Today, the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the Republican Party of Louisiana (LAGOP) filed suit in federal court challenging federal soft-money restrictions in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that prevent political parties from having their own independent-expenditure accounts and that prevent state and local political parties from using soft money — i.e., state-regulated money — for voter registration and get-out-the-vote activities.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has recognized that political committees may have independent-expenditure accounts, which may receive unlimited contributions for making independent expenditures about federal candidates, and may also have a separate account to make contributions to candidates. Contribution accounts are subject to a “base contribution limit,” usually $5,000 annually, restricting how much an individual may contribute to them.
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However, the FEC prohibits political parties from having independent-expenditure accounts, which means that the RNC’s independent expenditures must be funded by contributions limited to $32,400 a year.
In the lawsuit, Republican National Committee v. FEC, the RNC and Chairman Reince Priebus want to establish an RNC independent-expenditure account and to solicit unlimited contributions to it. However, political parties are currently prohibited from having independent-expenditure accounts; and national political party officers are limited in how much they may solicit for an independent-expenditure account — only up to the base contribution limits — even though base limits on contributions to independent-expenditure accounts are unconstitutional.
The Republican Party of Louisiana–and its Chairman, Roger Villere– also are suing in order to establish and to solicit unlimited contributions to the LAGOP’s own independent-expenditure account.
In addition, the LAGOP has joined with two Louisiana local political parties, the Jefferson Parish Republican Parish Executive Committee and the Orleans Parish Republican Executive Committee, to seek to do independent “federal election activities” with Louisiana state-regulated money (often called “soft money”), instead of so-called “federal funds” (often called “hard money”). Federal election activity includes voter-identification, voter-registration near federal elections, and get-out-the-vote activities, as well as any public communications that merely mention a federal candidate. State and local parties must currently use federal funds even for independent federal election activity. Federal funds are subject to burdensome regulations that prevent many state and local political parties from engaging in federal election activity.
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The controlling legal principle undergirding all the suit’s claims is that the Supreme Court has held in Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC that “independent expenditures . . . do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” As a result, it is unconstitutional to impose contribution limits on independent expenditure activities – which has given rise to independent-expenditure accounts. The same reasoning applies to political parties’ independent campaign activities.
In the alternative, the Plaintiffs ask the court to declare all soft money provisions of McCain-Feingold to be unconstitutional on their face, reversing McConnell v. FEC, since there is no evidence of quid-pro-quo corruption where a political party sought to corrupt their own candidates. McCutcheon v. FEC recently decided that only quid-pro-quo corruption can justify contribution limits; and McConnell upheld the soft money bans despite no evidence of quid-pro-quo corruption, so McConnell was wrongly decided.
“The patchwork of limits on political speech undermines the First Amendment and puts high transparency, full-disclosure groups like the R.N.C. on an unequal footing with other political entities,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. “We are asking that political parties be treated equally under the law.”
“I believe it is my job as the leader of the Republican Party to do everything in my power to help our candidates and get out our message of economic growth and opportunity,” Priebus added.
James Bopp, Jr., lead attorney for Plaintiffs comments: “After Citizens United, there is no justification for restricting funds that political parties receive for independent campaign activity. In an era when independent-expenditure accounts can solicit unlimited contributions and spend enormous amounts to influence political races, political parties are constitutionally entitled to compete equally with them with their own independent campaign activity. Political parties are an important part of our political system and success in this case will help empower them again.”