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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Friday, July 2, 2021 by Jo Clifton
Judge denies Virden’s request for injunction
Federal District Judge Robert Pitman has denied political candidate Jennifer Virden’s request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the city from enforcing its campaign finance law. Virden immediately filed an appeal.
Virden, who lost in a runoff last December to City Council Member Alison Alter for the District 10 seat, had asked the court to invalidate the city ordinance that prohibits fundraising for political campaigns outside of a one-year window before the election.
Virden, an independent real estate broker and design/build remodeling general contractor who has announced she is running for mayor in the November 2022 election, claims that non-incumbents are disadvantaged by having to comply with the time constraints. Although Virden argued that the ordinance was in effect a three-year blackout period, the judge agreed with the city that for Virden the blackout period was effectively only 11 months. That’s because she raised money and participated in a runoff election in December 2020.
As the judge pointed out in his ruling Thursday, “a plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must establish that he is likely to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.” The judge ruled that Virden failed to show that she would be irreparably harmed without the injunction, pointing out that she did not file her lawsuit against the city until March, when she could have filed immediately after the runoff election.
“In addition to her lack of a showing that she will suffer irreparable harm, Virden’s delay in filing her suit seeking a preliminary injunction tilts the balance of the equities towards the city,” the judge wrote. He noted that the decision conforms with the decision in the Zimmerman case.
Five years ago, Council Member Don Zimmerman was seeking to invalidate the previous city campaign finance law, which prevented him from raising funds more than six months in advance of an election. In that case, the parties had many months to work on their briefs and prepare for trial. Zimmerman ultimately won a part of that case related to the six-month window for raising campaign funds. Later, Council enacted the current law that limits fundraising to one year prior to an election.
Virden could prevail eventually, but it seems unlikely she will do so very much before November, when she can raise money under the current law.
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