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This victory for the little guy sparks hope for a bigger win in the campaign finance reform arena...



Big Win for the Little Guys: Federal Court Rules Irvine’s Campaign Finance Restrictions Unconstitutional

Time and again we read about the little guy who took on city hall and lost. Not this time.

A federal district court judge in California ruled this week against the City of Irvine and in favor of the Lincoln Club of Orange County. The Lincoln Club’s lawsuit, filed almost three years ago, challenged the city’s campaign finance ordinance as unconstitutional because it limited contributions to political committees that make independent expenditures in Irvine municipal elections.

The Lincoln Club successfully argued that the limit effectively barred private groups whose dues were greater than the $340 contribution limit from participating in Irvine elections. "Quite simply, the ordinance meant that your neighbor and you could not join forces to buy a fair-sized newspaper ad to express your frustration with a candidate, no matter how legitimate your grievance," stated Michael Capaldi, the Lincoln Club’s president.

This spring, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s original decision upholding the ordinance and ruled that because the ordinance restricted core political speech it was subject to strict scrutiny. Following that ruling, the City of Irvine and Lincoln Club entered settlement talks, with the city acknowledging this week that it lacked evidence to sustain the ordinance under the heightened level of scrutiny. In the end, the parties agreed to a settlement and the federal district court judge ordered that the city is permanently enjoined from enforcing its unconstitutional ordinance.

This victory for the little guy sparks hope for a bigger win in the campaign finance reform arena and should give pause to local, state and federal government officials whose legislative efforts attempt to silence private individuals during the political process. John Eastman, Chapman Law School Professor and Lincoln Club’s attorney, commented, "[t]he freedom to engage in political speech and thereby affect the direction of government lies at the core of our representative democracy. We only hope that, as the result of this ruling, governments at every level will recognize that restrictions on political speech, particularly during election season, are a dangerous and unconstitutional intrusion on the First Amendment freedoms this nation has long cherished."

The Center for Individual Freedom, joined by the James Madison Center for Free Speech, filed an amicus brief in support of the Lincoln Club of Orange County’s request for rehearing in its case against the City of Irvine, California. To read the Center’s brief, the Ninth Circuit’s decision, and John Eastman’s guest commentary on the case, click here.

[Posted August 1, 2002]