LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The ACLU of Southern California today applauded Calabasas Mayor Mary Sue Maurer and the other members of the Calabasas City Council for approving a new resolution on grant funding for community groups that eliminated language from an earlier version that violated First Amendment protections.
After receiving a strongly worded letter from the ACLU/SC that raised the constitutional concerns and threatened possible litigation, the City Council voted 5-0 on Wednesday night to rescind the old resolution and enact a new one. The new law eliminates language that prevented community organizations whose principals had “open or pending lawsuits” against the city, or who had vaguely defined “political affiliations,” from qualifying for city grants.
“We’re very pleased that the city responded to the concerns we expressed and eliminated the portions of previous funding language that we considered unconstitutional,” said Peter Eliasberg, Manheim Family Attorney for First Amendment Rights at the ACLU/SC. “Barring a group from obtaining city funding based on past or pending litigation comes dangerously close to a loyalty test. And if the city’s goal is to avoid the political use of city funds, it can do so by putting restrictions on how the grant money is used, rather than by restricting which organizations qualify.”
In fact, the city will now rely on the legal restrictions on political activity that apply to nonprofit organizations under federal income-tax laws, Calabasas City Attorney Michael G. Colantuono told the council in a report. “The city is fully supportive of rights of free expression and appreciates this opportunity to clarify that commitment,” he said in the report.
The ACLU/SC sent the first of two letters to Calabasas city officials in July after learning that the city had passed its resolution on grant funding in April. At that time, the council made it clear that under the resolution, otherwise qualified organizations would not receive funding if they had engaged in litigation against the city.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that litigation, because it is a way of petitioning the government for redress of grievances, is constitutionally protected activity,” Eliasberg wrote.