A Multnomah County judge has struck down voter-approved limits on campaign donations to candidates running for county offices.

Circuit Judge Eric Bloch ruled Tuesday that the $500 limit on donations violates Oregon’s expansive free-speech protections.

Supporters of the tight curbs on campaign money — which voters overwhelmingly passed with 89 percent of the vote in 2016 — said that they will appeal the decision.

“We believe that 37 states have freedom of speech clauses effectively identical to Oregon’s Constitution and still have limits on campaign contributions, ” Portland attorney Jason Kafoury, who heads the committee that sponsored the limits, said in a statement.

But critics of the law argued that the state Supreme Court has been consistent in rejecting efforts to impose campaign finance limits in Oregon.  

It is one of only a handful of states that allows unlimited contributions, both from individuals and businesses.

Bloch agreed, noting in his opinion that political contributions “are a form of highly-valued expression that falls squarely within” the free-speech protections of the Oregon Constitution.

The judge also struck down another provision in the law that required campaign advertising to list the top five donors. Bloch called that “vague and potentially overbroad.”

Several business groups, including the Portland Business Alliance and Associated Oregon Industries, opposed the limits in the court case.

Supporters of the Multnomah County ordinance hoped that the case would lead the state Supreme Court to reverse its 1997 decision striking down similar statewide limits that were approved by Oregon voters in 1994.

That could still happen in the appeals process. But Bloch disagreed that the state Supreme Court opened a window toward reversing itself in a 2009 decision that involved lobbyist gifts to legislators. The judge said that’s a different type of activity that doesn’t supersede the Supreme Court’s earlier decision.

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