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Maine's $250 Contribution Limit Upheld by Federal Court

Federal Judge Upholds State Campaign Contribution Limits Passed By Maine Voters

January 10, 2000

For Immediate Release
January 10, 2000

Contact Information:
Glenn Moramarco, 212 998-6153
Gillian Metzger, 212 998-6750

Maine’s $250 Contribution Limit Upheld by Federal Court
Federal Judge Upholds State Campaign Contribution Limits Passed By Maine Voters

On January 7, 2000, in his final ruling in Daggett v. Webster, Chief Judge D. Brock Hornby of the United States District Court for the District of Maine upheld a $250 contribution limit for candidates seeking state legislative office in Maine. This $250 limit was enacted by the citizens of Maine by initiative at the same time that they approved the Maine Clean Election Act, which provides full public funding for participating candidates. The State’s previously existing contribution limit had been $1,000 from individuals and $5,000 from PACs, corporations, and associations.

The contribution limit was challenged by the Maine Civil Liberties Union and National Right to Life groups. Judge Hornby upheld the limits, finding that they served the compelling government interest of combating corruption and the appearance of corruption: “Here the record certainly supports what common sense teaches: contributions bring at least access and influence, whether that process is called corrupt or not. . . . [I]nfluence cannot be measured solely by what happens on high profile votes. Influence also counts in all the unseen political decision—the decision on what gets reported out of Committee, the timing of legislation’s being taken up on the floor, the creation of the legislative history, are only some examples.”

Judge Hornby issued a pointed rebuke to other federal courts that had struck down similar contribution limits in other states: “I recognize that the vast majority of lower court decisions have reached conclusions contrary to those I reach here. I believe that in doing so they not been entirely faithful to Buckley’s reasoning permitting contribution limits. . . . [I]t’s reasoning permits voters or legislators to set contribution limits with more flexibility than other lower courts have allowed.”

According to Brennan Center Senior Attorney, Glenn Moramarco, “Judge Hornby’s well-reasoned decision will be the turning point that ends a series of unfortunate federal court decisions that struck down state-enacted contribution limits. The decision in Maine, along with the Supreme Court’s decision to grant review in Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC (where the appellate court struck down legislatively-enacted contribution limits in Missouri) are hopeful signs that the federal courts will be returning to the people the power to enact reasonable contribution limits that take into account local circumstances.”

The Brennan Center, along with co-counsel Maine Citizen Leadership Fund, represented five Maine officeholders and candidates, and assisted the State in defending the constitutional validity of the Maine Clean Election Act and the contribution limits. In a decision issued November 5, 1999, which is currently on appeal, Judge Hornby similarly upheld the constitutional validity of the public funding provisions of the Maine Clean Election Act.

Click here
for a “Question and Answer” document about the decision.