The Brennan Center filed a brief amici curiae in Republican National Committee v. Federal Election Commission defending the limits on raising and spending “soft money” imposed by the Bi-Partisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA).
In Brief – In 2000, Congress passed the Bi-Partisan Campaign Reform Act, which contained various provisions limiting the raising and spending of “soft money” by national political parties.
Question Presented – Do the BCRA limits on the raising and spending of soft money, as applied to certain political and electoral purposes not “unambiguously related to the campaign of a particular federal candidate”, violate Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights of speech and association?
Procedural History – Counsel for the Republican National Committee filed its complaint November 13, 2008. The Defendant Federal Election Commission filed a motion to dismiss on January 26, 2009. The Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on January 26, 2009. The Democratic National Party and Representative Christopher Van Hollen, Jr. were granted Intervenor-Defendant status on February 19, 2009. The Brennan Center and fellow amici filed our brief amicus curiae March 16, 2009.
Summary of the Case
Plaintiffs, a group of national and state Republican Party committees, challenge restrictions on soft money donations and spending imposed by the Bi-Partisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), otherwise known as the McCain-Feingold Act. Those restrictions were upheld by the US Supreme Court in McConnell v. FEC because soft money donations, i.e. corporate and union donations to national political parties as opposed to candidates themselves, were used to circumvent federal campaign contribution limits.
The RNC and its co-plaintiffs claim that BCRA restrictions on soft-money contributions are unconstitutional when those contributions are not “unambiguously related to the campaign of a particular federal candidate.” They argue that the rationales for soft money limits in BCRA do not apply in certain types of political races and for certain types of national party functions, and the limits are therefore unconstitutionally applied in those situations. Thus, they claim, the soft money ban is unconstitutional insofar as it prohibits the national party from raising and spending soft money for: influencing state elections; redistricting purposes; grassroots lobbying; litigation; voter registration; get out the vote drives; and funding public communications that promote or attack federal candidates. The suit also challenges restrictions on national parties soliciting soft money. Should they be allowed to raise soft money and use it for these purposes, the Plaintiffs claim that the Court should take them on their word that those monies would not be used to benefit candidates for federal office.
Amicus Brief Summary
The amicus brief filed by the Brennan Center and joined by Common Cause, Demos, The League of Women Voters US and the US Public Interest Research Group explained to the Court that Plaintiffs interpret the government’s interest in limiting corruption far too narrowly. Corruption concerns, rather than solely addressing a quid pro quo transaction between donor and candidate as Plaintiffs claim, also encompass: 1) preventing undue influence; 2) preventing the appearance of corruption, and 3) preventing the circumvention of other campaign finance laws. Indeed, the more stringent interpretation of corruption has previously been rejected by the US Supreme Court in McConnell v. FEC, when it found that large soft-money contributions inherently give rise to corruption or its appearance, regardless of the eventual use for which those funds are channeled. Furthermore, federal candidates derive benefits from expenditures of the parties regardless of the uses that money is put to and regardless of whether it is national state or local parties spending the money.
Soft-money abuses that required Congress to pass BCRA would quickly re-occur should Plaintiffs have their way in this suit. As we stated in our brief, “The as-applied loophole that Plaintiffs seek to create would lead to a meltdown of the campaign finance system that had been intended to keep corporate, union and large individual contributions from influencing the electoral process leaving us with little more than a pile of legal rubble.”