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Citizens Against Rent Control v. City of Berkeley, 454 U.S. 290 (1981)

Citizens Against Rent Control/Coalition for Fair Housing

v. City of Berkeley, California

No. 80-737

Argued October 14, 1981

Decided December 14, 1981

454 U.S. 290


A Berkeley, Cal., ordinance places a limitation of $250 on contributions to committees formed to support or oppose ballot measures submitted to a popular vote. When appellant association, which was formed to oppose a ballot measure imposing rent control in the city, accepted some contributions exceeding the $250 limit, appellee Berkeley Fair Campaign Practices Commission ordered the association to pay the excess into the city treasury. The association then brought suit in California Superior Court seeking injunctive relief against enforcement of the ordinance, and that court subsequently granted summary judgment for the association, holding that the ordinance was invalid on its face as a violation of the First Amendment. The California Court of Appeal affirmed, but the California Supreme Court reversed, holding that the ordinance furthered compelling governmental interests in ensuring that special interest groups could not "corrupt" the initiative process by spending large amounts to support or oppose a ballot measure, which interests outweighed the First Amendment interests infringed upon.

Held: The restraint imposed by the ordinance on the right of association, and, in turn, on individual and collective rights of expression, plainly contravenes both the right of association and the speech guarantees of the First Amendment. Pp. 454 U. S. 294-300.

(a) To place a limit on individuals wishing to band together to advance their views on a ballot measure, while placing no limit on individuals acting alone, is clearly a restraint on the right of association. Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1, held that contributions to candidates or their committees could be restricted in order to prevent corruption or its appearance. Here, there is no risk of corruption, because this case relates to contributions to committees favoring or opposing ballot measures. Also, there is no risk that the voters will be in doubt as to the identity of those whose money supports or opposes a given ballot measure, since the contributors must make their identities known under the disclosure provisions of the ordinance. Under the exacting judicial review appropriate for infringements

Page 454 U. S. 291

of First Amendment rights, the $250 limit is unconstitutional. Pp. 454 U. S. 295-299.

(b) The contribution limit automatically affects expenditures, and limits on expenditures operate as a direct restraint on freedom of expression of groups and individuals wishing to express themselves through groups. There is no significant state or public interest in curtailing debate and discussion of a ballot measure, and the integrity of the political system will be adequately protected if contributors are identified in a public filing revealing the amounts contributed. Pp. 454 U. S. 299-300.

27 Cal.3d 819, 614 P.2d 742, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 454 U. S. 300. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 454 U. S. 301. BLACKMUN and O'CONNOR, JJ., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 454 U. S. 302. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 454 U. S. 303.

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