George McDonald is running for Mayor of New York city in the September 2013 Republican primary. In January he filed a lawsuit, McDonald v City Campaign Finance Board, 100038-2013, in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, alleging that the city’s limit on individual contributions ($4,950 for Mayoral candidates) is unconstitutionally low. On February 25, the Court permitted him to continue raising contributions in excess of the legal limit for the time being, but he cannot spend that money while the case is pending. He has already received ten contributions in excess of the legal limit.
His lawsuit alleges that the contribution limit is so low, the result is that only wealthy individuals have a chance of being competitive, since they can spend as much of their own money as they wish on their own campaign. He also argues that because New York state has much higher contribution limits for state office ($41,100 for Governor), that shows the city doesn’t need a low limit. Originally the city’s relatively low limits were only imposed against candidates who accept public funding, but in 2004 they were extended to candidates who don’t take public funding.
The city defends its law by saying he is free to qualify for public funding, but McDonald argues that it is too difficult for a candidate who enters the race without a big base of support already to qualify for public funding. New York city public funding requirements are quite difficult, relative to public funding programs in places such as Maine and Arizona. This case is many similarities to lawsuits against restrictive ballot access requirements, and lawsuits against severe barriers to debates. States and debate sponsors defend severe requirements by saying that elections are only intended for candidates who enjoy substantial support. But opponents point out that a candidate may very well gain substantial support in the campaign itself, but ballot access barriers and debate barriers block the process of obtaining support.