The Institute for Free Speech has filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in the case United States v. Sittenfeld. The Institute filed the brief in support of former Cincinnati City Councilman Alexander “P.G.” Sittenfeld, who was convicted in 2022 on federal corruption charges related to interactions with campaign donors. The brief urges the court to reverse the conviction on First Amendment grounds.
The Institute argues that Sittenfeld’s convictions violate Supreme Court precedent on First Amendment protections for political speech and association, noting that his interactions with donors amounted to typical political conduct and protected speech.
The district court acknowledged that the prosecution lacked unambiguous evidence that Sittenfeld explicitly traded donations for official action, as required by the Supreme Court’s McCormick standard. The Institute’s amicus brief contends that allowing courts to infer an improper motive in the face of such uncertainty chills protected speech. It asks the Sixth Circuit to overturn Sittenfeld’s convictions to vindicate First Amendment freedoms.