The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irma E. Gonzalez, Chief Judge United States District Court
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFS' EMERGENCY EX PARTE MOTION TO VACATE STAY OF ORDER ENJOINING CONTRIBUTIONS BY POLITICAL PARTIES TO THEIR CANDIDATES [Doc. No. 70.]
Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs' emergency ex parte motion to vacate the stay of the Court's February 16, 2010 Order (the "Order") granting preliminary injunction as to the limit on campaign contributions from political parties to candidates. (Doc. No. 70.)
The City has filed a response. Based on the parties' briefs and oral argument, and for the reasons stated herein, the Court DENIES Plaintiffs' motion.
Plaintiffs Phil Thalheimer, Associated Builders & Contractors, Inc. San Diego Chapter, Lincoln Club of San Diego County, San Diego County Republican Party, and John Nienstedt ("Plaintiffs") challenge the constitutionality of San Diego's campaign finance laws on First Amendment grounds. Plaintiffs' Verified Complaint names as defendants the City of San Diego ("the City") and several government officials in their official capacity.*fn1 (Doc. No. 1.)
On December 21, 2009, Plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction asking the Court to enjoin the City from enforcing five sections of the San Diego Municipal Election Campaign Control Ordinance ("ECCO"). (Doc. No. 3.) On February 16, 2010, the Court issued an Order granting in part and denying in part Plaintiff's motion.*fn2 (Doc. No. 43.)
Relevant to this motion, the Court enjoined enforcement of Section 27.2950 to the extent it prohibits candidates from soliciting and accepting contributions from political parties. Section 27.2950(a) provides: "It is unlawful for a candidate or controlled committee, or any treasurer thereof, or any other person acting on behalf of any candidate or controlled committee, to solicit or accept a contribution from any person other than an individual for the purpose of supporting or opposing a candidate for elective City office." ECCO § 27.2950(a). The Court found Plaintiffs had demonstrated they are likely to prevail on their argument that a complete prohibition on political party contributions is not "closely drawn" to the City's interest in preventing corruption and the appearance of corruption.
(Order, at 20.) However, the Court stayed the injunction "until further order of the Court, so as to allow the City time to provide an alternative limit on the contributions." (Order, at 26.)
On April 27, 2010, the Court heard oral argument on the instant motion to lift the stay. Coincidentally, on the same day, the City Council held an open session meeting to consider a new contribution limit. (Bradley Decl. ¶ 7.) After oral argument, the City filed a supplemental document regarding the City Council's unanimous vote to introduce an ordinance limiting political party contributions to $1,000. (Doc. No. 74.) According to the City, if passed by the City Council and approved by the Mayor, the new limit would become effective by late June 2010.
Plaintiffs move the Court to immediately lift the stay of its preliminary injunction relating to contributions from political parties to candidates, arguing that the City has had ample time to enact a new limit.
Plaintiffs contend they will suffer irreparable harm if Plaintiff San Diego County Republican Party (the "Party") cannot make contributions to support its candidates before the June 8, 2010 City Council primary election. If a candidate obtains more than 50% of the vote in the primary, that candidate wins the seat. If no candidate exceeds 50%, the top two vote-getters proceed to the November General Election in their district. Because there may be no General Election for certain seats, and even if there is a General Election, the Party's endorsed candidates may not qualify for it, Plaintiffs explain that if the Party is not allowed to contribute now, it may lose its opportunity for meaningful association with its candidates. The Party wishes to make direct contributions, in-kind contributions, and coordinated expenditures. Among other contributions, the Party wishes to contribute $20,000 to the Lorie Zapf campaign to keep the race competitive, as the frontrunner currently has $46,450.46 cash on hand, while Zapf has $19,222.*fn3 (Boling Decl. ¶¶ 9, 11.)
Plaintiffs further contend that the period from April 30, 2010 to May 14, 2010 is crucial for communicating with voters. Sample ballots are mailed out beginning April 30, 2010, and absentee ballots are mailed out on May 10, 2010. According to Plaintiffs, over half the ballots cast in the election will likely be absentee ballots, and historically, one-third of all absentee ballots are cast within the first 72 hours after the voter receives the ballot. (Declaration of C. April Boling in Supp. of Pls.' Mot. ("Boling Decl.") ¶¶ 3-4.)
As indicated in its preliminary injunction Order, the Court is mindful of the likely harm to Plaintiffs' associational rights by a complete ban on contributions from political parties to candidates. However, the Court's Order allowed the City time to provide a new contribution limit. (Order, at 26.) Upon consideration of the parties' arguments, the balance of hardships weighs in favor of the City. Importantly, if the Court were to grant Plaintiffs' motion and lift the stay before the City's new limit is passed and becomes effective, there would be no limit on contributions from parties to candidates. During that interim period before a new limit becomes effective, parties would be able to infuse limitless amounts of money into the election. It is noteworthy that Plaintiffs want to contribute an amount 40-times larger than the $500 limit on contributions from individuals, as well as make significant coordinated ...