Teachers Groups Test NY Campaign Limits

     ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) – Two teachers’ groups challenged the constitutionality of a New York election law that limits the amount of money that political action committees can give to a candidate for state office.

     New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) and its offshoot political group, the Voice of Teacher Education/Committee on Political Education (VOTE/COPE), sued the New York State Board of Elections in Federal Court.
     NYSUT represents 600,000 active and retired union members.
     VOTE/COPE says its status as a political action committee, given by the elections board, prohibits it from making “independent expenditures” on behalf of candidates, but allows it to make “contributions.”
     Political action committees must abide by the limitations on contributions for the state Senate primary, which is set at $6,000, and $9,500 for the general election.
     Contributions to Assembly candidates are capped at $3,800 for both the primary and general elections.
     VOTE/COPE says it wants to give more than $6,000 to its preferred candidates.
     The elections board distinguishes between contributions and expenditures, with a contribution being money or something else of value given to a candidate, and an expenditure defined as “the direct payment for goods and services,” according to the complaint.
     VOTE/COPE claims it planned to make independent expenditures on behalf of a candidate in a state Senate primary. The independent expenditures include polling, door-to-door canvassing, direct mailing and phone calling.
     The teachers groups say the Board of Elections is violating teachers’ free speech rights by prohibiting “unions such as NYSUT from communicating with their own members to support or oppose candidates for elected state office outside their regular communications with members, unless they first register with the Board of Elections as a political committee, list those candidates they intend to support or oppose and file a committee authorization status form all before speaking with their members.”
     The teacher’s groups want the board enjoined from enforcing the contribution limitations.
     They are represented by Robert Reilly Jr. and James Sandner, of Latham, N.Y.

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