(CN) - A federal judge has frozen two parts of New Mexico campaign-finance law, just as the Republican primary season heats up, freeing political parties from a $5,000 contribution limit to federal campaigns.
The New Mexico Campaign Reporting Act imposes a $5,000 limit on contributions to federal campaigns and on contributions meant exclusively for independent expenditures.
Passed in 2009, the law also limits contributions to be used for nonindependent expenditures in state campaigns.
Several groups and individuals, including the Republican Party of New Mexico, sued the state in 2010, arguing that the law was unconstitutional in light of recent the Supreme Court's landmark holding in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
U.S. District Judge William Johnson froze the $5,000 limits last week, finding that the act does not "impose limits on contributions of money directed to candidates for federal elective offices."
If it did, it would be pre-empted by the Federal Election Campaign Act, Johnson added. He also ruled that the independent expenditures limit did not gel with the Supreme Court precedent.
"The only government interest capable of supporting political contribution limits is the prevention of corruption or the appearance of corruption," Johnson wrote. "In Citizens United, the Supreme Court held as a matter of law that independent expenditures do not implicate the anti-corruption interest. Therefore, New Mexico does not have an anti-corruption interest capable of justifying contribution limits if those contributions are to be used exclusively for independent expenditures. Therefore, because no anti-corruption interest can justify limiting contributions to be used for independent expenditures, and because no other government interest suffices to justify contribution limits, the contribution limits in the act are unconstitutional ... for contributions segregated and designated for use as independent expenditures."
Johnson also refused to enjoin the act's limits on contributions meant for nonindependent expenditures in state campaigns, saying that the plaintiffs had attempted to "extend the logic in certain portions of Citizens United to invalidate contribution limits previously determined to be constitutional by the Supreme Court."
Unless the 10th Circuit stays the preliminary injunctions, Johnson said they should stay in effect pending appeal since the 2012 election cycle is already underway, and "considering that the desired activities of plaintiffs involve political free speech and association rights during an election year."
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