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Legal Battle Heats Up Over Campaign Contributions From Political Parties

Audio

Aired 5/19/10

The City of San Diego is considering its options following a decision by a federal appeals court to allow unlimited campaign contributions from political parties.

The City of San Diego is considering its options following a decision by a federal appeals court to allow unlimited campaign contributions from political parties.

San Diego’s Republican Party successfully sued to overturn the City of San Diego’s ban on contributions from political parties. The city’s Ethics Commission proposed a $1,000 limit on party contributions, which would go into effect after the June election.

But the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals has issued a ruling that opens a window for political parties to spend whatever they like, a window the city hopes to close.

Attorney Dick Semerdjian, representing San Diego, said the city was surprised and disappointed by the ruling.

"The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is known as a very liberal court," he said. "However the two justices who were serving on the emergency hearing panel were the most conservative of the justices of the Ninth Circuit.”

Semerdjian says the city has two options. It can appeal the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court. In this case, Justice Kennedy would hear the appeal. The other option is to see if the city charter would allow the $1,000 cap on contributions from political parties to go into effect immediately.

Semerdjian says the city attorney is researching the options and the mayor and council will decide on a course of action. Whatever happens, he said, “time is of the essence.”

Tony Krvaric, chair of San Diego’s Republican Party, says the party has seized the window of opportunity and is committed to contributing $20,000 to Lorie Zapf, a candidate running to replace Councilwoman Donna Frye.

Jess Durfee of San Diego’s Democratic Party says they have no plans to start cutting checks for candidates in the primary. He says the Republicans are propping up a weak candidate in the nonpartisan race. He says Howard Wayne, the democratic candidate for Frye’s seat, has raised significant funds of his own by appealing to voters.

Voter registration in Frye’s Sixth District is fairly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. If no one wins more than 50 percent of the vote in June, there will be a November runoff for the seat.

Currently, the San Diego City Council is made up of eight council members: two Republicans and six Democrats.

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