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Federal Judge Strikes New Mexico Campaign Finance Law

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 09, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Montana Supreme Court may have defied the U.S. Supreme Court last month in its Western Tradition Partnership v. Attorney General decision, but the federal courts are falling in line with the Nine when it comes to campaign finance laws.

Last week, U.S. District Judge William Johnson struck down provisions of the New Mexico Campaign Reporting Act that limited financial contributions to be used in federal campaigns and for independent expenditures in state races, reports

The New Mexico Campaign Reporting Act capped donations to political groups for state and federal races at $5,000. Judge Johnson lifted the cap, allowing for unlimited contributions as long as political groups and candidates do not coordinate on how the funds will be used. The decision employs the Supreme Court's reasoning from the 2010 Citizens United decision.

Judge Johnson acknowledged the political context of the decision in his ruling. "Considering that the 2012 election cycle is in full swing and considering that the desired activities of Plaintiffs involve political free speech and association rights during an election year, this Preliminary Injunction shall remain in effect pending appeal unless stayed by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals."

But the decision didn't overturn all of the New Mexico Campaign Reporting Act limits. Noting that the Supreme Court has held that the government's interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption or the appearance thereof is the only interest strong enough to justify contribution limits, Judge Johnson upheld the limits on contributions that could be used in state races in coordination with candidates.

Should the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals take up the issue on appeal, it will join three of its sister circuits in reviewing state campaign finance laws in light of Citizens United. Last month the Seventh and Ninth Circuits struck Wisconsin and Washington contribution limits, respectively, while an Alabama magistrate judge ruled that a state law banning PAC-to-PAC transfers violated the First Amendment. Alabama is appealing the PAC-to-PAC ban ruling to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

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