By S.M. Oliva
In a 1983 opinion, the FEC decided that contributions from a deceased person’s estate should be treated the same as if it came from a living person. And federal law caps the amount of money a living person can give a national political party in a given year (presently $32,400). Therefore, the Burrington estate had to place the $217,734 in escrow and make annual distributions to the LP up to that year’s contribution limit. The final payment is expected this year, seven years after Burrington’s death.
Three years ago, the LNC sued the FEC in federal court, alleging the restriction on Burrington’s gift violated the First Amendment. The LNC wanted “immediate control of the balance of the Burrington Estate funds” and a declaration that future bequests to the LP—or any other political party—would not be subject to FEC limits. The LNC also invoked a special section of federal campaign-finance law that requires certification of “non-frivolous” constitutional questions directly to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Wilkinsagreed to certify only a narrower question: “Does imposing annual contribution limits against the bequest of Raymond Groves Burrington violate the First Amendment rights of the Libertarian National Committee?” Wilkins said there could be no question as to whether the FEC violated Burrington’s First Amendment rights, as he was dead. Nor, Wilkins said, could the LNC use this case to mount a broader assault on federal contribution limits. But he conceded the D.C. Circuit could find the LNC has a limited “First Amendment right to receive campaign contributions” as applied to the particular facts of the Burrington donation.