Zimmerman Sues City

District 6 Council member challenges campaign finance law

Council Member Don Zimmerman
Council Member Don Zimmerman (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Late Monday, District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman filed a motion in U.S. District Court requesting an injunction against the city of Austin’s campaign finance restrictions. Zimmerman wants to end the contribution “blackout” period, the limits on non-resident contributions, and the “dissolution” requirement for elected officeholders.

In a memorandum filed by Houston attorneys Jerad Wayne Najvar and Danielle Frisa, Zimmerman argues that Austin’s restrictive campaign finance laws – which cover base contributions and total limits, restrict non-Austinite contributions (and other categories), and prohibit candidates from soliciting contributions during certain periods, among other restrictions – violate his First Amendment rights. The memo states: “Plaintiff [Zimmerman] requests a preliminary injunction so he can exercise his fundamental rights to speech and association, protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, without any further delay in advance of the November 2016 City of Austin elections.”

More specifically, the pleading concludes: “For the reasons shown, after entertaining the City’s response and hearing, this Court should grant a preliminary injunction preventing Defendants from enforcing the Blackout Period, the article III, § 8(A)(3) Aggregate Limit, and the Dissolution Requirement of the City of Austin Charter and Code of Ordinances against Plaintiff or against any other candidate.”

In a press release announcing the lawsuit, Zimmerman said, “I’m proud to serve as a strong voice of fiscal restraint and liberty on the Council, and I need to be able to communicate my views with my constituents and the city. But unfortunately, my ability to do that is stifled by city rules preventing me from fundraising and even [the dissolution requirement] from spending any funds from my campaign account.”

Not content to leave the matter there, Zimmerman took a characteristic swipe at those he considers his political enemies. “I’m also compelled to address frivolous accusations filed against me by my political opponents who are clearly incapable of considering viewpoints different from theirs. The media, my opponents, and outside groups can all spend whatever they want on a political assault, and I am left with both hands tied by city rules.”

In addition to public criticism, Zimmerman may be referring in part to recent ethics complaints filed against him concerning incomplete campaign finance filings and his public denunciation of same-sex marriage as akin to pedophilia. That he complained of being unable to respond in an official press release via his Council office suggests his public relations hands aren’t entirely tied behind his back.

The Zimmerman memorandum filed with the court is available here; Zimmerman’s accompanying complaint is available here.

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City Council 2015, Don Zimmerman, campaign finance, First Amendment

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