The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Republican Party of New Mexico v. King on Wednesday, December 18, 2013.
This case required the Tenth Circuit to consider state campaign finance regulations in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, 558 U.S. 310 (2010). Citizens United held that federal election law violated the First Amendment by restricting independent political spending because the speaker was a corporation—the holding allowed corporate entities to make unlimited independent expenditures supporting or opposing issues or candidates as long as the expenditures were not coordinated with a candidate for federal office.
Before the Court’s decision in Citizens United, New Mexico had introduced a new state campaign finance law that imposed a host of contribution and other limitations on political parties, political action committees, and donors to such entities. In particular, the state limited the amount an individual may contribute to a political committee. Potential donors, political parties, and political committees mounted an as-applied challenge to the law in federal district court, contending several of its provisions violated the First Amendment.
The district court agreed and issued a preliminary injunction, enjoining the enforcement of two provisions: (1) limits on contributions to political committees for use in federal campaigns, and (2) limits on contributions to political committees that are to be used for independent expenditures, i.e., expenditures not authorized by or coordinated with a candidate or candidate committee. New Mexico appealed the latter ruling, contending that the limit on contributions furthers the state’s compelling interest in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption in campaign spending.
Citizens United resolved a longstanding debate over whether other governmental interests could support restrictions on campaign financing. After Citizens United, there was no valid governmental interest sufficient to justify imposing limits on fundraising by independent expenditure organizations. The Supreme Court firmly rejected the contention that independent expenditures give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption: “The appearance of influence or access . . . will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy. By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech . . . not coordinated with a candidate.” Citizens United, 558 U.S. at 360. In sum, Citizens United resolved the right of a non-profit corporation to make independent expenditures without limits as to their source and amount. In its wake, the circuit courts have also uniformly struck down limitations on contributions to entities engaged in independent expenditures.
The Tenth Circuit held that the district court was correct that the challenged provision cannot be reconciled with Citizens United. Because there is no corruption interest in limiting independent expenditures, there can also be no interest in limiting contributions to non-party entities that make independent expenditures. Consequently, as the district court found, plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of its First Amendment challenges to New Mexico’s law.
As a result, did not err in entering a preliminary injunction.