On May 23, 2014, a group of Republican party committees and committee chairmen filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to challenge the constitutionality of laws that prevent them from raising and spending funds outside the federal source and amount limitations to finance independent expenditures. The plaintiffs seek injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment that such restrictions violate the First Amendment.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) and its chairman, and the Republican Party of Louisiana (LAGOP) and its chairman, would like to solicit and receive unlimited contributions to a separate account used solely to fund independent expenditures. The separate account would accept contributions not only from individuals, but also from corporations and unions. The Republican Executive Committees of Jefferson and Orleans Parishes, as well as LAGOP, would like to use existing funds raised outside the federal restrictions to pay for independent federal election activity.
The Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act), as amended by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), prohibits party committees from soliciting, accepting or spending funds for federal election-related purposes that are not raised in compliance with the Act. 2 U.S.C. § 441i(b)(1) and (c). In fact, national party committees may not raise or spend any funds that do not comply with the Act’s limits and prohibitions. 2 U.S.C. § 441i(a). Currently, donors may contribute up to $10,000 per year to state and local party committees and up to $32,400 to national party committees. 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(1)(B) and (D). Corporations and unions are prohibited from making contributions in connection with federal elections. 2 U.S.C § 441b(a).
A series of recent court decisions have concluded that the Act’s contribution limits and its ban on corporate and union expenditures cannot constitutionally be applied to funds nonconnected PACs raise and spend solely for independent expenditures. Based on these decisions, some nonconnected PACs have established separate bank accounts to finance independent expenditures using contributions that may exceed the Act’s limits and come from corporations and unions. The plaintiffs argue that the First Amendment requires that party committees be permitted to establish such accounts.
The plaintiffs ask the court to grant injunctions to prohibit the FEC from enforcing the challenged provisions. They also seek a declaratory judgment that 2 U.S.C. §§ 441(a)(1)(B), (D) and 441i(a)-(c) are unconstitutional as applied to separate independent expenditure accounts created by any party committees, and that the prohibitions on state and local parties using funds raised outside federal limits to finance independent federal election activity are also unconstitutional.