Friday, January 22, 2010

NYC Campaign Finance Law Safe?

The NYC Campaign Finance Board issued an advisory yesterday (via Liz) that seeks to apparently allay our fears that the just announced Supreme Court ruling striking down McCain-Feingold might mean the death of the city's own law: ""While today’s decision may have a critical impact on the next federal elections, it addresses a specific provision of federal law that has no direct parallel in City law. "The decision addresses independent spending by corporations supporting candidates; it does not disturb the prohibition on direct contributions from corporations to candidates."

All quite true, as far as it goes, but we believe that the guiding principle being the SCOTUS ruling-one that devolves from the sanctity of the first amendment-will ultimately lead to the undoing of the city's own rule, precisely because of its invidious nature, restricting some but giving free rein to others. And this is the essence of the current legal challenge.

As the NY Times reported two years ago: "The real estate industry and lobbyists, who together provide millions in campaign cash for city candidates, are trying to overturn a new law that would vastly reduce how much they can donate. A lawsuit financially backed by the business interests and others was filed Monday in federal court in Manhattan against the City Campaign Finance Board, which enforces the campaign finance system. The suit charged that the limits violated free speech and equal protection provisions of the Constitution and discriminated against minorities."

We're not sure of the last argument, but the free speech violation that is alleged fits right in to the court's current ruling-and the unequal nature of the restriction is ground zero of the challenge brought by the constitutional lawyer James Bopp: "The suit also contends that the law is constitutionally untenable because it targets some entities doing business with the city, while leaving others, like labor unions and neighborhood organizations, unaffected. “The city is claiming the potential of undue influence by people who are doing business with the city and then they exempt two of the biggest categories of people doing business with the city,” Mr. Bopp said."

And this unlevel playing field has paved the way for the rise of the WFP-and the skewing of the political calculus in NY against homeowners, tax payers and small businesses-folks that the city council speaker has no natural connection to-as her comments evince: "City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, who pushed the bill past skeptical Council members worried about their ability to raise money, said the law was designed specifically to help candidates who did not have connections to the city’s high-powered lobbyists and developers."

The impact that the skewing might have on policy making apparently either has eluded the speaker; or is simply something that barely troubles her. But with the enhanced power of the left, and Quinn's move starboard to be more aligned with real estate and the mayor, she just might find that she has been hoisted on her own petard in the next election cycle-emasculated against a Liu or a de Blasio by rules of her own making.

But all of this juicy speculation might just be made moot if the current law is given the heave ho-as we certainly hope it is. This should we expect all be resolved in a realtively short term.