Legal Library

Marc Katz v. City of Austin, Texas

Summary of Decision

A federal court in Austin, Texas recently signaled approval of that city's $100 campaign contribution limits, affirming the validity of even stringent caps on donations. *Opinion* The plaintiff, Austin restauranteur Marc Katz, argued that the limit was so low it would prevent him from mounting an effective campaign. But the court refused to issue a preliminary injunction in advance of city elections this May. Relying on the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC and the recent decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Frank v. City of Akron, the court held that Katz was unlikely to ultimately prevail on the merits of his claim and left the limits in place while the lawsuit is pending.

While observing that the Austin contribution limit is "even more restrictive" than the Akron limits upheld in the Frank case, the court found that the plaintiff had failed to meet the heavy burden that Shrink articulated for those challenging contribution limits: he failed to show that the limit was "so radical in effect as to render political association ineffective." The court refused to "fine tune" the limits, noting the many low-cost campaign methods available to candidates in a medium-sized city such as Austin, including candidate forums, direct mail, and door-to-door campaigning. The decision was buttressed by evidence put forward by the city that challengers in city-wide races had succeeded under the limits.

NVRI, which provided informal assistance in the case, congratulates the City of Austin and its attorneys on this victory. It affirms the democratic process by which Austinites voted in 1997 to enact the limits and then voted down an attempted repeal in 2002. At this writing, it was not known whether the plaintiff would pursue further litigation.