(CN) – Despite San Diego’s history of corruption, the city cannot enforce a $1,000 cap on the amount political parties donate to local election campaigns, a federal judge ruled.
“It is unlikely that this limit can be upheld on the basis of the city’s anti-corruption interest,” U.S. District Judge Irma Gonzalez wrote Friday. “Political parties are unlike other individuals and entities because the candidates do expressly associate with them and vote on issues advocated/supported by them. In light of this, the court cannot say, for example, that a Republican politician is necessarily ‘corrupt’ – or that there is an appearance of corruption-just because that politician votes to pass issues supported by the Republican Party after he or she takes office. To the contrary, that is the exact purpose of our political party system.”
Former Republican city council candidate Phil Thalheimer, the Republican Party of San Diego and business political action committee The Lincoln Club of San Diego brought their legal challenge to the city’s campaign finance laws in December 2009. The lawsuit claimed that certain provisions of the law intended to curb corruption violated their rights to free speech.
Gonzalez’s ruling does not glaze over San Diego’s sordid political history. “In this case, the record sufficiently demonstrates corruption in the San Diego municipal government,” she wrote, citing the yellow cab scandal in which the city raised taxi rates for campaign contributions.
“Then, in 1985, San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock resigned after being convicted of concealing illegal campaign contributions,” Gonzalez continued. “In 2001, City Council member Valerie Stallings resigned after pleading guilty to corruption charge. Most recently, three City Council members were indicted on fraud and conspiracy counts involving channeling campaign contributions from the adult entertainment industry in exchange for an agreement to repeal the no-touch laws in strip clubs.”
Though candidates cannot accept donations more than a year before an election, Gonzalez said the candidates can spend their own money prior to that year limitation.
She also upheld a $500 cap on individual contributions and provisions prohibiting labor unions and corporations from donating directly to candidates.