Weber v. Heaney
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently held that the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) preempted the Minnesota Congressional Campaign Reform Act in its entirety. The court's June 17, 1993, decision in John Vincent Weber v. William M. Heaney affirmed a district court holding. The Commission was an amicus curiae in the litigation.
Under the Minnesota Congressional Campaign Reform Act, U.S. House and Senate candidates on the general election ballot may choose to limit their campaign expenditures to specified amounts. A contributor to these candidates can then receive up to a $50 refund from the state. If one candidate agrees to the limit but the major party opponent does not, neither candidate is subject to the spending limit, but the first candidate is entitled to a public funding grant from the state. Violations of the voluntary expenditure limit are subject to civil penalties of up to four times the amount of the excess spending.
The FECA "supersede[s] and preempt[s] any provision of state law with respect to election to Federal office." 2 U.S.C. §453. The FEC addressed the Minnesota preemption question in AO 1991-22, requested by three members of the Minnesota delegation to the U.S. Congress. The Commission concluded that the Campaign Reform Act sought to regulate an area under the sole authority of federal law and was therefore preempted. The requesters, seeking the same ruling from the courts, filed suit against the state officials responsible for enforcing the Campaign Reform Act.
District court decision
In deciding whether the FECA preempted the Minnesota Act, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota found that §453 and its legislative history were too ambiguous to provide much guidance and therefore looked to the FEC's interpretation of §453 in its regulations. (11 CFR 108.7 provides, in part, that federal law supersedes state law in the area of expenditure limitations.) The court found that "this regulation is probably the most persuasive evidence that section 453 was intended to preempt all state laws purporting to regulate congressional campaign expenditures." The court noted that the regulation passed Congressional review in 1977. "Thus, the Court infers that this regulation, because it was tacitly approved by Congress, represents a valid interpretation of Congressional intent." The court also accorded deference to the Commission's conclusion in AO 1991-22.
On June 11, 1992, the court held that the Minnesota Campaign Reform Act was preempted in its entirety based on the FEC's interpretation of §453. The court permanently enjoined Minnesota from implementing or enforcing the Act. (No. 4-91-1009.)
Court of appeals decision
Concluding that §453 was susceptible to more than one reading, the court of appeals nevertheless held that "under every plausible reading of §453, the Campaign Reform Act falls squarely within the boundaries of the preempted domain." (No. 92-2458.)
Like the district court, the court of appeals was persuaded by the FEC preemption regulation: "We find this duly authorized regulation is a further express preemption of the Campaign Reform Act."
The court rejected appellants' argument that the regulation was not applicable to voluntary expenditure limits. The court even questioned whether the limits were "truly voluntary" in light of the benefits bestowed on those who complied with them and the penalties imposed on those who did not.
Source: FEC Record —August 1993.