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PAC Can Make Unlimited Donations in NY Mayoral Election

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By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on October 30, 2013 3:59 PM

The last presidential campaign brought to public view the impact of Super PACs, or Political Action Committees, as a result of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC. And while the next presidential campaign is a few years off, we have some smaller elections going on around the country that are not immune from PACs.

New York Mayoral Election

The New York mayoral election has garnered nationwide attention, mostly for the initial participation of Anthony "Carlos Danger" Weiner. But, now it's gaining new attention as the Second Circuit has stepped in, reversing a district court's order denying a preliminary injunction against the application of New York Election laws to a PAC.

The New York Progress and Protection PAC ("NYPP") sued New York City and State election officials to enjoin enforcement of New York Election Laws § 14-114, limiting annual campaign contributions to $150,000 and § 14-126, making it a misdemeanor for willfully violating other sections of the Election Law.

The district court denied the NYPP's motion, and the NYPP appealed.

First Amendment Analysis

Because the First Amendment was in issue, the court had to apply heightened levels of scrutiny. The court noted that even minimal losses of First Amendment freedoms are irreparable, and that because of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, the NYPP had a strong likelihood of success.

Noting that all sister circuits to address the question have come to the same outcome -- the individuals' contributions to PACs may not be limited, and found the district court's findings reversible error.

Though the Second Circuit was not persuaded with New York's argument that a preliminary injunction would only free up the NYPP and would "amplify NYPP's voice," it's hard to see how that outcome could be avoided. With the election just days away, now the NYPP can accept donations over $150,000, while other PACs can't.

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