On August 21, 2007, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the Christian Civic League of Maine, Inc.'s (CCL) request for declaratory relief regarding campaign finance law restrictions on a radio ad planned by CCL. CCL had challenged the constitutionality of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act's (BCRA) electioneering communication financing restrictions as applied to certain so-called "grassroots lobbying" ads. The court denied CCL's request for declaratory relief as to other communications and CCL's request for injunctive relief.
CCL is a nonprofit corporation organized under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code that allegedly engages in some business activity. CCL wanted to use its general treasury funds to broadcast a radio ad prior to a 2006 Senate vote on a particular proposed constitutional amendment. The ad, named "Crossroads," identified Senator Olympia Snowe by name and was to air in close proximity to her June 13, 2006, primary election. If the ad had aired within 30 days before her primary (or 60 days before the general) and could have been received by 50,000 or more persons in Senator Snowe's state, it would have qualified as an electioneering communication. 2 U.S.C. §434(f)(3)(A)(i). Under the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act), as amended by the BCRA, corporate funds cannot be used to finance an electioneering communication.
CCL did not broadcast "Crossroads" and, on April 3, 2006, filed a complaint challenging the constitutionality of the electioneering communication financing restrictions as applied to its planned ads. On September 27, 2006, the district court dismissed CCL's request for a permanent injunction to prevent the FEC from applying its electioneering communications rules to "Crossroads," concluding that the Senate's June 2006 vote on the legislation referenced in the ad had rendered the issue moot. The court further granted the FEC's motion for dismissal of CCL's claims about possible other ads because they were not ripe for review and were too speculative. CCL admittedly had no firm plans to create or distribute any future ads besides the spring 2006 ad. The Constitution requires an actual "case or controversy" for the court to decide, so a party's grievance cannot be solely hypothetical.
On June 25, 2007, the Supreme Court upheld a district court ruling in another case that concerned the constitutionality of the electioneering communications provisions, FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL). In that case, the court found the electioneering communication financing restrictions unconstitutional as applied to ads that Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., a 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation, intended to run before the 2004 elections. The Supreme Court concluded that the electioneering communication financing restrictions are unconstitutional as applied to these ads because:
- The ads are not express advocacy or its functional equivalent; and
- The Court found no sufficiently compelling governmental interest to justify burdening WRTL's speech. (See the August 2007 Record.)
Although the district court in CCL v. FEC had held in its earlier opinion that CCL's claims regarding "Crossroads" were moot, the court reviewed that opinion in light of the Supreme Court's decision in WRTL and found that these claims were not moot because they fell within the Supreme Court's exception for claims that are "capable of repetition, yet evading review." Having reached the merits of the claims, the court found that, in accordance with the Supreme Court's decision in WRTL, the BCRA's electioneering communication financing restrictions are unconstitutional as applied to CCL's 2006 "Crossroads" ad. The court granted CCL's request for declaratory relief with regards to this ad, but denied CCL's request for declaratory relief with regard to other communications and denied its request for injunctive relief.
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia; 06-614.