Limit on Donations to Independent Political Groups Is Upheld

, New York Law Journal

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The attempt by supporters of Republican New York City mayoral candidate Joseph Lhota to exceed the state's $150,000 annual maximum in contributions to independent political groups has been rejected by a federal judge.

Southern District Judge Paul Crotty (See Profile) denied a motion for a preliminary injunction sought by Republican fundraiser Craig Engle of Arent Fox in Washington D.C., whose newly formed group, New York Progress and Protection PAC, claimed it had the right as an "independent, expenditure-only" political committee to accept contributions from individuals in excess of New York's $150,000 annual limit in advance of the Nov. 5 election.

Engle, seeking to funnel cash to a Lohta campaign trailing in the polls and behind in fundraising, presented an affidavit from Republican supporter Shaun McCutcheon of Birmingham, Ala., who stood ready to contribute $200,000 to the PAC if an injunction was issued.

But Crotty said he would not rush to consider a constitutional issue of such importance and denied Engle's attempt "to disrupt the status quo within days of an election."

The judge issued his decision Thursday denying the injunction in New York Progress and Protection PAC v. Walsh, 13 Civ. 6769, saying he would not hurry to consider Engle's claim that the $150,000 annual limitation set forth in N.Y. Election Law §§14-114(8) and 14-126 violates the PAC's rights under the First and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

"Rather than rushing to judgment at the expense of thorough analysis in cases impacting public discourse and the political process," Crotty said, courts have an interest in making sure that matters are presented in a timely manner so they can be carefully considered—and there was no chance of that happening here.

"Here, the NYPPP asks this Court to rush to dismantle a law— which has remained unchanged for more than three decades—without any real factual record," he said.

Crotty said that all he had to work with was a four-page affidavit filed by Engle attesting to the group's independence and an affidavit submitted by McCutcheon saying he wants to contribute $200,000 to the PAC.

Despite there being no limitation on the amount he could spend as an individual as long as he acts independently of a candidate or political committee, McCutcheon said he needs the PAC to disseminate his views in New York state.

The New York Progress and Protection PAC claimed it was an independent, expenditure-only political committee that does not coordinate with any candidate or campaign, but Crotty was skeptical.

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