On May 21, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, sitting en banc, upheld the contribution limits as applied to testamentary bequests for national party committees.
The Libertarian National Committee (LNC or plaintiff) raised one facial and two as-applied constitutional challenges to the limits on contributions by an individual to national party committees. The plaintiff argued that the limits on contributions to national party committees as applied to a bequest from the late Joseph Shaber unconstitutionally infringe on the First Amendment rights of both donors and recipients, and that the higher limits on contributions to segregated accounts for buildings, conventions and legal expenses effectively impose a content-based restriction on a national party's speech.
The Court found that imposing annual contribution limits against a bequest does not violate the First Amendment rights of the plaintiff, stating that “the risk of quid pro quo corruption does not disappear merely because the transfer of money occurs after a donor’s death.” The Court noted that testamentary donors have “points of leverage” while living. A political party understands that testamentary donors “may change their minds at any time,” which “creates an incentive” for the national party to limit the possibility that the planned bequest would be revoked.
The Court further found that the two-tiered contribution limit for national party committees “both on its face and as applied to Shaber’s bequest, does not violate the LNC’s First Amendment rights.” The Court noted, “Neither the general-purpose contribution ceiling nor the 300% higher dedicated-purpose contribution ceiling in any way limits the total amount of money parties can spend,” only that it “limits the source and individual amount of donations for each category of expenses.” The Court concluded the two-tiered contribution limits “are closely drawn to the government’s anticorruption interest, and, as compared to the pre-2014 baseline, they certainly avoid unnecessary infringement of associational and speech rights.”
As the Court acknowledged, regulating campaign finance is an exercise in balancing First Amendment interests with the “integrity of our system of representative democracy.” For the foregoing reasons, the Court held that the existing version of the Federal Election Campaign Act strikes a constitutionally permissible balance between the two, and thus rejected each of the LNC’s challenges.
Editor's note: In November 2019, the Supreme Court denied the plaintiff's petition for a writ of certiorari.
Libertarian National Committee v. FEC (18-5227) litigation page