If St. Petersburg gets legally challenged next year when its recently passed campaign finance law goes into effect, the city will have big-time representation (at no cost) for a case some predict could go all the way to the Supreme Court.
David Boies and his firm Boies Schiller Flexner, LLP has agreed to represent St. Pete pro bono.
Boies represented Vice President Al Gore before the U.S. Supreme Court in the contested Florida vote count following the 2000 presidential election. He also helped the U.S. government defeat Microsoft in 2000 on an antitrust case.
“The City of St. Petersburg is responsibly preparing to keep big money out of our elections,” says St. Petersburg City Council Chair Darden Rice. “We have taken the necessary steps to ensure that we have adequate support to protect this important ordinance. We are honored to have the pro bono assistance of David Boies and his law firm in our shared interest in defending more effective election laws to preserve our democracy.”
Starting in January, the new law prohibits foreign-influenced corporations from making expenditures in local elections. It also establishes limits on contributions to political action committees, thereby abolishing super PACs in local elections.
Attorneys for the city argued strenuously that passing the ordinance will bring on legal challenges that could rise to millions of dollars. Council members acknowledged that reality, but felt making a stand on the issue money in politics was worth the challenge.
“David Boies’s commitment to defend St. Petersburg’s ordinance pro bono affirms that this law will be a model for communities throughout the nation on how to fight big money in politics and defend the promise of American self-government,” said John Bonifaz of Free Speech for People, a national group that had worked for years on campaign finance reform.
Although supporters cite the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in advocating for the ordinance, Free Speech for People has been working on trying to bring down the SpeechNow.org case.
In March 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in SpeechNow.org v. FEC opened the door to super PACs by holding that the federal law limiting contributions to political committees to $5,000 per person each year did not apply to a political committee that promised to make only “independent expenditures.”
While some federal appellate circuits have followed the SpeechNow ruling, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over federal cases in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, has not ruled on this question, nor has the U.S. or Florida Supreme Courts.
Since 2012, the number of Super PACS have nearly doubled, and both main candidates in St. Pete’s mayoral election raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through political action committees this year.