Institute for Free Speech Urges Sixth Circuit to Reverse Sittenfeld Bribery Conviction

The Institute filed an amicus brief highlighting that P.G. Sittenfeld’s conduct was ordinary participation in the political process protected by the First Amendment

December 19, 2023   •  By IFS Staff   •    •  ,
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Washington, DC — 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.

As Institute Vice President for Litigation Alan Gura explained, “Donating to political candidates who support your favored policies is normal participation in our democratic system, not bribery. Prosecutors targeted Mr. Sittenfeld’s routine fundraising as a criminal act, and, in doing so, violated his First Amendment rights.”

Gura added, “Vague corruption laws should not become vehicles for zealous prosecutors to police local politics according to their own norms. We hope the Sixth Circuit will overturn Mr. Sittenfeld’s unjust conviction.”

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.

The Institute joins a robust group of amici in asking the court to overturn the conviction. Elected officials, business and civic leaders, and law professors have all called upon the Sixth Circuit to act, as upholding Sittenfeld’s conviction would have wide-ranging, negative ramifications for donors and candidates engaged in typical political activities and speech protected by the First Amendment.

To read the amicus brief in the case, United States v. Sittenfeld, click here.

About the Institute for Free Speech

The Institute for Free Speech promotes and defends the political speech rights to freely speak, assemble, publish, and petition the government guaranteed by the First Amendment.

IFS Staff

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