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Thalheimer v. City of San Diego

September 3, 2010

PHIL THALHEIMER; ASSOCIATED BUILDERS & CONTRACTORS PAC SPONSORED BY ASSOCIATED BUILDERS & CONTRACTORS, INC. SAN DIEGO CHAPTER; LINCOLN CLUB OF SAN DIEGO; REPUBLICAN PARTY OF SAN DIEGO; AND JOHN NIENSTEDT, SR., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF SAN DIEGO, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irma E. Gonzalez, Chief Judge United States District Court

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFS'MOTION FOR TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER AND PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION [Doc. No. 95]

Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction. Defendant City of San Diego has filed an opposition, and Plaintiffs have filed a reply. For the reasons stated herein, the Court DENIES Plaintiffs' motion.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Phil Thalheimer, Associated Builders & Contractors, Inc. San Diego Chapter, Lincoln Club of San Diego County, Republican Party of San Diego, and John Nienstedt ("Plaintiffs") bring this action challenging the constitutionality of San Diego's campaign finance laws on First Amendment grounds. Defendant is the City of San Diego ("the City").

On December 21, 2009, Plaintiffs filed a Verified Complaint and a motion for preliminary injunction, challenging five provisions of the San Diego Municipal Election Campaign Control Ordinance ("ECCO"). (Doc. Nos. 1 & 3.) On February 16, 2010, the Court granted in part and denied in part the motion for preliminary injunction. (Doc. No. 42.) In relevant part, the Court preliminarily enjoined enforcement of the City's complete prohibition on contributions from political parties to candidates. The Court, however, stayed the injunction in order to allow the City time to enact a limit.

On May 18, 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted Plaintiffs' motion to lift the stay, allowing political parties in San Diego to make contributions to candidates. (Doc. No. 80.) On April 27, 2010, the San Diego City Council enacted ECCO § 27.2934, which places a $1,000 limit on political party contributions to candidates ("party contribution limit").*fn1 With leave of the Court, Plaintiffs filed a First Amended Verified Complaint, adding a new challenge to the $1,000 party contribution limit. (Doc. No. 94.) Plaintiffs also challenge ECCO § 27.2936(b), which Plaintiffs contend places source and amount restrictions on political party contributions to candidates ("attribution requirement"). Section 27.2936(b) provides in relevant part: "It is unlawful for any general purpose recipient committee to use a contribution for the purpose of supporting or opposing a candidate unless the contribution is attributable to an individual in an amount that does not exceed $500 per candidate per election."*fn2 Plaintiffs contend this provision has the effect of (1) limiting the amount of money individuals can give to political parties to support candidates to $500, and (2) limiting the amount which parties may then contribute to candidates.

On August 18, 2010, Plaintiffs filed this motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, seeking enjoinment of enforcement of Sections 27.2934 and 27.2936(b). Plaintiffs argue these provisions are unconstitutional because they burden the free speech and association rights of Plaintiff Republican Party of San Diego ("RPSD"). Plaintiffs allege RPSD currently wants to make contributions above the $1,000 limit to candidates for the November 2010 general election, and wants to do so in amounts not attributable to donations from individuals, in amounts not greater than $500 per individual.

LEGAL STANDARD

In determining whether to grant a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction, the Court applies the preliminary injunction standard articulated in Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., - U.S. -, 129 S.Ct. 365 (2008). A party seeking a preliminary injunction must demonstrate:

(1) the likelihood of success on the merits; (2) the likelihood of irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief; (3) that the balance of equities tips in his favor; and (4) that an injunction is in the public interest. Id. at 374. Injunctive relief is "an extraordinary remedy that may only be awarded upon a clear showing that the plaintiff is entitled to such relief." Id. at 375-76.

DISCUSSION

I. Likelihood of Success on the Merits

A. Campaign Finance Laws and Level of Scrutiny

The United States Supreme Court has held that campaign contribution limits "operate in an area of the most fundamental First Amendment activities." Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 15 (1976). "A restriction on the amount of money a person or group can spend on political communication during a campaign necessarily reduces the quantity of expression by restricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of their exploration, and the size of the audience reached." Id. at 19. ...


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