Lawsuit Filed Against $250 Limit on Campaign Contributions

February 2023

As expected, a lawsuit has been filed challenging Senate Bill 1439, the new state law which requires city councilmembers, county supervisors and other local elected officials to disqualify themselves from land use and government contract proceedings involving their campaign contributors of $250 or more. The lawsuit was filed in Sacramento County Superior Court by several trade associations, including the California Building Industry Association and California Business Properties Association, as well as two local elected officials in the Sacramento area.
The lawsuit seeks to invalidate the law under two legal theories. First, and most notably, the $250 disqualification threshold violates the First Amendment rights of campaign contributors and elected officials, based on a 1980 California Supreme Court case which held that elected officials have the right to participate in government matters involving their campaign contributors. (Woodland Hills Residents Association v. City Council (1980) 26 Cal.3d 938.) Second, the Legislature did not have the right to amend the state’s Political Reform Act to add this new disqualification threshold because the original Political Reform Act was adopted by the voters and, subject to exceptions that do not apply here, may only be amended by the voters.
Although the hearing date has not yet been set, and although the duration of the lawsuit will depend on whether the parties pursue discovery, how vigorously the state defends the new law, and other factors, a trial court decision is expected this year. Whichever party loses at the trial court level is likely to appeal, which means that the status of the law would not be settled until next year at the earliest. (This timeline may give the Legislature the opportunity to craft amendments to the law to make it less draconian.)
The plaintiffs are looking for campaign contributors who would be willing to submit “amicus” (friend of the court) briefs informing the court that they make contributions to promote pro-growth and business-friendly candidates, and not as a “quid pro quo” for a vote on their land use or government contract matter. Please let us know if you would be interested in submitting this type of amicus brief to the court – and also let us know if you’d like a copy of the lawsuit.
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Feel free to contact a Sutton Law Firm attorney with any questions about this lawsuit or how SB 1439 impacts your ability to make campaign contributions to local candidates..
About the Sutton Law Firm
The Sutton Law Firm specializes in political and election law, representing businesses, individuals, candidates, ballot measures, PACs and nonprofit organizations involved in the political and legislative processes on the state, local and national levels. The firm offers its clients a full range of legal, reporting and litigation services.