On January 25, 2016, the Libertarian National Committee, Inc. (LNC), 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) annual limits on contributions to national party committees.
The LNC, the national committee of the Libertarian Party of the United States, seeks immediate access to the full $235,575.20 bequeathed to it by the late Joseph Shaber.
Last year, in response to an advisory opinion request from Mr. Shaber's trustee, the Commission reaffirmed its longstanding interpretation that the Act''s annual limit on contributions from an individual to a national party committee — currently $33,400 (the Party Limit) — applies to contributions made by testamentary bequest. See, AO 2015-05 and 52 U.S.C. §§ 30116, 30125. As a result, Mr. Shaber's bequest must be distributed to the LNC in installments of no more than that annual limit, as adjusted for inflation every two years.
National party committees may also establish separate accounts to cover certain costs associated with presidential nominating conventions; election recounts and other legal proceedings; and headquarters buildings. The contribution limits applicable to the separate accounts are 300% of the Party Limit--currently $100,200 for individuals. The LNC has declined to accept any portion of the Shaber bequest into one of these accounts.
The LNC argues that applying the annual Party Limit to bequests unconstitutionally infringes upon the speech rights of both donors and recipients. The plaintiff further contends that in light of the higher limits on contributions to convention, legal expense and building accounts, the Party Limit effectively "imposes a content-based restriction on a national party’s speech: a party can only spend $33,400 of a donor’s money on general political speech, but nearly ten times that amount on government-favored purposes."
The LNC also asserts that bequeathed funds do not “create the appearance or possibility of quid pro quo corruption … [and] cannot effectively circumvent contribution limits to political candidates because the donor often has no idea which candidates might benefit from the contribution, no candidate can predictably rely on receiving the money from a bequest, and neither candidates nor political parties risk offending the donors of bequests once the money is received.”
The plaintiff asks the court to grant it declaratory relief and to enjoin the Commission from enforcing the Party Limit "generally or in relation to the Shaber bequest."
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia: Case 1:16-CV-00121