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  • FEC Record: Litigation

James v. FEC (New litigation)

September 12, 2012

On August 31, 2012, Virginia James filed suit against the Commission in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the Federal Election Campaign Act’s (the Act) biennial limit on an individual’s contributions to federal candidates. The plaintiff claims this limit impinges upon her First Amendment rights to association and speech.

The suit challenges the constitutionality of 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(3)(A), which limits individual contributions to federal candidates to $46,200 over the course of a two-year election cycle. Ms. James, a New Jersey resident, asserts she would like to make contributions to federal candidates in increments of $2,500 or less that would collectively exceed that biennial limit.


In addition to an individual’s per-committee contribution limit, the Act limits the aggregate amount that an individual may contribute to federal candidates, parties and PACs in a two-year period. This biennial limit is adjusted for inflation in odd-numbered years. In 2011-12, the overall limit is $117,000. Of this amount, the Act stipulates that no more than $46,200 may be contributed to candidates and no more than $70,800 may be contributed to party committees and PACs. 2 U.S.C. §§ 441a(a)(3)(A) and (B).

Constitutional challenge

Ms. James is not challenging the biennial limit as a whole. The plaintiff claims she will abide by the overall aggregate limit of $117,000. Rather, the plaintiff in this case is only challenging 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(3)(A), which caps biennial contributions to federal candidates at $46,200. The plaintiff asserts that this limit is an unconstitutional burden on her associational right to contribute to the candidates of her choosing. The suit argues that the $46,200 limit fails exacting scrutiny because it is not closely drawn to a sufficiently important governmental interest.

The suit asks the court to enjoin the Commission from enforcing 2 U.S.C. §441a(a)(3)(A) and declare that section unconstitutional, both on its face and as applied to the plaintiff. The plaintiff also seeks attorney’s fees and other relief as the court deems appropriate.

On September 5, the FEC filed a motion in the D.C. District Court to designate the James lawsuit as related to another case, McCutcheon v. FEC (D.D.C. Civ. No. 12-1034), which is pending before a three-judge panel. Although the James suit is narrower in its scope than McCutcheon, both of these cases challenge the constitutionality of the same section of the FECA, § 441a(a)(3), which limits the aggregate amount of money any one person can contribute to certain political committees during a two-year election cycle. In its filing the Commission argues that, “the James complaint is subsumed — both factually and legally — within the McCutcheon complaint.”


  • Author 
    • Isaac Baker
    • Communications Specialist