Federal appeals court to rule on contribution limit case

“A $5,200 check in June is okay, but that same check in July is illegal?”

Alexandria, VA – A federal district court judge last week cleared the way for a ruling by the en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in a challenge brought by the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) to certain campaign contribution limits.

The plaintiffs, Laura Holmes and her husband, Paul Jost, wanted to donate $5,200 to challengers who had won their primaries and were running against incumbents who had no party opposition in their primaries.  “Why does the law say that a $5,200 check in June is okay, but that same check in July is illegal? That’s ridiculous,” said Jost.

The case challenges a provision in the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) where contribution limits are divided by election. Under the law, an individual may give $2,600 to a candidate for the primary election and an addition $2,600 for the general election. Nonetheless, candidates running in uncompetitive or uncontested primaries are permitted to bank primary election contributions for general election purposes. Effectively, this means that some candidates may raise $5,200 for the general election, while those with contested primaries—and the costs associated with waging a primary campaign—may not.

Ms. Holmes and Mr. Jost, however, preferred to only give to these general election candidates without involving themselves in primary election contests. Their suit, if successful, would simply allow them to contribute $5,200 to candidates for general election purposes—something the law already functionally permits for candidates without competitive primaries. They contend that denying them this right violates both the First and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

In their pleadings, Ms. Holmes and Mr. Jost specifically note which candidates they sought to support in the November 2014 elections. Ms. Holmes sought to support Carl DeMaio, who lost his bid to represent California’s 52nd Congressional district by just a few thousand votes. Nevertheless, because both Ms. Holmes and Mr. Jost wish to contribute to candidates in future elections, their case remains relevant for elections in 2016 and beyond.

Because Ms. Holmes and Mr. Jost brought a new question as to FECA’s constitutionality, Judge Rosemary Collyer of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia granted the plaintiffs’ request that the case be heard on the merits by all 11 active judges of the Court of Appeals. FECA contains a provision requiring swift review by the full D.C. Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary, of constitutional challenges to the campaign finance laws.

“This case raises a serious constitutional question,” said Allen Dickerson, counsel to Holmes and Jost and CCP’s Legal Director. “We appreciate that Judge Collyer recognized the significance of this case and acted quickly to allow the D.C. Circuit to consider its merits. No conceivable anti-corruption interest is served by the present system, which, in practice, functions to benefit some candidates and their supporters at the expense of others.”

CCP President David Keating agreed. “We all know what this means in practice. Once again, incumbents—who rarely face truly competitive primary opponents—have written a set of campaign finance rules that benefit themselves. Hopefully, the D.C. Circuit will see this law for what it is—incumbency protection—and throw it out.”

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.