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Judge puts brakes on city campaign finance laws

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against three of five San Diego campaign contribution limit laws that plaintiffs argued were unconstitutional, court papers showed Tuesday.

In a 27-page written ruling Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Irma

Gonzalez said the city can’t limit individual contributions to committees or bar candidates from using their own money to campaign more than 12 months before an election.

One of the plaintiffs was Phil Thalheimer who lost to City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner last year in the election to fill the City Council’s District 1 seat.

According to the lawsuit, he is preparing for a possible second run for City Council in 2012. He argued that the current laws prevent him from raising the necessary funds to beat an incumbent.

The judge also ruled that San Diego cannot bar candidates from soliciting and accepting contributions from political parties, but stayed the order to allow time for the city to come up with an alternative limit.

The judge, however, upheld San Diego’s $500 individual campaign

contribution limit and a law that bars candidates from soliciting, accepting and spending contributions more than 12 months before an election.

The lawsuit, filed against the city in December, was brought Republican Thalheimer, the local chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, the Lincoln Club of San Diego County, the Republican Party of San Diego County and pollster John Nienstedt.

The plaintiffs argued the campaign limit laws are unconstitutional.