Mayor and Town Council


Ralph D. Karpinos, Town Attorney


Recommended Changes to Town Campaign Contribution Limitations and Disclosure Regulations


February 26, 2007

The attached Ordinance, if the Council chooses to enact it, would make inflation-related changes to the Town’s current limitations on campaign contributions and disclosure of names of contributors.


In 1999, following receipt of special legislative authority from the North Carolina General Assembly, the Town enacted regulations to establish limitations on the amount of money that may be contributed to candidates for Town elective office and require disclosure of the names of contributors.  Key provisions include:

1.       a limitation of $200 that may be contributed by any person to any candidate for Town elective office for each election cycle; and

2.       a requirement that the names of contributors of amounts greater than $20 be publicly disclosed.

At the time the Council enacted the current regulations seven years ago it was noted that the regulations should be reconsidered at some point to see if changes would be appropriate.  Moreover, in June 2006 the Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion, Randall v. Sorrell, providing additional guidance on the rationale needed to justify campaign contribution restrictions and on other issues related to campaign contribution limitations. 

The Council, on November 13, 2006, held a public forum to hear citizen comment on whether adjustments to the Town’s campaign contribution regulations should be considered.  (Please see attachments 1 and 2, the report presented at that meeting and the minutes from that public hearing, including citizen and Council comments.)  At the end of the Council’s discussion that evening, we indicated we would consider the comments and bring back this follow-up report.



In Randall v. Sorrell, the Court expressed concern regarding the Vermont Act’s burdening First Amendment interests by threatening to inhibit effective advocacy by those who seek election, hampering participation in campaigns and discouraging challengers from running for office.


The plurality opinion of the Court concluded that the Vermont Act “burdens First Amendment interests by threatening to inhibit effective advocacy by those who seek election, particularly challengers; its contribution limits mute the voice of political parties; they hamper participation in campaigns through volunteer activities; and they are not indexed for inflation.”  (Emphasis added.)


As noted during the Council’s discussion on November 13, 2006, based on the results of recent Council elections and the Court’s analysis in Randall v. Sorrell there are a number of arguments that can be raised both for and against making adjustments to the Town’s current contribution limitations.  In addition to the actual results of the last few elections and comparing the amounts expended by candidates to the success of candidates, factors such as: the size of Vermont’s legislative districts, both in population and square miles, compared to the population and size of Chapel Hill; the number of media outlets; the availability of free public forums; the ease of getting one’s message out based on population density; and the number of potential donors, all contribute to determining a reasonable limitation on contributions.  


Based on recent municipal election campaigns, data on amounts contributed and spent by candidates, and the election results, the Town’s regulations would generally appear to be reasonable.


However, one clear concern that emerges from consideration of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in the Vermont case is that there should be some consideration given to making adjustments to the limitations over time based on the change in the value of money. 


According to the United States Department of Labor Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator, in order to have the equivalent buying power of $200 in 1999, in 2006 you would have needed $242.02.  Using the same calculator at the Department’s website, $200 in 2006 has the equivalent buying power of $165.28 in 1999.  (  


Based on this information, in order for the Town to have limitations in 2007 that are reasonably equivalent to the $200 and $20 limitations in 1999, we believe an appropriate adjustment should be made.  On the basis of the change to the consumer price index over this period of time, changes have been incorporated into the attached recommended ordinance to increase the maximum contribution that can be made from $200 to $250 and to increase the disclosure limitation from $20 to $25. If the ordinance is enacted, these changes would be effective for the upcoming 2007 municipal election campaign.




That the Council enact the attached ordinance making adjustments to the campaign contribution and disclosure limitations based on the change in the Consumer Price Index since 1999.  


Based on the Supreme Court’s opinion, we believe it will be appropriate to revisit this ordinance every few years to determine if an adjustment should be made for inflation.



  1. November 13, 2006, Agenda Item #3 (p. 5).(Attachments are available on the Town website.)
  2. Minutes from November 13, 2006, Public forum (p. 7).