On July 21, 2014, Laura Holmes and Paul Jost filed suit against the Commission in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the per election limits on individual contributions to candidates. The plaintiffs claim those limits violate their First and Fifth Amendment rights. They ask the district court to make findings of fact and to certify any constitutional questions to the en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and seek declaratory and injunctive relief.
The plaintiffs, who are married to one another, each wish to contribute to a particular federal candidate’s general election campaign up to double the maximum per election amount permitted by the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act). For 2014, that amount is $2,600 per candidate, per election. Each of the candidates Ms. Holmes and Mr. Jost support won his or her 2014 primary race and is now running in a general election. Plaintiffs allege that those candidates’ general election opponents did not face any significant primary opposition.
The plaintiffs have already contributed $2,600 to each of the general election campaigns of the candidates they support, and have chosen not to make contributions to those candidates’ primary election campaigns. Now, the plaintiffs each seek to contribute an additional $2,600 to their candidates, but to do so entirely for the general election. In effect, the plaintiffs seek to combine the FECA’s per election contribution limits for their preferred candidates’ primary and general election campaigns so that they can contribute up to $5,200 to those candidates’ general election campaigns, while not making any contributions to the candidates’ primary election campaigns.
Federal Election Campaign Act provisions
The Act allows individuals to contribute “to any [federal] candidate and his authorized political committees with respect to any election for Federal office…” where “election” is defined to include, among other things, a general or primary election. 2 U.S.C. §§441a(a)(1)(A) and 431(1)(A). Contributors may indicate to which election his or her contribution is intended to be applied (including future elections); otherwise, “undesignated” contributions are presumed to be for the next election in which the candidate participates. 11 CFR 110.1(b)(2)(i)-(ii). Contributions that are made after the date of the designated election may only be used to retire outstanding debts from that election. 11 CFR 110.1(b)(3)(i)(A).
The plaintiffs allege that the per election contribution limits prevent contributors from giving the total amount permitted for a candidate’s primary and general election campaigns “at the time they feel is most critical in the election cycle. That is, the law allows a contributor to associate with an individual candidate up to $5,200 per election cycle…[but the plaintiffs] do not wish, however, to split their contributions between the primary and general elections…[i]nstead they wish to give to candidate challenging incumbents who did not face significant opposition from within their own political party.”
The plaintiffs maintain that “artificially bifurcating” the election cycle limits by imposing separate limits for primary and general elections unconstitutionally burdens the plaintiffs’ First Amendment right of association and furthers no compelling anti-corruption governmental interest, especially in the cases where the incumbent faced no substantial primary challenger.
The plaintiffs also allege that the per election contribution limits unconstitutionally deprive them of their Fifth Amendment right to equal protection of the law and that the separate contribution limitations for primary and general elections artificially favor contributors to incumbent candidates that do not face substantial primary opposition over others.
The plaintiffs invoke the jurisdictional provision of 2 U.S.C. §437h, which requires the district court to make findings of fact and to certify any substantial constitutional questions to the en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The plaintiffs also seek a declaratory judgment from the court that the contribution limits that apply to primary and general elections separately are unconstitutional as applied to the plaintiffs because they violate the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of association and their Fifth Amendment right to equal protection of the law. Plaintiffs also seek an injunction barring enforcement of the individual, per election contribution limits.