Panel Affirms Block of Arkansas Campaign-Finance Law

ST. LOUIS (CN) – The Eighth Circuit upheld an injunction blocking enforcement of an Arkansas law limiting campaign contributions early in an election cycle, finding it is unrelated to the goal of preventing corruption.

The law prohibits campaign contributions more than two years before an election. It was passed by Arkansas voters in 1996 as part of a package of campaign-finance amendments designed to combat corruption.

(CNS Photo/Kelsey Jukam)

Arkansas appealed to the Eighth Circuit after U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. issued an injunction blocking enforcement of the law until its constitutionality could be decided.

U.S. Circuit Judge David Stras, an appointee of President Donald Trump, wrote for a three-judge panel Monday that the woman challenging the law was likely to succeed on the merits of her case.

“Arkansas has not shown that contributions made more than two years before an election present a greater risk of actual or apparent quid pro quo corruption than those made later,” Stras wrote in the 10-page opinion. “In fact, at the preliminary-injunction hearing before the district court, Arkansas admitted that it was ‘unaware of any . . . evidence’ tying earlier contributions to the state’s anti-corruption interest.”

Stras added, “Arkansas has given us no reason to believe that it will have anything more to offer at trial either.”

Peggy Jones filed a federal lawsuit over the law, claiming that it infringes on her First Amendment rights by preventing her from donating now to politicians she wants to support in the 2022 election, namely state Senator Mark Johnson, R-Conway.

Brittany Edwards, arguing for the state in a hearing before the St. Louis-based appeals court last September, claimed the district court abused its discretion in granting the injunction. She told the panel that Jones lacked standing because Johnson had not officially announced his candidacy and Arkansas had a compelling interest in eliminating campaign-finance corruption.

Amanda Priest, communications director for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said in a statement that the attorney general is reviewing the Eighth Circuit ruling and looking at her next steps.

Chad Pekron, who represented Jones, had argued during the hearing that whether Johnson has publicly announced his candidacy is irrelevant. He claimed that a private conversation between Jones and Johnson regarding his candidacy is an affirmative step towards running.

The attorney also argued that the state’s current cap of $2,700 in donations to a particular candidate per election cycle should be enough to prevent campaign-finance corruption without the blackout period.

Pekron said Tuesday his client is pleased with the Eighth Circuit’s ruling and that a win in the case could have long-reaching ramifications in the state’s election process.

“It will allow voters and candidates to begin raising funds when they see fit and not when the government tells them they can,” Pekron said in an interview. “It will allow challengers to have a more level playing field and start to raise money sooner to compete with established candidates with donor lists.”

U.S. Circuit Judges Jane Kelly, a Barack Obama appointee, and Michael Melloy, a George W. Bush appointee, joined Stras in the unanimous decision.

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