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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Ruefully Dissolves ‘Super PAC’ Limits in NY

MANHATTAN (CN) - A recent "misguided" decision by the Supreme Court invalidates New York's cap on contributions to independent groups that finance political campaigns, a federal judge ruled.

Last year, New York Progress and Protection PAC supported the failed election bid of Republican mayoral hopeful Joe Lhota and sued state and municipal electoral officials seeking an injunction against the enforcement of New York Election Laws.

The Supreme Court had already equated campaign donations with speech in its Citizens United decision, but it had not yet ruled on Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon's challenge against federal limits on aggregate donations.

Although the PAC lost its bid for an injunction, the 2nd Circuit overturned that dismissal before Election Day. The resulting flush of money into Lhota's campaign had little effect on current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's landslide victory, but the state of campaign-finance law continued to turn in the PAC's favor.

McCutcheon prevailed earlier this month in a Supreme Court decision that the dissenting judges warned would "eviscerate" the nation's campaign finance regulation.

In a philosophical and rueful opinion Thursday, U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty lamented that the Supreme Court and appellate decisions forced him to strike down New York laws.

"When does the act of contributing to a candidate become an attempt at 'corrupt' influence?" Crotty asked. "And whenever and however can that line be drawn? One thing is certain: large political donations do not inspire confidence that the government in a representative democracy will do the right thing."

The judge added that "'we the people' are too often drowned out by the few who have great resources."

"In today's never-ending cycle of campaigning and lobbying; lobbying and campaigning, elected officials know where their money is coming from and that it must keep coming if they are to stay in office," the opinion states. "Ordinary citizens recognize this; they know what is going on; they know they are not being included. It breeds cynicism and distrust."

Crotty criticized the Supreme Court majority's view that garnering influence through large donations "does not give rise to quid pro quo corruption."

"In effect, it is only direct bribery - not influence - that the Court views as crossing the line into quid pro quo corruption," Crotty wrote.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who intervened in the case on behalf of the state, said through his spokesman that he was "disappointed" in the decision.

"The corrosive influence of money in politics is well-known and a danger to our system of government, as the judge himself acknowledged today," spokesman Matt Mittenthal said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the judge considered himself bound to this result by last month's Supreme Court decision in the McCutcheon case, together with Citizens United, which he found left him little room to uphold sensible limits on campaign contributions."

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