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Judge: City ‘pay to play’ ordinance overstepped authority in regulating political contributions

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne’s NBC) – A plan to regulate political contributions to city political candidates gets a “thumbs down” from a judge.

Allen Superior Court Judge Jennifer DeGroote on Tuesday ordered the city’s prohibition on “pay to play” be permanently enjoined, or shut down.

“It shut people out of the election process entirely,” said Mark Giaquinta, the attorney who represented Kyle and Kimberly Witwer, the couple that sued to block the city ordinance put in force in January 2018.

That ordinance barred individuals and businesses donating more than $2,000 in a calendar year to city political candidates from then bidding on professional service contracts with city government.

In her ruling, the judge wrote the city “…attempted to address legitimate concerns regarding quid pro quo exchanges or pay to play arrangements that tie contracts for professional services to contributions made to elected government officials who have authority to influence the awards of such business. However, the Court finds that efforts by Fort Wayne, as well-intentioned as they may be, (are) not permitted under current Indiana law as no such authority has been extended to municipalities.”

Giaquinta argues there’s no evidence of contracts being awarded based on contributions.

“There is no pay to play problem, this was a solution in search of a problem,” Giaquinta said.

Jason Arp, who co-authored the ordinance, is disappointed with the outcome in court.

“We saw that people that are contributing to the mayor’s campaign had a 90 percent correlation to the amount that they’re getting in contracts from the city. Obviously there is a problem there, and we addressed it,” Arp said.

Mayor Tom Henry says he felt the city was already protected from pay to play threats under state statute, and that the ordinance might have infringed on freedom of speech rights.

He says he will sit down with the city attorney to consider what next steps the city might take following this ruling.

Jeff Neumeyer

Jeff Neumeyer is a reporter for WPTA.

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