Washington Recall Donor Limits Dumped

9th Circuit CourthouseThe state of Washington can’t limit to just $800 the contributions to recall campaign committees , or so says the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.  Robin Farris mounted a recall effort against the Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam in 2010. 

She formed a recall committee and registered with the state, but under Washington law should not accept contributions of more than $800. The committee was accused of violating the contribution limit by accepting more than $800 in “in-kind” contributions from the Oldfield & Helsdon law firm, which had represented Farris and the committee for free in attempts the get her ballot synopsis approved.

The charges were ultimately withdrawn but Farris, the recall committee and the law firm filed a complaint challenging the constitutionality of the state law on free speech grounds.

U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan in Portland issued an injunction in July 2011 barring enforcement of the state law against the recall committee.  Ultimatedly, the recall petition failed to collect the required signatures to qualify for the November 2011 ballot. 

The 9th Circuit upheld the injunction and rejected the notion that the failed recall effort made the question moot.

The state also argued the $800 contribution limit is legal because it supports an important state interest to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption.

Judge Raymond Fisher wrote for the three-judge panel that the state has not presented “any evidence showing that contributions to recall committees in Washington raise the specter of corruption, and certainly not in this case.”

“In sum, the state did not identify a sufficiently important interest to justify the $800 limit on contributions to recall committees,” he wrote.

Case:  Farris v. Seabrook,  No. 11-35620

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