Campaign contributions in city elections are limited to a total of $250, a judge ruled Thursday in a lawsuit filed by a man who donated to one candidate and wanted to donate more to a committee opposing another candidate.
Criticizing a city election ordinance as "not a model of clarity," Superior Court Judge James R. Milliken ruled that the city's lid on contributions prevents corruption.
Attorney David L. Dick filed the lawsuit after City Atty. John Witt issued an opinion saying Dick would face criminal prosecution if he donated money to a committee opposing mayoral candidate Peter Navarro after already donating $250 to the campaign of Susan Golding.
Dick said he and other Golding supporters wanted to create an anti-Navarro committee to counteract what he said were contradictions in current and past statements from the economics professor.
Dick and attorneys from his firm, Gray, Cary, Ames & Frye, argued that the one-sentence Municipal Code section governing campaign contributions was vague and that limiting contributions of this type violates the constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech.
The law says no one may contribute more than $250 "in support of or opposition to such candidate, including all contributions to all committees supporting or opposing a candidate."
Milliken ruled that "the public policy purpose of preventing corruption or undue influence in such elections is legitimate, and therefore this reasonable limitation of campaign expenditures is not violative of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."
The ruling did not address the issue of a three-party race. Deputy City Atty. Leslie J. Girard argued Tuesday that Dick's lawsuit was moot because a third candidate, Jim Turner, a retired North Park resident, had entered the race.
Kathryn E. Karcher, the lead attorney representing Dick, said the ruling is "unsatisfactory" because Milliken limited his comments to a two-party race.
The judge also looked at the intent of the law, which was passed by the City Council in 1973.
"Although perhaps lacking precision, the statute clearly conveys the message that contributions in a single election are limited to $250 in support of a given candidate or in opposition to the opponent," Milliken ruled.
Though Karcher ruled out an appeal of the decision, she said Dick wants Witt to rule on funding the anti-Navarro committee now that another candidate has joined the fray.
"Basically we are saying the same thing now we were saying at the beginning of the race, that the city attorney needs to fulfill his public duty to let citizens know what they can and cannot do," Karcher said.
Navarro, who has criticized Milliken for ruling against his organization, Prevent Los Angelization Now!, in other cases, could not be reached for comment.