United States District Court, D. Maine
DECISION AND ORDER ON MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION
D. BROCK HORNBY, District Judge.
Four Maine residents have requested a preliminary injunction ordering the State to permit them to double their contributions to an independent candidate for governor in the 2014 election. They want to be able to match the higher amounts that contributors have been allowed to give to the Democratic and Republican candidates. Maine has a $1, 500 contribution ceiling per "election" and defines a primary as a separate election. Under Maine law, party candidates have a primary election before the general election; independent candidates do not. Until the date of the primary, contributors to party candidates can contribute for both elections (primary and general), i.e., up to $3, 000. The party candidates can use any of this money for the general election. This year the Democratic and the Republican candidates had no opponents in their respective primary elections. The issue is whether this contribution scheme as applied in this election when there was no contested primary unconstitutionally discriminates against contributors to independent candidates.
There is no factual dispute, the issues have been briefed thoroughly, and I heard oral argument on August 12, 2014. I conclude that the four plaintiffs who wish to increase their contributions to an independent candidate to the ceiling allowed to those who contributed to party candidates before the primary have met the standards for a preliminary injunction. Accordingly I GRANT their motion.
Maine statutes and regulations prohibit individuals from contributing more than $1, 500 to a candidate for governor. 21 M.R.S.A. § 1015(1). The $1, 500 cap is per "election." Id . The statute defines the term "election" to mean "primary and general elections and referenda, whether regular or special." 21-A M.R.S.A. § 1 (2). In connection with the governor's race, state regulations define it as "any primary, general or special election for Governor." 94-270 C.M.R. ch. 1, § 1 (9). Party candidates must win a primary election in order to appear on the general election ballot. 21-A M.R.S.A. § 331. An independent candidate does not confront a primary. Id . § 351. Accordingly, beginning at the time the candidate declares candidacy, supporters of a party candidate can contribute twice the $1, 500 limit-once for attribution to the primary and once for attribution to the general election-for a total of $3, 000. Before the primary election date, the candidate must segregate amounts attributed to the general election and not use them until after the primary. 94-270 C.M.R. ch. 1, § 6(7)(A). Amounts attributed to the primary, however, can be used in either election. In contrast, contributors to an independent candidate can never give more than $1, 500 to their candidate at any time.
This year, party nominees were required to gather 2, 000 registered voter signatures by March 17, 2014, to get their names on the primary ballots, 21-A M.R.S.A. §§ 6, 334, 335(5)(A). Only Michael Michaud did so as a Democrat; only Paul LePage did so as a Republican. Even after the signature-filing deadline of March 17, the Democratic and Republican nominees could have faced opposition in their respective primaries from a write-in candidate who submitted a declaration of candidacy by 5 p.m. on April 28, 2014. Id . §§ 338, 722-A. No one did so. Accordingly, after April 28, candidates Michaud and LePage could face no primary opposition. Nevertheless, supporters of those party candidates could continue to contribute $3, 000 to their respective candidates (as they could before the April 28 deadline), while supporters of the independent candidates continued to be limited to $1, 500 (as they were from the outset). Only after the June 10 primary were supporters of the party candidates limited to $1, 500 like supporters of independent candidates.
Independent candidates were required to gather 4, 000 signatures by June 2, 2014, in order to get their names on the general election ballot. 21-A M.R.S.A. §§ 6, 354(5)(B), (8-A). Eliot Cutler and Lee Schultheis both did so.
The four plaintiffs have each contributed the $1, 500 maximum to independent candidate Cutler and they want to contribute more. Dec. of Amy Woodhouse ¶¶ 4, 5 (ECF No. 3-1); Dec. of Richard Toby Scott ¶¶ 4, 6 (ECF No. 3-2); Dec. of William Hastings ¶¶ 4, 6 (ECF No. 3-3); Dec. of J. Thomas Franklin ¶¶ 4, 5 (ECF No. 3-4). The Commission says that on account of Maine statutes, they may not. Oct. 18, 2013 Letter from the Maine Commission on Gov. Ethics and Election Practices to attorney representing Cutler (ECF No. 3-11). The plaintiffs say that prohibition unconstitutionally infringes their First Amendment rights of speech and association and denies them equal protection of the laws.
None of the candidates is a party in this lawsuit.
A court must consider four things in deciding whether to issue a preliminary injunction: the plaintiffs' likelihood of success on the merits; the potential for irreparable injury if the injunction does not issue; the balance of the hardships to the parties in issuing or denying the injunction; and the effect, if any, on the public interest. Corporate Technologies, Inc. v. Harnett , 731 F.3d 6, 9 (1st Cir. 2013). Likelihood of success is always the most important, W Holding Co., Inc. v. AIG Ins. Co.-Puerto Rico , 748 F.3d 377, 383 (1st Cir. 2014), and I turn to it first.
Likelihood of Success
First, I summarize the relevant caselaw on the issues that the plaintiffs have raised. The fountainhead of modern election law is Buckley v. Valeo , 424 U.S. 1 (1976). Although the decision has been mightily criticized over the years, the Supreme Court has not yet upset two of its major principles: limits on expenditures by candidates are unconstitutional; limits on contributions to a particular candidate will be upheld if they are appropriately designed to reduce quid pro quo corruption or the appearance of corruption. In concluding that contribution limits are constitutional, Buckley said that "contribution and expenditure limitations both implicate fundamental First Amendment interests, " 421 U.S. at 23, but that limitations on a candidate's expenditures for political expression are "significantly more severe restrictions on protected freedoms of political expression and association than... limitations on financial contributions." Id . With respect to First Amendment expression:
a limitation upon the amount that any one person or group may contribute to a candidate or political committee entails only a marginal restriction upon the contributor's ability to engage in free communication. A contribution serves as a general expression of support for the candidate and his views, but does not communicate the underlying basis for the support. The quantity of communication by the contributor does not increase perceptibly with the size of his contribution, since the expression rests solely on the undifferentiated, symbolic act of ...