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City Loses Pay-To-Play Ordinance In Court

Rebecca Green

An Allen Superior Court judge ruled against the City of Fort Wayne over its 2018 “pay-to-play” ordinance, saying the ordinance is preempted under state law and cannot be enforced under the Home Rule Act.

Indiana’s Home Rule Act allows local governments to act independently of state governments.


The measure was first proposed and passed by council in 2017, limiting anyone -- all the way down to family members -- looking to bid on city projects to political donations of local candidates at $2,000 or less.


It was vetoed by Mayor Tom Henry that December over constitutionality concerns. Council overrode his veto days later. In early 2018, the measure was amended to focus on “independent contractors” in an effort to make the language more legally sound.


Kyle Witwer of Witwer Construction and his wife Kimberly sued the city in April. They, particularly Kimberly, argued that their political support for candidates as private citizens should not ultimately affect their livelihood.


Judge Jennifer Degroote ruled in the Witwers’ favor. She found that the state handles issues related to elections and campaign finance, and the Home Rule Act doesn’t make exceptions to a city like Fort Wayne on an ordinance that new places restrictions on either.


City officials say they are evaluating the ruling and have not yet decided whether to appeal.


Zach joined 89.1 WBOI as a reporter and local host for All Things Considered, and hosted Morning Edition for the past few years. In 2022, he was promoted to Content Director.