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Renato P. Mariani v. USA


On May 18, 2000, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit rejected constitutional challenges to the Federal Election Campaign Act's (the Act's) prohibitions on corporate contributions and contributions in the name of another. 2 U.S.C. §§441b and 441f.

Renato P. Mariani brought the challenges under 2 U.S.C. §437h, which permits individual voters to challenge the constitutionality of any provision of the Act in district court. The district court certifies the constitutional questions to the circuit court of appeals, which hears the cases sitting en banc.

Mr. Mariani is currently the subject of criminal prosecution concerning the very provisions he challenged in this case.

Corporate contributions

Mr. Mariani argued that the development of issue advocacy and the increasing role of unregulated "soft money" in the electoral process "has so eroded the theoretical distinction between hard and soft money" that §441b's prohibition against corporate contributions has become "fatally underinclusive." As such, he asserted, it should be struck down. He also challenged the ban as a violation of corporations' First Amendment rights.

In response, the court acknowledged that "[t]he practical distinctions between hard and soft money may have diminished in the past decade with the rise of issue advocacy, but not to such an extent that there is no practical distinction between the two." The court went on to note, "If hard and soft money were equivalent, it would be hard to imagine why Mariani would have gone to the lengths he allegedly went to in order to give hard money instead of soft." Noting that Congress can act incrementally-and referencing legal precedents-the court concluded that the corporate ban "is not fatally underinclusive."

The court also rejected the First Amendment challenge, citing the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in FEC v. National Right to Work Committee, FEC v. National Conservative PAC and Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce. Though the court stated that none of these cases directly addressed the constitutionality of the corporate ban, their "strong implications" led the court "to reject Mr. Mariani's facial challenge to §441b(a)."

Contributions in the name of another

Mr. Mariani argued that §441f's ban on contributions in the names of others violates the First Amendment by failing to advance a compelling government interest and is underinclusive because it does not apply to soft money donations.

The appeals court found the 441f challenges "patently without merit." The court noted that the Supreme Court, in Buckley v. Valeo, specifically held that the Act's disclosure requirements were constitutional absent a "reasonable probability" that disclosure would result in "threats, harassment, or reprisals" for contributors. Since contributions in the names of others undermine disclosure, the court rejected Mr. Mariani's First Amendment challenge.

The court also rejected Mr. Mariani's underinclusiveness argument. The court concluded that "Congress was free to determine that disclosure of hard money donations was the most important form of disclosure, and to limit the regulation to that area."

Source:   FEC RecordJuly 2000