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2017 "Pay-To-Play" Law Faces Legal Challenge

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The City of Fort Wayne is facing a legal challenge over a 2017 campaign finance measure that limits the amount of money contractors who work or intend to work with the City of Fort Wayne can donate to a political campaign to $2,000.

The proposal, also referred to as a “pay-to-play” ordinance, was brought forth by Republican Council members John Crawford and Jason Arp in November 2017.

At the time, Crawford noted it wasn’t meant to target Mayor Tom Henry, donors or any other members of Council. While the ordinance doesn’t limit a contractor’s contributions to a PAC, the goal is to improve transparency in the election process.

“The passage of this ordinance would greatly reduce any questions that large contributions are affecting the awarding of contracts,” Crawford said in 2017.

But it became the source of an aggressive back-and-forth between Council and Henry’s office. Council passed the measure on a 6-2 vote in November, which Henry vetoed one month later upon the suggestion from four legal firms that it was unconstitutional.

Five days after the veto, Council overturned the decision 6-3. Thus, the law went on the books. Now, the ordinance is facing legal scrutiny that was predicted before passage.

On April 25, Witwer Construction Co. filed a lawsuit in the Allen County Superior Court against the city, claiming the move infringes on its free speech rights and asking a judge to prevent the ordinance’s implementation.

Wednesday, Crawford and Arp -- along with fellow Republican Council members Russ Jehl and Tom Didier -- stood by their decision. They noted that a lawsuit doesn’t mean an inevitable loss in court; Crawford pushed back on the legal questions put forth by the mayor’s office, saying they were paid to represent their client’s interests -- and had also contributed to Henry’s 2015 mayoral campaign.

“That doesn’t mean that their opinions are necessarily incorrect, but it does raise a question of some possible bias and just because they say we’re wrong, doesn’t mean we’re wrong in court,” Crawford said.

Crawford is running for the Republican mayoral nomination in Fort Wayne this year.

The city has yet to respond to the suit and no hearing date has been set on the request for an injunction.

Zach joined 89.1 WBOI as a reporter and local host for All Things Considered. He currently hosts Morning Edition.
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