Campaign Finance Law Survives Another Court Challenge

A New York City law that limits campaign contributions from individuals and entities that have business dealings with the city survived another legal challenge on Wednesday, when a federal appeals panel ruled that the law did not violate the free-speech and equal-protection provisions of the United States Constitution.

Several plaintiffs had challenged the city’s “pay to play” regulations in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan in 2008. A district court judge upheld the constitutionality of the law in February 2009.

The plaintiffs, including former Councilman Tom Ognibene and the State Conservative Party, appealed that ruling, but their legal challenge has now been rejected by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

In 1988, after a wave of local scandals, the City Council passed the Campaign Finance Act, which established public financing for citywide offices, the five offices of borough president and the 52 offices of the City Council. The law also limited individual donor contributions.

In 2006, the Campaign Finance Board reported that, despite the law, more than 20 percent of contributions in the 2001 and 2005 election cycles were from individuals and entities doing business with the city, making up only 5 percent of contributors, and that large donations were more likely to come from such donors than small ones.

Later amendments to the law reduced by 90 percent the amount that those with business before the city were allowed to contribute to a candidate; excluded their contributions from matching public money; and expanded the prohibition on corporate contributions to include partnerships, limited liability corporations and limited liability partnerships.

This week’s ruling keeps those provisions in place. The city’s Law Department litigated the case for the city.

“This is a significant victory for individual New Yorkers, clean government and clean campaign finance,” Christine C. Quinn, the speaker of the City Council and a driving force behind the original passage of the provisions, said in a statement. “Powerful forces that didn’t want big business and special interests taken out of campaign donations failed to overturn our law.”

“New York City’s limits on pay-to-play are among the most comprehensive of any jurisdiction in the county,” Amy Loprest, executive director of the city’s Campaign Finance Board, said in a statement. “It is making a difference in fighting corruption, both real and perceived.”

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