Federal Court ends political donation limit for pro-Lhota PAC


New York, NEW YORK –The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled Oct. 21 that the New York Progress and Protection PAC (NYPPP), which supports NYC Republican Mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, can accept donations above New York’s $150,000 annual limit for individuals. The ruling currently applies only to the NYPPP but litigation on similar laws will continue. Future rulings could significantly impact the New York Governor and Senate races next year, reported The New York Times.

The PAC filed a lawsuit last month that claimed that the state’s campaign donation limit was unconstitutional.  Manhattan Federal District Court Judge Paul Crotty initially ruled against the PAC, saying that it would compromise the election’s ability to be “fair” and “predictable.”  But the Second Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the PAC and overruled Crotty’s ruling, saying the limit “reduces constitutionally protected political speech.”

In its lawsuit, the NYPPP referred to Citizens United, a Supreme Court decision that in 2010 “lifted restrictions on independent expenditures by corporations and committees on grounds of free speech.”  The PAC directed the debate towards free speech because it believed the donation limit hindered its ability to promote Lhota with TV ads, thereby infringing on the right to do so, according to New York Daily News.

The New York Times reported that as a result of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, “similar laws have been struck down in other states.”

Lhota said he had not coordinated with the PAC, and acknowledged that it would have been unlawful of him to do so, The Wall Street Journal reported.

So far Democratic candidate Bill de Blasio’s campaign has more than doubled the funds raised by Lhota’s campaign.  As of last week, de Blasio had raised 5.8 million, and Lhota 2.7 million.  Independent groups have also spent more in favor of de Blasio than Lhota so far, according to NY1.

New York Daily News reported that the PAC claims to have donors lined up, ready to make significant contributions.

Both sides have differing views on the ruling’s effect on the democratic process.

According to NY1, De Blasio’s campaign reacted negatively to the Oct. 21 ruling, saying this will “allow right-wing billionaires like the Koch brothers” to buy the election.

One of the PAC’s attorneys in the case, Terry Pell, responded to that claim by pointing out that because de Blasio has received more money in donations so far and is significantly ahead of Lhota in the polls, it is “unlikely” that the ruling will unfairly affect the campaign, NY1 reported.

Terry Pell also believes the ruling will allow New York City voters to “get a more democratic mayoral race, one with an even financial playing field.”  However, a spokesperson for Attorney General Schneiderman disagrees with Pell and believes that “New York’s campaign finance laws are essential to protecting the integrity and fairness of our elections."

Tristan Kelly, president of The King’s College Republicans, understands both sides of the debate – balancing free speech with preserving the voice of the average voter.  He thinks that because of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, this trend will continue unless the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court itself changes or if donations get too extreme.  Kelly said that in politics, “money is the real thing” right now.

Some King’s students see the freedom issue as key.

While he understands the reasons for donation restrictions, A.J. Aran (’14) does not agree with the ethics behind them because they hinder the people’s right to “spread awareness.”

Christian Tegge (’17) asks “why should someone tell me what to do with my money?”

According to The New York Times, Lhota has support from “at least two independent committees,” and de Blasio has support from “at least three.”

The mayoral election will be held tomorrow, Nov. 5.