Campaign Contribution Limits Unconstitutional

The City of Rockville recently determined that some of the campaign contribution limits in the Election Code are unconstitutional. It’s a bit confusing, so here’s the official notice from the City Clerk:

The Board of Supervisors of Elections wants to let you know that the Mayor and Council introduced an ordinance this past Monday, September 9, 2019, that, if adopted, would amend Section 8-78 of Chapter 8, “Elections,” of the City Code to delete the $2,000 limit on total contributions in an election cycle in subsections (d) and (e).  A total contribution limit has been found by the United States Supreme Court to be unconstitutional in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.  While the total contribution limit is unconstitutional, the limit of contributions to an individual or a campaign committee of $1,000 is constitutional and that limit remains in full force and effect.  While the ordinance introduced by the Mayor and Council on September 9 has not yet been adopted, the Board wants you to know that the $2,000 total contribution limit is unenforceable and will not be enforced.

Email from Sara Taylor-Ferrell, “Notice From Rockville Board of Supervisors of Elections – Contributions,” September 13, 2019.

For context, the Election Code reads (text recently eliminated is struck through) :

Limit of contributions. It is unlawful for any individual, association, unincorporated association, corporation, or any other entity, either directly or indirectly, to contribute in any election cycle any money or thing of value greater than one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) to any single candidate or campaign committee or to contribute money in excess of one hundred dollars ($100.00) except by check, except that contributions may be made by any electronic method provided said contribution is recorded by the Treasurer and a receipt is provided to the contributor and a copy of the receipt is maintained by the Treasurer. Total contributions by a contributor to various campaign committees and candidates in any election cycle under this subsection shall not exceed two thousand dollars ($2,000.00).

City of Rockville, Election Code section 7-78, part d

The US Supreme Court decided McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission in April 2014, with Chief Justice Roberts stating that, “The government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse.”

Why did it take the City of Rockville five years to discover that part of its Election Code is unconstitutional? A resident inquired about the validity of that section of the code. Perhaps he or she was considering a donation of more than $2,000 or the upcoming election prompted a closer reading of the Election Code that revealed the discrepancy. We won’t really know until the financial reports are posted in October. Campaigns increasingly rely on money to promote their candidates, especially in the absence of a newspaper. This election could break new financial records.

The Mayor and Council is considering other changes to the Election Code to address concerns about who can return a ballot on behalf of a voter and “ballot harvesting.” Sections 8-44 and 8-101 may be amended to prohibit the collecting of ballots by a candidate, treasurer, campaign committee chair or treasurer, or any person at the direction of one of those persons. Otherwise, anyone can collect ballots with the condition he or she is not paid and that the ballots are in a sealed envelope and delivered before the closing of the polls.

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