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Saturday, July 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Citizens United Echoes in Donation Limit Finding

(CN) - The 9th Circuit on Thursday upheld an injunction against Washington's $800 limit on contributions to recall campaigns.

Political action committee running recall campaigns in Washington cannot accept more than $800 in donated money or in-kind goods and services.

In her bid to recall Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam, whom she suspected of malfeasance, Robin Farris drew a state agency's ire when she accepted pro-bono legal services that exceeded the $800 limit.

Farris and the Tacoma, Wash., law firm Oldfield & Helsdon claimed that the limit violated their First Amendment rights, one of many such cases to appear in the courts since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 landmark ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting Washington from enforcing the limit, and a three-judge appeals panel affirmed on Thursday.

While Farris ultimately failed to collect enough signatures to get the recall on the ballot, the issue is far from moot, the Portland-based panel found.

"This situation is capable of repetition, yet evading review," Judge Raymond Fisher wrote for the court.

Considering the high court's recent take on such limits as a clear violation of free speech in the absence of a compelling anti-corruption interests, the plaintiffs are likely to succeed in there case, the thee-judge panel found.

"This court and the Supreme Court have rejected contribution limits as applied to committees having only a tenuous connection to political candidates," Fisher wrote. "In Citizens United, the Court held that a federal law restricting corporate and union spending on electioneering communications that support or oppose a political candidate could not be sustained by the anti-corruption interest.

"Similarly ... we invalidated contribution limits as applied to political action committees making independent expenditures to support or oppose candidates for office. Like independent expenditure committees, recall committees in Washington have at most a tenuous relationship with candidates. The contribution limit here is thus materially indistinguishable from the limit we invalidated. ... Under Washington's recall system, political committees seeking to recall officials do not coordinate their spending with candidates for office.

"In the event a recall is successful, the successor to office is appointed by a governmental entity designated by state law - in this case, the Pierce County Council. Thus, as Washington law is structured, expenditures by recall committees are similar to independent expenditures."

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