Court Upholds SB 1439

A Sacramento County Superior Court Judge has upheld SB 1439, the new law which severely restricts campaign contributions to local elected officials (such as city council members, county supervisors, and candidates for those offices) in the legal challenge brought by the California Building Industry Association and other trade associations. The Court’s opinion is lengthy and detailed, and presumably written in anticipation of an appeal. The Court rejected the argument that the State Legislature impermissibly amended the Political Reform Act, as well as arguments based on the First Amendment rights of contributors and candidates.

Much of the opinion SB 1439 Minute Order is based on the fact that SB 1439 amended a law which has been on the books for over 40 years, and simply applies the $250 disqualification threshold to local elected officials rather than just state and local appointed commissioners. Additionally, the Court didn’t agree that the $250 limit was unconstitutionally low, or that the limit unconstitutionally infringed on the First Amendment rights of contributors or candidates.

The California BIA and other plaintiffs are still deciding whether to appeal the decision, and we will of course keep you apprised of any future developments.

Though we had hoped that the Court would temporarily block enforcement, thereby giving the State Legislature, local officials, the business community and other stakeholders time to craft a more palatable compromise, the law remains in full force and effect, and will be for the foreseeable future, even if the plaintiffs decide to appeal. We therefore caution real estate entities pursuing land use approvals from local government bodies, and businesses and nonprofits pursuing local government contracts, to be very careful about campaign contributions by such entities and their principals, employees and outside consultants, because the new law contains so many “traps for the unwary.”

On a related matter, the FPPC was scheduled to consider at its meeting earlier this month whether the new law applies to contributions to city attorneys, district attorneys and other elected officials who are not part of a larger legislative body, but had to cancel the meeting for lack of a quorum. The FPPC therefore will not address this question until its June 15th meeting. We therefore also caution against making contributions to city attorney candidates if you have a pending land use application until the upcoming FPPC meeting.

*         *         *

Feel free to contact a Sutton Law Firm Attorney if you have questions about the scope of this new law.


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.