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In Wake Of Ruling, D.C. Attorney General Urges Repeal Of Campaign Finance Limit

A Supreme Court ruling has endangered an $8,500 cap on aggregate campaign donations in D.C.
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A Supreme Court ruling has endangered an $8,500 cap on aggregate campaign donations in D.C.

D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan is urging city legislators to repeal a specific campaign finance limit that was recently the focus of a Supreme Court ruling.

In testimony to the D.C. Council on Tuesday, Nathan said that an existing $8,500 cap on aggregate contributions — the practice of giving to multiple candidates during an election cycle — falls on the wrong side of the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling handed down earlier this month.

"This ruling suggests that the District's aggregate limit... is likely unconstitutional and should be considered for repeal," said Nathan.

In that case, a 5-4 majority found that a federal cap on aggregate campaign contributions violated the First Amendment because donations are considered a form of speech. While the ruling applied only to federal campaigns, it nevertheless called into questions similar limits in 12 states and D.C.

Last week, Maryland's Board of Elections said it would stop enforcing a $10,000 cap on aggregate contributions.

Nathan said that while individual campaign limits — which top out at $2,000 for a mayoral candidate — passed constitutional muster, the aggregate limits would have to be removed to avoid lawsuits.

"That modification could be made to conform the District's laws to the most recently expressed First Amendment rules from the Supreme Court and thus avoid unnecessary complexities and costs to the District of having the now-suspect District law on aggregate caps challenged and likely struck down by the courts," he said.

Nathan, who was testifying on a bill that would limit how much city contractors could donate to candidates running for office, said that while he didn't agree with the Supreme Court's ruling, the city did not have a choice but to repeal its aggregate caps.

"I regret that the the Supreme Court made this choice, which appears likely to benefit wealthy participants in the political process... but it is the law of the land at this time," he said.

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