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Zimmerman appeals campaign contribution limits

Friday, November 18, 2016 by Jo Clifton

City Council Member Don Zimmerman has asked the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to strike down two provisions of Austin’s campaign finance laws: the $350 limit on contributions made by individuals to Council candidates and the aggregate limit on the amount a candidate may accept from outside Austin’s ZIP code area.

Zimmerman, who was elected to represent District 6 in 2014, will be stepping down in January after losing his re-election bid to challenger Jimmy Flannigan.

However, Zimmerman said Thursday that he would not rule out the idea of a future race. “I’m going to stay in the hunt,” he said, noting that he still has $3,000 to $4,000 in his campaign account.

He will be able to maintain that account because federal District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled in July that two other provisions of the city’s campaign finance regulations violated the First Amendment. Yeakel overturned Austin’s so-called blackout period on campaign fundraising and the requirement that candidates either pay leftover contributions to the city or dissolve their campaign accounts between elections.

Zimmerman and his attorney, Jerad Najvar of Houston, both seem quite confident that the appellate court will rule in Zimmerman’s favor.

The Council member said Thursday, “I want you to consider that Fort Worth, where (former city manager) Marc Ott came from, has no campaign finance limits on campaign donations or out-of-town contributions.” During the trial, Zimmerman’s attorney introduced “evidence that Fort Worth has no more of a corruption problem than Austin,” Zimmerman said.

Austin’s rules “restrict our freedoms and are useless. … I’d put our chances at 90 percent that this would be overturned,” he concluded. He declined to speculate whether he would take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court if he were unsuccessful at the appellate court, noting that litigation takes money.

In addition to his campaign account, Zimmerman noted that he has two other accounts related to his political and legal activities: an officeholder account and an account for contributions to help pay his legal fees.

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