city contracts, concessions and franchises and from land-use applicants and others who have matters pending before the city. It also widened the ban on corporate contributions, eliminated matching funds in noncompetitive elections and expanded disclosure requirements.

The plaintiffs had asked that the law be declared unconstitutional and that the city pay for the cost of the lawsuit.

Copyright The Associated Press 2009