District Judge Paul Crotty said the statutes could not survive
First Amendment scrutiny in light of recent landmark Supreme Court
decisions that have lessened restrictions on big-money political
donors. He noted that personally, he disagrees with the high court.
"I think there is a risk of quid pro quo corruption, but the Supreme
Court has not recognized it," he said during a hearing in Manhattan
federal court. "We know what the Supreme Court has held, whether we
like it or not, and I'm bound to follow it."
The New York laws had limited the amount of money individual donors
could contribute to independent political committees, known as super
PACs, that operate separately from a candidate's campaign. Under
Crotty's ruling, super PACs can now raise unlimited funds, though
committees that coordinate with parties or candidates are still
subject to limits.
In October, the federal appeals court in New York blocked the state
from enforcing the laws in question, pending the disposition of the
underlying case, and noted that similar laws had been struck down
Crotty's decision came just weeks after the Supreme Court ruled that
donors could contribute funds to as many candidates, parties and
committees as they wish, in a case brought by a Republican
businessman, Alabama resident Shaun McCutcheon, challenging federal
caps. The court did not alter the rules that limit the amount of
money donors can give to any one candidate.
The Supreme Court's decision in the McCutcheon case followed its
seminal 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election
Commission, which opened the door for unlimited spending by
independent groups in federal elections as a form of free speech.
Both were 5-4 rulings along party lines, with the court's
conservatives in the majority.
McCutcheon himself has given $60,000 to NYPPP since October,
according to state campaign finance records. NYPPP has also
collected $200,000 from tycoon David Koch, who with his brother
founded one of the country's most prominent conservative super PACs,
Americans for Prosperity.
A spokesman for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who
defended the law in court, said the attorney general was
disappointed by the decision.
"The corrosive influence of money in politics is well-known and a
danger to our system of government, as the judge himself
acknowledged today," said the spokesman, Matt Mittenthal.
"Unfortunately, the judge considered himself bound to this result by
this month's Supreme Court decision in the McCutcheon case, together
with Citizens United."
[to top of second column]
Craig Engle, NYPPP's founder and a partner with Washington, D.C.,
law firm Arent Fox, said in an interview that Crotty's ruling was
"not controversial" given the Supreme Court precedents.
The decision could have a major impact on state and local races,
said Jerry Goldfeder, an election lawyer with Stroock & Stroock &
Lavan in New York.
"I expect there to be a proliferation of independent expenditures
with regard to state and municipal races," he said. "This takes the
lid off unlimited spending by people who wish to pour their
resources into a campaign."
NYPPP was originally formed to boost the candidacy of Republican
Joseph Lhota, who unsuccessfully challenged Democrat Bill de Blasio
in New York City's mayoral race last year. Engle declined to say
whether NYPPP had plans to support other conservative candidates in
A lawyer for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who
defended the law, argued that the statutes were intended to prevent
corruption. But Crotty, who was nominated by Republican President
George W. Bush in 2005, said the Supreme Court's narrow view of what
constitutes corruption had tied his hands.
"One thing is certain: large political donations do not inspire
confidence that the government in a representative democracy will do
the right thing," he said. "Today's reality is that the voices of
‘we the people' are too often drowned out by the few who have great
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Noeleen Walder and David
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