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Second Circuit Affirms NYC Campaign Finance Law

By Robyn Hagan Cain on December 22, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Iowa Caucus is less than two weeks away, which means the 2012 election cycle is officially upon us.

This year's presidential election will be the first employing the relaxed campaign expenditure restrictions from the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which has prompted a number of challenges to state and local campaign laws. This week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a contested New York City campaign finance law, rejecting arguments that the law imposed an unconstitutional burden to contributors' First Amendment rights.

The case, Ognibene v. Parkes, centered on three provisions -- known as the pay-to-play rules -- of the New York City Administrative Code. The rules limit the amounts that people who have business dealings with the City, including lobbyists, can contribute to political campaigns, deny matching funds for contributions from people who have business dealings with the City, and extend the prohibition on corporate contributions to partnerships, LLCs, and LLPs.

The Second Circuit of Appeals ruled that the pay-to-play rules were an appropriate response to the City's campaign corruption problems.

The court found that "contributions to candidates for city office from persons with a particularly direct financial interest in these officials' policy decisions pose a heightened risk of actual and apparent corruption, and merit heightened government regulations."

Thomson Reuters News & Insight notes that the Second Circuit's opinion doesn't contradict Citizens United because the challenged campaign finance law in this case restricts campaign contributions, while Citizens United addressed campaign expenditures. The difference? Contributions are funneled into a candidate's campaign coffers.

While the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the New York City campaign finance law, some election-based laws are being overturned in the wake of Citizens United. Earlier this month, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals struck a Wisconsin law that capped total political speech contributions during a calendar year.

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