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On April 14, 2014, a group of political committees and a federal candidate filed suit against the Commission in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia challenging certain Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) contribution limits for “multicandidate” and “non-multicandidate” political committees. Stop Reckless Economic Instability caused by Democrats (“Stop PAC”), Niger Innis, Niger Innis for Congress, Tea Party Leadership Fund (the “Tea Party Fund”) and the Alexandria Republican City Committee (“City Committee”) (collectively, Plaintiffs) claim that the limits infringe upon their First Amendment rights of association and expression and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.
The Act and Commission regulations define a multicandidate committee as a political committee that has received contributions from more than 50 persons, has contributed to five or more federal candidates and has been registered with the FEC for at least six months. 2 U.S.C. §441a(a)(4) and 11 CFR 100.5(e)(3). Currently, multicandidate committees may contribute no more than $5,000 per election to a federal candidate, $5,000 per calendar year to a state party committee and $15,000 per calendar year to a national party committee. 2 U.S.C. §441a(a)(2). Non-multicandidate committees may contribute no more than $2,600 per election to a federal candidate, $10,000 per calendar year to a state party committee and $32,400 per calendar year to any national party committee. 2 U.S.C. §441a(a)(1).
According to the Plaintiffs’ complaint, Stop PAC has met the first two criteria for multicandidate status, but has not been registered with the FEC for the required six months. To date, the committee has contributed $2,600 to Nevada congressional candidate Niger Innis for his June 10 primary election. The committee would like to contribute an additional $2,400 to Innis for the primary, but will not meet the six-month requirement in time to do so.
The Tea Party Fund has met the criteria for multicandidate status, so it may contribute no more than $5,000 per calendar year to any state party committee (including affiliates). The Fund has already contributed $5,000 to the City Committee (which is affiliated with the Virginia Republican State Committee) in 2014.
Plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of certain contribution limits imposed on multicandidate and non-multicandidate committees as being an infringement on their First Amendment rights of association and expression and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.
Plaintiffs allege that the Act unconstitutionally discriminates against Stop PAC and other political committees that have been registered with the FEC for less than the six-month statutory requirement to qualify as a multicandidate committee. The Act’s “lower $2,600 restriction on all new political committees is an impermissibly overbroad means of furthering any interest the Government may assert,” plaintiffs claim, and thus they argue that restriction should not survive heightened constitutional scrutiny. The Plaintiffs also allege that the First Amendment rights of both Stop PAC and Innis (as a federal candidate wishing to receive additional contributions from Stop PAC) are infringed because the Act imposes a “six-month waiting period” before Stop PAC is able to qualify as a multicandidate committee and thus avail itself of higher contribution limits to federal candidates. Plaintiffs allege that such a waiting period “is comparable to a prior restraint and substantially burdens First Amendment rights of freedom of association and expression.”
Plaintiffs further challenge the constitutionality of the multicandidate limits that prevent the Tea Party Fund from contributing more than $5,000 to the City Committee (as an affiliate of a state party committee) and more than $15,000 to a national party committee. The Tea Party Fund argues that, like non-multicandidate committees, it should be permitted to contribute up to $10,000 to the City Committee and $32,400 to a national party committee. The Plaintiffs allege that the lower limits for contributions by multicandidate committees to political parties violate the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection because the lower limits are “not closely tailored to furthering an important government interest, and fail any form of heightened scrutiny.”
Plaintiffs seek a judgment declaring unconstitutional the Act’s $2,600 limit on contributions from non-multicandidate committees to candidates per election, six-month waiting period for being designated a multicandidate committee, $5,000 annual limit on contributions from multicandidate committees to state political party committees, and $15,000 annual limit on contributions from multicandidate committees to national party committees. Plaintiffs also seek an injunction preventing the FEC from enforcing those statutory provisions, allowing Stop PAC to contribute up to $5,000 per election to federal candidates, allowing the Tea Party Fund to contribute up to $10,000 annually to state party committees and up to $32,400 annually to national party committees, and any other relief the court deems appropriate.
Source: FEC Record -- May 2014