CINCINNATI (CN) – The constitutionality of several campaign funding laws in Kentucky was debated in a Sixth Circle panel Thursday morning. The attorney general argued that they were necessary to maintain citizens’ trust in the government.
Republican Senator John Schickel, libertarian candidate David Watson, and former Kentucky Libertarian Party leader Ken Moellman sued members of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance (KREF) and members of the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission (KLEC) in 2015 .
Schickel and the other plaintiffs alleged that numerous restrictions on campaign funding and lobbying were unconstitutional, including contribution restrictions and a prohibition on gifts to lawmakers and their spouses.
Kentucky made major changes to its campaign finance laws with the passage of Senate Bill 75 in 2017, which challenged several plaintiffs’ claims.
However, US District Judge William Bertelsman sided with the plaintiffs on several issues over the past year.
The so-called “gift ban,” which prevents lawmakers and their spouses from receiving “anything of value,” was put down by Bertelsman, who found the law to be unconstitutional and vague.
Bertelsman cited a depository certificate from the executive director of KLEC admitting that “a bottle of water consumed by a lawmaker during a meeting at a lobbyists’ office to discuss an upcoming bill is a” potential “asset that violates the ban. “
“This testimony alone,” wrote the judge, “indicates that the law is unconstitutional because it does not allow a person of normal intelligence to know what behavior is prohibited.”
With that in mind, Judge Bertelsman ruled that the state’s outright ban on campaign contributions by lobbyists and lawmakers was too broad and needed to be narrowed in order to survive the strict scrutiny of these laws.
“This statute,” he wrote, “is also too broad because the candidate may not know that the contribution is from a“ legislator. ”The donor may not even know that he or she is considered a“ legislator ”, if he is an employee of an organization such as the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce or the Kentucky Bar. “
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear argued on behalf of KLEC Thursday, telling the jury of Sixth Circle Judges that the 2017 campaign finance law amendments were “critical to my community.”
“A government that is prone to corruption loses people’s trust,” he said.
Beshear criticized the district court for its strict control, claiming that all measures were “narrow” and met the control required by campaign finance laws.
The AG said the ban on lobbying “does not remove language”.
“At most it channels language,” he said.
US judge Deborah Cook inquired about the gift ban, and specifically about the lifting of an exception that allowed incidental charges when a lobbyist hosted a legislature.
“As you heard. . . Your brother’s point of criticism is: “It’s ridiculous that we can’t get a cup of coffee.” So you’ve read the complaints about the loss of the de minimis exception. Would you bring that up? “Judge Cook asked Beshear.
“It’s a question of scope or degree,” replied Beshear, who he thought is best left to the legislature.
The WG also reminded the panel that the law in question has 14 subsections and 15 exemptions, and that lawmakers receive a daily rate of $ 150 from the state to cover incidental expenses.
“I would love to be a legislator in Kentucky,” joked US Circuit Judge Joan Larsen.
Attorney Christopher Wiest argued on behalf of Senator Schickel, who participated in the arguments.
Judge Cook asked Wiest about the lower court’s level of scrutiny.
The lawyer replied that strict controls were properly applied as, according to Wiest, “they draw lines based on who the speaker is”.
Judges Cook and Larsen showered Wiest with questions about his client’s reputation, as Schickel is a legislator and not a lobbyist.
“Why don’t we let the lobbyists assert the lobbyists’ rights?” Judge Larsen asked.
“There is a double right to give and to receive,” replied Wiest.
“That’s interesting,” Larsen replied skeptically.
Wiest responded to the gift ban and said that his customer’s dispute did not relate to “pockets full of cash, lavish trips, [or] wasteful meals ”but the tiny expenses that are now completely banned.
The lawyer called the language of the law “classic vagueness” and said, “You can drive a truck through the exemptions [in the bill]. ”
In countering the argument, AG Beshear told the panel that the campaign funding revisions were “critical to the running of our government,” citing evidence that Kentucky lawmakers’ votes were bought for less than $ 400.
He asked the panel to overturn the lower court’s decision, saying that pre-trial detention was not required.
The high-ranking US Circuit Judge Gilbert Merritt rounded off the panel.
No timetable has been set for the court’s decision.