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Campaign contribution limits going up

Tuesday, November 12, 2019 by Jo Clifton

While candidates for state and federal offices have been gearing up to run in the March 2020 primary, likely City Council candidates have also been considering whether to run in next November’s election. In fact, candidates for Council have been able to start collecting campaign donations since Nov. 4.

Austin voters approved new campaign finance regulations in 1997 that limit the amount an individual can give to each candidate. City Clerk Jannette Goodall has announced that the amount has risen from $350 to $400 under the city’s campaign finance laws.

Goodall informed Council of the change in a memo last week. She noted, “The limits are increasing for the first time in a number of years based on the Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index.”

There is one other small change: Candidates will now be allowed to collect $38,000, rather than $37,000, “from sources other than natural persons eligible to vote in a postal ZIP code completely or partially within the (city of Austin) limits.”

Former Council Member Don Zimmerman filed suit in 2015 to overturn individual contribution limits and eliminate the six-month time frame for collecting contributions. The court ruled in his favor on the time frame, but rejected his arguments about individual contribution limits. Zimmerman appealed the ruling, first to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 5th Circuit heard the case, but affirmed the lower court’s ruling. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case. However, the case is not completely settled because Zimmerman and his attorney, Jerad Najvar, went back to federal Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin seeking attorney’s fees. Judge Yeakel rejected the request and Zimmerman has appealed that ruling to the 5th Circuit. Zimmerman said Monday he was not sure exactly how much his attorney was seeking, and Najvar did not return a phone call requesting comment.

In 2017, Council revised the regulation overturned by the court, so candidates for Council can now collect campaign funds for one year prior to the election.

Zimmerman, who lost his bid for reelection in 2016 to Jimmy Flannigan, has announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for House District 47, a seat currently held by Democrat Vikki Goodwin.

More information about city election regulations is available on the city of Austin website.

Photo by John Flynn.

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