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Republican Party of Louisiana v. FEC (Amicus Brief)

On March 25, 2016, the Brennan Center for Justice filed an amicus brief in support of the defendant in the case Republican Party of Louisiana v. FEC.

Published: May 22, 2017

On May 22, 2017, in Repub­lican Party of Louisi­ana v. FEC, the Supreme Court upheld contri­bu­tion limits on state and local polit­ical parties. The Court turned away a chal­lenge that would have allowed the corrupt­ing “soft money” that Congress banned in 2002 back into party polit­ics. The Bren­nan Center and a team of pro bono coun­sel, led by Bren­nan Center Board Member Daniel F. Kolb, filed an amicus brief in Repub­lican Party of Louisi­ana v. FEC.

The Repub­lican Party of Louisi­ana (LAGOP) and two affil­i­ated local party commit­tees chal­lenged the consti­tu­tion­al­ity of sections of the Bipar­tisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) that prohibit them from spend­ing “soft money” (money that does not comply with federal campaign finance limits and other rules) on federal elec­tion activ­it­ies.

In its brief in support of the defend­ant, the Federal Elec­tion Commis­sion (FEC), the Bren­nan Center argued that the Court should afford signi­fic­ant defer­ence to Congress’ long­stand­ing view that large contri­bu­tions to polit­ical parties pose a seri­ous risk of quid pro quo corrup­tion. The brief detailed several of the myriad examples in Amer­ican history of contri­bu­tions to polit­ical parties play­ing a cent­ral role in high-profile instances of corrup­tion.

The brief also respon­ded to LAGOP’s cita­tion of a Bren­nan Center public­a­tion in its argu­ment against BCRA. The plaintiffs’ brief cited Stronger Parties, Stronger Demo­cracy: Rethink­ing Reform, which presents policy argu­ments for relax­ing some of the rules around party fundrais­ing. Our amicus brief explained that the paper warned against allow­ing unlim­ited contri­bu­tions to the parties—­pre­cisely the relief that LAGOP seek­s—be­cause of the risk of increased corrup­tion and the harm to the parties’ role in encour­aging parti­cip­a­tion in polit­ics. In any event, our policy recom­mend­a­tions in no way implied that the current regime is uncon­sti­tu­tional. In craft­ing BCRA, Congress actively sought to address and reduce the threat of corrup­tion that soft money creates due to the symbi­otic rela­tion­ship between parties, candid­ates, and elec­ted offi­cials.

On Novem­ber 8, 2016, a special three-judge panel at the D.C. District Court gran­ted summary judg­ment to the FEC, uphold­ing the chal­lenged provi­sions of BCRA. The court adhered to prior cases reas­on­ing that state parties’ activ­it­ies bene­fit federal candid­ates, and limits on contri­bu­tions to state parties are justi­fied as protec­tion against the risk of corrup­tion and its appear­ance. On May 22, 2017, the Supreme Court summar­ily affirmed by a vote of 7–2.

Begin­ning in 1974, the Federal Elec­tion Campaign Act limited the amount of money that indi­vidu­als and entit­ies could donate to federal candid­ates and polit­ical parties in a single elec­tion cycle. Polit­ical parties, however, circum­ven­ted these limits by rais­ing soft money in excess of those limits and spend­ing it in ways that benefited the parties’ federal candid­ates.

To address this prob­lem, BCRA strengthened contri­bu­tion limits by prohib­it­ing both national and state parties from using funds raised in excess of those limits to engage in “federal elec­tion activ­ity” (FEA). FEA includes activ­it­ies such as voter regis­tra­tion, voter iden­ti­fic­a­tion, and get-out-the-vote efforts that are not expli­citly federal in nature but can bene­fit federal candid­ates.

The Bren­nan Center’s research and advocacy helped shape BCRA, and the Center then repres­en­ted congres­sional spon­sors, includ­ing Sen. John McCain, who inter­vened to defend the law against a previ­ous consti­tu­tional chal­lenge. That suit resul­ted in a 2003 Supreme Court decision uphold­ing BCRA’s contri­bu­tion limits, McCon­nell v. FEC.

 

Briefs filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

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