In McNeilly v. Land the Sixth Circuit considered an appeal by Greg McNeilly of a district court’s denial of his request for a preliminary injunction enjoining the Michigan Secretary of State from enforcing the individual contribution limits for contributions to state House and Senate candidates as set forth in Michigan Compiled Laws § 169.252(1).  This law limits individuals seeking to contribute to political campaigns to $500 per state House candidate committee and $1,000 per state Senate candidate committee.  McNeilly claimed that these limits violated his rights of political association and political expression under the First Amendment.

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of McNeilly’s request for a preliminary injunction.  As part of its analysis, the Court first considered McNeilly’s likelihood of success on the merits applying several factors set forth by the Supreme Court in Randall v. Sorrell, 548 U.S. 230 (2006)(plurality).  In applying these factors to the record before it, the Sixth Circuit determined that “Michigan’s contribution limits [do not] significantly restrict the funding for challengers to run competitive campaigns.”  The Court also noted that Michigan’s statute does not impose the same limits on political parties as apply to individual contributors and that it specifically excepts certain volunteer-related expenses such as travel expenses from the applicable contribution limits.  Finally, despite the fact that Michigan’s contribution limits are not index adjusted, the Court found that they were not suspiciously low and are in fact higher than the applicable individual contribution limits in several other states.  In evaluating all of the Randall factors, the Court determined that McNeilly failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits on his claim that the contribution limits were unconstitutional.  The Court also found that McNeilly failed to show that he would be irreparably harmed if an injunction did not issue and that there would be significant harm to Michigan if there were no limits on individual campaign contributions less than three months prior to the November state general elections.  The Court also agreed with the district court that having no individual contribution limits in place leading up to the general election would have an adverse effect on the public and the public interest.

Heading into election season, the topic of campaign contributions whether by individual donors or political action committees has continued to be a hot one.  In the coming months, it will be interesting to see whether similar challenges are raised in other states, particularly in those states that have lower individual contribution limits than Michigan.