The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld Kentucky’s campaign finance restrictions in a unanimous opinion on Thursday.
The complaint was originally brought by John Schickel, the incumbent state senator for the 11th Senatorial District in Kentucky, and David Watson, an unsuccessful candidate for the 6th House District in 2016. The plaintiffs challenged several Kentucky ethics statutes as well as a campaign finance statute, which has since been repealed, that limited how much money candidates could personally loan to their campaigns. The plaintiffs argued that these campaign restrictions unconstitutionally impinged on their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Dismissing the self-financing challenge as moot, the district court upheld some of the ethics restrictions and struck others down. The Sixth Circuit likewise dismissed the self-financing statute challenge due to lack of standing, as the statute was repealed before it could be enforced. The court went on to consider the challenged ethics provisions and determined that Schickel and Watson did not have standing to challenge the statutes that applied only to lobbyists.
The court instead focused its analysis on the three ethics statutes that apply specifically to candidates: a contribution ban, which prevents legislators and candidates from accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists; a regular session contribution ban, barring legislators and candidates from accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists or a political action committee (PAC) during a regular session of the General Assembly; and a gift ban, prohibiting legislators and their spouses from accepting “anything of value” from a lobbyist.
The court determined that these statutes were narrowly drawn to further the state’s anti-corruption interest in “protect[ing] the integrity of the legislative process and avoid[ing] the reality or appearance that state legislation was being bought and sold.” The court thus found that, because the candidates had not demonstrated that the statutes were enacted to limit the influence of a specific group or perspective, the provisions passed constitutional muster.