Political activist sues state over campaign giving

‘Blackout period’ is at issue

A federal judge on Tuesday scheduled a June 19 hearing on a request to prevent the state from enforcing a law that prohibits candidates for state office from accepting or soliciting campaign contributions more than two years before an election.

The hearing on Peggy Jones' request for a preliminary injunction will begin at 1:30 p.m. June 19 before U.S. District Judge James Moody in Little Rock. It is expected to last no more than two hours.

On April 5, Jones, who calls herself a longtime political activist, sued the Pulaski County prosecuting attorney and members of the state Ethics Commission, claiming that the "blackout period" law violates her First Amendment right to contribute money to candidates she wants to support for election in 2022.

In a motion for a preliminary injunction filed Thursday, her attorneys said, "The Blackout Period is unconstitutional for two important reasons. First, it is not closely drawn to address an important governmental interest, because there is no reason to believe that a campaign contribution given two years and one day before election is more likely to be corruptive than a contribution given one year and 364 days before an election."

The motion continued: "Second, the Blackout Period is overbroad, because it bars all campaign contributions, including small contributions that do not present a potential for corruption."

The law in question is Arkansas Code 7-6-203(e). It was adopted by Arkansas voters in 1996 as part of a package of amendments to state campaign-finance laws.

The case was first assigned to U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson, who recused Friday in a text entry that didn't state a reason for the recusal. The case was then assigned to Moody, who immediately scheduled the preliminary injunction hearing.

A preliminary injunction would prevent the state from enforcing the law until the constitutionality of the law can be fully considered.

In 1997, Wilson presided over a lawsuit that challenged six of seven amendments approved under a campaign-finance measure known as Initiated Act 1, which reduced contribution limits for certain offices. As a result of the suit, each of the challenged amendments was invalidated. The seventh amendment, which wasn't challenged then, is the one now being challenged.

Violations of the provisions of the blackout period can be prosecuted as Class A misdemeanors, which are punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. They also can result in a fine by the Ethics Commission.

Metro on 05/29/2019

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