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Arkansas’ Campaign Contribution ‘Blackout Period’ Halted

Jan. 27, 2020, 3:57 PM

Arkansas can’t enforce a law prohibiting “a longtime political activist” from donating to political campaigns until two years before election day, because the law likely violates her First Amendment rights, the Eighth Circuit said Monday.

Potential donor Peggy Jones is likely to win her case challenging the law, as Arkansas didn’t present any evidence supporting the state’s rationale for it, namely, that the “blackout period” prevents corruption or its appearance, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit said. The court affirmed a trial court order that halted the provision while the lawsuit proceeds.

Jones wants to donate money to candidates running for state office in 2022. But, if she does so, she could be prosecuted under a law that prohibits candidates from accepting contributions more than two years before an election.

She sued various county and state officials to prevent them from enforcing the law. The First Amendment protects political expression and political association, so “any attempt to restrict political contributions must withstand exacting scrutiny,” the court said.

Under this standard, Arkansas bore the burden of establishing that the blackout period advanced a sufficiently important state interest by means narrow enough to avoid infringing an individual’s First Amendment rights, the court said.

Arkansas argued the blackout period is needed to prevent corruption or its appearance. But the state didn’t show that earlier contributions are likely to present a greater risk of actual or apparent corruption than donations made within the two-year time limit, the court said.

The state’s other rationale—that prohibiting donors from contributing to candidates more than two years before an election ensures compliance with other anti-corruption measures—also fell short, the court said. There was no evidence the blackout period helped candidates or donors, for example, avoid “base limits” on campaign contributions, it said.

Judge David R. Stras wrote the opinion, which was joined by Judges Jane Kelly and Michael J. Melloy.

Quattlebaum & Grooms represented Jones. The Arkansas Attorney General’s Office represented the county and state officials.

The case is Jones v. Jegley, 8th Cir., No. 19-2260, 1/27/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Anne Pazanowski in Washington at mpazanowski@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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