Ind. AG: City bill banning donations is invalid

Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 8, 2011, 11:00am


FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Legal Newsline) -- Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller says a bill before the Fort Wayne City Council banning certain political donations would be "invalid" if enacted.

In a three-page opinion to state Sen. Tom Wyss, Matthew J. Light, Zoeller's chief counsel, said the proposed ordinance would be "invalid as an attempt to regulate, without specific statutory authority, conduct which is regulated by a state agency."

The measure would make it illegal for city contractors to make political donations to city politicians.

Light said the question is whether the ordinance infringes upon powers specifically withheld from local units of government.

"The city does not have the 'power to regulate conduct that is regulated by a state agency, except as expressly granted by statute,'" he wrote Friday.

Indiana courts, Light said, have repeatedly held that "local ordinances impermissibly intrude on state regulatory systems where they prohibit conduct authorized by the state."

"We find no statutory authority for a local unit of government to regulate conduct related to campaign financing, including contributions," he wrote Wyss.

"In the absence of express statutory authority, local ordinances that impose restrictions that are in conflict with rights granted or reserved by the Legislature are invalid."

Wyss, a Republican, sent a letter to Zoeller's office about the proposed bill last month. The council had recently introduced the legislation for discussion.

The senator already contacted the state's Legislative Services Agency and the state election board about the bill. Like the Attorney General's Office, both told him it is not permitted under state law.

In seeking opinions on the bill's legality, Wyss said he wanted to head off any lawsuits.

"I don't want to see taxpayers pay stupid tax money to defend a suit," he said last month.

But Councilwoman Liz Brown, who authored the bill, told The Journal Gazette that the attorney general's opinion doesn't take into account a newer version she submitted last week.

According to the newspaper, the new version exempts businesses that win contracts from the city through the competitive bidding process.

The new version of Brown's measure also changes the effective date from Sept. 1 to Jan. 1, to avoid any election politics.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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