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  • FEC Record: Litigation

McCutcheon, et al. v. FEC (New litigation 2012)

July 11, 2012

On June 22, 2012, Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee (together, plaintiffs) 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 combined contributions to federal candidates, parties, and PACs. 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(3)(A) and (B). The plaintiffs’ suit challenges this provision as restricting Mr. McCutcheon’s freedom of speech and association as guaranteed by the First Amendment.


In addition to per-committee individual contribution limits, 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 which no more than $46,200 may be contributed to candidates and no more than $70,800 may be contributed to party committees and PACs. Of the party committee and PAC limit, no more than $46,200 may be contributed to state and local party committees and PACs. 2 U.S.C. §§ 441a(a)(3)(A) and (B).

Mr. McCutcheon previously submitted an advisory opinion request to the Commission questioning the constitutionality of the biennial limit. In Advisory Opinion 2012-14, the Commission noted that it lacked the authority to review the Act’s constitutionality and was, in fact, obligated to enforce it.

Constitutional challenge

Plaintiffs argue that §§ 441a(a)(3)(A) and (B) violate Mr. McCutcheon’s First Amendment guarantees of free speech and association. The plaintiffs claim that the biennial aggregate contribution limit acts as an expenditure limit, restricting Mr. McCutcheon’s ability to associate with the candidates, parties and PACs of his choosing.

The plaintiffs contend that the Act’s individual per-committee contribution limits – $2,500 to candidates, $10,000 to local and state party committees, $30,800 to national party committees, and $5,000 to PACs – prevent the risk of individuals contributing large amounts of money to parties or PACs in order to circumvent the contribution limits to candidates. 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(1)(A), (B), (C), and (D). The plaintiffs assert that the aggregate biennial limits burden Mr. McCutcheon’s speech by limiting the number of candidates, party committees and PACs he can support.

The plaintiffs also argue that the aggregate biennial limits are unconstitutionally low and, thus, place additional restrictions on Mr. McCutcheon’s ability to contribute to and associate with candidates, party committees and PACs.

The plaintiffs ask the court to preliminarily and permanently enjoin the Commission from enforcing 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(3)(A) and (B) and to find that section of the statute unconstitutional because it burdens Mr. McCutcheon’s freedom of speech rights as guaranteed by the First Amendment. Plaintiffs also ask the court to award attorneys fees for their action, together with any other relief to which they may be entitled.


  • Author 
    • Stephanie Caccomo