People For the American Way Foundation

Open Season for Money in Politics in NYC

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals today opened the door to unlimited super-PAC spending in the New York mayor's race, despite a state law setting an annual cap of $150,000 in political contributions to groups including those making independent expenditures for or against candidates. An entity called New York Progress and Protection PAC has a donor who wants to contribute $200,000 so it can help elect Joseph Lhota mayor. The court ruled that the law is unlikely to survive constitutional scrutiny, so it lifted a hold that had prevented NYPPP from vacuuming in huge amounts of money.

Given the sorry state of the law as set by the Roberts Court, this is not at all surprising. The Second Circuit pointed to Citizens United as compelling this result:

The Supreme Court held in Citizens United v. FEC that the government has no anti-corruption interest in limiting independent expenditures. It follows that a donor to an independent expenditure committee such as NYPPP is even further removed from political candidates and may not be limited in his ability to contribute to such committees.

Preventing quid pro quo corruption is the only government interest strong enough to justify restrictions on political speech, see [Citizens United], and the threat of quid pro quo corruption does not arise when individuals make contributions to groups that engage in independent spending on political speech.

The Roberts Court's cramped view of the type of corruption that the American people can protect our electoral system from is at the heart of its crusade against efforts to protect the integrity of our electoral system. As Justice Stevens wrote in his Citizens United dissent:

Corruption operates along a spectrum, and the majority's apparent belief that quid pro quo arrangements can be neatly demarcated from other improper influences does not accord with the theory or reality of politics.

No, the Roberts Court's view doesn't accord with reality, but it does accord with empowering the powerful, especially corporate interests.


campaign finance, Citizens United v. FEC, Second Circuit Court of Appeals