Annie Cosby Jan. 19, 2015, 9:01am


A Houston City Council candidate is suing over claims a city ordinance limiting fundraising is unconstitutional.

Brent Trebor Gordon filed a lawsuit Nov. 4 in the Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas against the city of Houston and Annise Parker, in her official capacity as mayor of of Houston.

According to the complaint, Gordon, who will run for Houston City Council at-large in the November 2015 general election, is challenging a provision of the code of ordinances of the city of Houston which imposes a 10-month blackout period on fundraising for city office. Gordon says the ordinance prohibits November 2015 candidates for city office from soliciting or receiving contributions until Feb. 1, 2015, only nine months before Election Day, regardless of how many contributors would like to lend their support or how small their desired contributions.

According to Gordon, without the ability to raise contributions, he cannot pay for activities such as neighborhood meet-and-greets, contracting for a custom campaign website, campaign staff and printing and distributing campaign materials. The complaint states this shortened fundraising window is irrational and prevents candidates from effectively running campaigns but does not further the prevention of corruption.

Gordon says any claimed purpose served by the ordinance is undermined because candidates for non-city offices can raise unlimited funds and then transfer those for use in a campaign for city office in the same election. According to the lawsuit, this means that any prospective candidates not currently holding a non-City office must wait until Feb. 1, 2015, to even begin soliciting support, candidates who currently hold non-city office are raising hundreds of thousands of dollars the donors and candidates understand to be devoted to their November 2015 city campaigns, such as a current state representative believed to be running for Houston mayor in 2015.

Gordon also says the ordinance allows incumbent city officeholders who are term-limited but remain eligible to run for other office may raise contributions to retire campaign debt without limitation by the blackout period or even by the $5,000 and $10,000 limitations on contribution amounts from individuals and political committees, creating a bias toward incumbents. The lawsuit states these exceptions to the blackout period not only stifles candidates such as Gordon but also renders the provision fatally underinclusive under the 1st Amendment.

Gordon seeks declaratory judgment that the code in question is unconstitutional under the 1st Amendment to the U. S. Constitution and an injunction preventing the defendants from enforcing it. He is represented by attorney Jerad Wayne Najvar of Najvar Law Firm in Houston.

Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas case number: 4:14-CV-03146

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