Amicus Brief: New Portland-Area Contribution Limits Are Unconstitutional

August 18, 2020   •  By IFS Staff   •  
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Washington, DC – The Taxpayers Association of Oregon filed an amicus brief late Monday urging a state circuit court to strike down Multnomah County’s limits on campaign contributions. Attorneys from the Institute for Free Speech are representing the Taxpayers Association in the case.

“The Oregon Supreme Court has allowed contribution limits for the first time in more than twenty years, but those limits are subject to First Amendment constraints. By imposing limits over three times smaller than the lowest ever upheld by federal courts, Multnomah County has overstepped,” said Institute for Free Speech Attorney Owen Yeates.

The Supreme Court of Oregon upheld the limits under the state constitution but remanded to Judge Eric Bloch of the Multnomah County Circuit Court to consider whether they are too low under the First Amendment.

Multnomah County’s contribution limits are unconstitutional in two ways, the brief explains. The limits restrict a candidate’s contributions to his or her own campaign, contradicting Supreme Court precedent. The Court has established a clear First Amendment right for Americans to spend their own money on political speech. The limits are also unconstitutionally low under the Supreme Court’s 2019 ruling, Thompson v. Hebdon, and its 2006 decision, Randall v. Sorrell.

“Multnomah County’s limits are unquestionably lower than any that the Supreme Court has upheld… The limit at issue here is $500 per election cycle, or $250 per election. Thus, as with the unconstitutional limit in Randall, the limit here is almost ‘one-twentieth of the limit’ upheld in Buckley [v. Valeo],” the brief explains.

At the same time, the law is “wildly underinclusive” because it exempts small donor committees. Allowing these favored groups to contribute unlimited amounts undermines any purported anti-corruption rationale in the law. Moreover, the literature in support of the limits, which were passed by ballot measure, explains that they are intended to equalize influence. This is not a constitutionally valid justification for contribution limits.

The case is before the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon for the County of Multnomah. To read the Institute’s brief, click here.

About the Institute for Free Speech

The Institute for Free Speech is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that promotes and defends the First Amendment rights to freely speak, assemble, publish, and petition the government. Originally known as the Center for Competitive Politics, it was founded in 2005 by Bradley A. Smith, a former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. The Institute is the nation’s largest organization dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political rights.

IFS Staff

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