|Attorney General Greg Zoeller|
This time Republican State Senator Tom Wyss asked Zoeller for an advisory opinion as to whether a proposed ordinance considered by the Fort Wayne Common Council that would limit contributions from those doing business with the city, violates Indiana law. The Attorney General concludes with the brief answer being that "[t]he proposed ordinance, if enacted by the City of Fort Wayne, would be invalid as an attempt to regulate, without specific authority, conduct which is regulated by a state agency."
Note: A link to the opinion and other posts on the subject can be found at the Indiana Law Blog.
|State Senator Tom Wyss|
Some background is in order. Local government such as counties, cities, towns, etc. are subdivisions of state government. Unlike the relationship between the national and state government which is federal in nature, the relationship between state and local government is a unitary one. Basically that means that local government are sub-units of state government and can only do whatever the state government allows them to do.
Some states, such as Indiana, have decided to tinker with this unitary relationship to make it more federal in nature. Those states have adopted "home rule" provisions. Instead of local government only being permitted to act upon the express authority of state government, in a home rule state, local governments can pass ordinances dealing with issues unless expressly prohibited by state government.
Despite home rule, if Indiana expressly withholds power from local government, local government cannot pass an ordinance on the subject. Further, if the legislature delegates to a state agency the power to regulate certain conduct, then local government is prohibited from acting to regulate that conduct. These two distinct concepts are somewhat blurred in the opinion Light authors.
First, there is no statute that expressly prohibits local government from adopting an ordinance limiting or prohibiting contributions from contractors doing business in the City. That exception to the Home Rule power gets disposed of quickly.
Light though concludes that the "regulation of campaign financing, including contributions, is within the statutory authority of the State Election Commission and the subject of specific statutory requirements at [IC 3-9-2 et seq.]. Light concludes the paragraph, peppering his argument with legal citations and argument.
"It is well established in our law that when the legislature properly enacts a general law which occupies the area, then a municipality may not by local ordinance impose restrictions which conflict with rights granted or reserved by the General Assembly." Suburban Homes Corp. v. City of Hobart, 411 N.E.2d 169, 171 (Ind. Ct. App. 1980).Here's the critical next line of the Suburban Homes opinion, a line which Light conveniently leaves out:
"However, it has been observed that where the legislature does not intend to occupy the area, a local ordinance may be sustained where it merely supplements the burdens imposed by the statute with additional requirements that are logically consistent with the statutory purpose. City of Indianapolis v. Sablica (1976), 264 Ind. 271, 342 N.E.2d 853...."The fact Light omits this language, which supports the proposed ordinance, suggests to me the AG's advisory opinion is politicized, not an objective conclusion about what the law says.
Light continues with the paragraph:
"We find no statutory authority for a local unit of government to regulate conduct related to campaign financing, including contributions. In the absence of express statutory authority, local ordinances that impose restrictions that are in conflict with with rights granted or reserved by the Legislature are invalid. City of Indianapolis v. Fields, 506 N.E. 2d 1128, 1131 (Ind. Ct. Ap. 1987).Pure nonsense. Indiana is a home rule state. Local government are not required to have "statutory authority" to act, a fact that Light acknowledges early in the opinion but appears to have forgotten by the end of his legal prose. Rather, the issue is whether the legislature has expressly prohibited local government from acting in this area or has given an agency general authority to regulate in that area. As far as the proposed ordinance being in "conflict" with rights granted or reserved to the legislature, Light completely failed to identify any conflict of law in the AG opinion.
There is actually a much easier way to view the legality of the proposed Fort Wayne ordinance in light of home rule principles. Again, the state has not expressly prohibited local government from adopting the sort of ordinances that Fort Wayne Common Council is considering. The only issue left is whether the legislature has delegated the power to adopt those sort of regulations to an agency, in this case the Election Commission. Thus, unless the Election Commission would have the power to adopt the Fort Wayne ordinance, then Fort Wayne is not precluded by the principles of Home Rule from adopting the ordinance.
In pointing to the delegations of authority, the AG's opinion cites IC 3-6-4.1-14(a)(1) and (a)(2)(B), which I have highlighted below:
(a) In addition to other duties prescribed by law, the commission shall do the following:
(1) Administer Indiana election laws.
(2) Adopt rules under IC 4-22-2 to do the following:
(A) Govern the fair, legal, and orderly conduct of elections, including the following:
(i) Emergency rules described in section 16 of this chapter to implement a court order requiring the commission, the election division, or an election board or official to administer an election in a manner not authorized by this title.
(ii) Rules (including joint rules with other agencies when necessary) to implement and administer NVRA.
(B) Carry out IC 3-9 (campaign finance).
A review of those emboldened language and the chapters to which they relate, merely indicate they are simply delegations of power to the Election Commission to enforce the state's election and finance laws. There is no general grant of power from the legislature to the Election Commission to adopt election and campaign regulations that would give the Commission pwoer beyond those laws the legislature has adopted and directed the Commission to enforce.
To repeat, unless the Election Commission has the authority to adopt the prohibition considered by the Fort Wayne Common Council, then the Council is not precluded from the principles of home rule to pass the ordinance. I'm sure if the Election Commission tried to adopt a regulation limiting contributions from city contractors in muncipal campaings, there would be screaming that the Election Commission is acting outside of its statutory authority. And they'd be right. The Election Commission doesn't have that power. Because the Election Commission doesn't have that power, the Fort Wayne Common Council does.
It does not trouble me that the Attorney General's advisory opinion is wrong about the law. That happens. Rather what I find troubling is the AG's opinion appears to continue the recent practice of politicizing what should be the objective, nonpoliticized task of advising state and local officials about the law. The Indiana General Assembly needs to consider strongly whether the Attorney General should continue the role of issuing advisory opinions that are cloaked with the appearance of objectivity, but instead drip of politics.
Disclaimer: I, like the Attorney General, did not focus on possible First Amendment implications raised by the proposed Fort Wayne ordinance. I instead focused on the AG's misinterpretation of home rule principles as applied to that ordinance.