City officials will argue that the city’s election ordinance is unconstitutional as part of a strategy to strengthen their position in a lawsuit that could shape the early stages of this year’s mayor’s race. After defending the city Monday in civil court, City Attorney David Feldman said he would write an opinion explaining to the City Council why its fundraising “blackout” rule is unconstitutional. A federal judge on Friday ruled that law likely violated the First Amendment. A separate lawsuit by likely mayoral candidate Chris Bell, the subject of a hearing in state court Monday, accused the city of failing to strictly enforce its fundraising law. Feldman intends to take advantage of the ruling in the federal case to convince the judge in the Bell lawsuit that Bell no longer has a case.
The strategy, hatched in closed chambers by Feldman after more than an hour of heated debate in the 165th District Court, amounts to the city capitalizing on its own loss just days before.
“In the first instance, we have some obligation to defend the constitutionality of (city) ordinances,” Feldman said in an interview following Monday’s hearing. “But we have a ruling from a federal district court judge that the blackout period is unconstitutional. I believe he is correct.”
Houston’s blackout period, passed in 1992, prohibits city candidates from raising money for 10 months before the February of an election year. The blackout, meant to limit corruption, effectively froze campaigning until Feb. 1, when a frenzy of renewed fund-raising ensued.