O’Brien v. Brunner–Finis

blind-justiceOn Wednesday, August 26th, Ohio’s elections laws became a bit more Constitutional.  US District Court Judge Edmund Sargus issued a permanent injunction against Ohio’s “personal funds” provisions of the campaign finance laws, ORC section 3517.103, specifically negating subsections C, D, E, and F of that statute.  For more on the background of the case, see our earlier posting.

Citing the US Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in the case Davis v. FEC, Judge Sargus determined that Ohio’s law was nearly identical to the federal scheme which was overturned as unconstitutional.   This ruling applies to any present or future candidate for statewide office in Ohio.

The Institute for Principled Policy’s take on this decision is that a candidate should not have imposed what the Supreme Court declared as an “unprecedented penalty” and a “substantial burden” because they choose to invest in themselves and their message to the voters.

This law created a scheme of discriminatory contribution limits, keeping a candidate or their immediate families from being able to support their relative to a full extent, while allowing the opponent in the race unlimited access to special interest contributions as a “solution” to a dubious “problem”.  I would note that any relative is still subject to the generally existing campaign donation maximum per cycle.  The problem with the “personal funds” provision is that if, hypothetically, a candidate, their spouse, their adult children (say three or more), and their parents and/or grandparents were to want to contribute the maximum allowed amount to the candidate, the aggregate of those contributions would trigger the (now enjoined) section of the law and allow the opponent to collect unlimited donations from anyone (and I would ask, if the opponent, filing the “Declaration of No Limits” document, were then to get contributions from family members exceeding the “personal funds” threshhold, would they have then been exempt from the law?)  As Judge Sargus saw, it is inherently discriminatory to the candidate, and is weighed heavily toward the opponent.

This sort of scheme is antithetical to our First Amendment freedoms.  Why should someone who wants to invest in themselves be forced, and their relatives be forced, to keep from investing in someone they believe in because the state decides to interfere?  Additionally, the state’s scheme creates a winfall for the opponent to the candidate, thus tipping the playing field heavily in that direction and punitively punishing the candidate who is willing to stake their own substance on an effort to represent the people of the state.

Our kudos to Judge Edmund Sargus on a wise decision which will begin to bring Ohio’s elections and campaign financing laws toward a more balanced and Constitutionally-sound basis.