Rush of Challenges to Campaign Finance Laws Continues, New Litigation Summary from CLC


Emboldened by the conservative majority in the U.S. Supreme Court, ideological and interest group opponents of campaign finance regulation have brought an unprecedented number of cases in the last years to challenge campaign finance laws at the federal, state and municipal levels.  The Legal Center today released an updated summary of that litigation to help readers keep track.

In 2012 and the first months of 2013, reform opponents continued their attempt to extend the reasoning of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC to challenge a broad range of campaign finance laws.  In a welcome change from past years, however, courts have more often than not rejected their attacks.

One unfortunate exception to this trend was the Supreme Court’s decision to note probable jurisdiction and hear McCutcheon v. FEC, a challenge to the long-standing aggregate limits on contributions to federal candidates, parties and political committees.  A three-judge court in Washington D.C. upheld the aggregate limits in September 2012, noting that it “conceive[d] of the contribution limits as a coherent system rather than merely a collection of individual limits stacking prophylaxis upon prophylaxis.”  The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the appeal suggests that this perspective is under question, and an integral part of this “coherent system,” namely the aggregate limits, may come under attack.

In contrast to McCutcheon, both the Supreme Court and lower courts in the past year have consistently turned back anti-reformers’ challenges to other campaign finance laws.

In the area of disclosure, the First, Fourth, Seventh, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits have all upheld strong disclosure laws applicable to independent spending following Citizens United.  In the last year, we have seen favorable decisions in several cases in which the Legal Center is participating, including two cases upholding provisions of federal law (Real Truth About Obama v. FEC and Free Speech v. FEC), as well as cases letting stand a Washington public records law (Doe v. Reed), and upholding Florida’s electioneering communications law (National Organization for Marriage v. Fla. Sec. of State) and Texas’ political committee disclosure regime (Texas Democratic Party v. King Street Patriots).  Further, the Supreme Court in January 7, 2013 declined to grant certiorari in Real Truth, suggesting that the High Court is not eager to undercut strong political disclosure.

Similarly, corporate contribution restrictions have also withstood attack, with three courts issuing decisions in the last year upholding such restrictions.  In particular, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in U.S. v. Danielczyk reversed a poorly-reasoned district court decision that had struck down the federal corporate contribution ban without even citing Beaumont v. FEC, the leading Supreme Court precedent on the subject.  On February 25, 2013, the Supreme Court declined to grant certiorari in Danielczyk, allowing the federal ban to stand.

While the trend of recent decisions supporting campaign finance laws is encouraging, the Legal Center’s new litigation summary attests to the enormous volume of legal challenges that are still active.  Given the resources of anti-reform forces and the unpredictability of the Supreme Court on campaign finance issues, it will be necessary to remain vigilant in tracking and participating in litigation in the lower courts in 2013 and coming years.

To read the Legal Center’s updated litigation summary, click here.