(CN) – Long Beach, Calif., can’t cap the contributions that the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce’s political action committees may receive to influence local elections, the 9th Circuit ruled. The decision heavily cites the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that corporate political spending is constitutionally protected speech.
“‘It is our law and our tradition that more speech, not less, is the governing rule’ under the First Amendment,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote, quoting the Supreme Court this January in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
“‘More speech’ often means ‘more money,'” Wardlaw added.
Long Beach’s campaign-reform law bars “any person” who donates to a political campaign from accepting more than $350 or $650 in contributions, depending on the office for which the candidate is running.
A “person” is defined broadly to include organizations and political action committees (PACs) whose contributions are bankrolled or controlled by any corporation, union, association, political party or committee.
The Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and several chamber PACs challenged the law, claiming the contribution limits and independent expenditure caps violated their rights to free speech and association.
The 9th Circuit vacated the lower court’s finding that the ordinance is “unconstitutional as applied to the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and other persons similarly situated.” The chamber lacks standing to sue, the appellate panel ruled, because its own bylaws bar it from making contributions or independent expenditures.
But the PACs have standing, the Los Angeles-based court ruled, and the city failed to come up with a “sufficiently important” reason for restricting their First Amendment rights.
The court rejected the city’s three main reasons for passing the ordinance: to level the fund-raising playing field between challengers and incumbents, to reduce political fundraising efforts and to fight corruption.
Judge Wardlaw said none of the rationales can “support the (ordinance’s) application to the Chamber PACs.”