Carey et al v. FEC, asks the FEC to acknowledge what the courts have already decided: that any political action committee may make contributions to federal candidates using limited funds while also engaging in independent expenditures using segregated funds raised for that purpose. The FEC has demanded that grassroots organizations jump through burdensome regulatory hoops just to speak out about candidates running for office.
The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) filed a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) seeking a controversial agency document denied to CCP despite a Freedom of Information Act request. That document relates to a complaint against Crossroads GPS that was dismissed by the FEC last December.
In February 2014, the Center for Competitive Politics began representing Citizen Outreach, a 501(c)(4) that allegedly ran afoul of Nevada campaign finance law in 2010 when it distributed two fliers critical of a state legislator.
The Nevada law required organizations engaged in “express advocacy” to register as PACs and disclose their donors. State law did not, however, define “express advocacy.” Thus, Citizen Outreach assumed this term of art meant what the U.S. Supreme Court said it meant. The fliers lacked these words, and, therefore, Citizen Outreach did not file campaign finance reports in connection with their distribution.
Nevada’s Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller took issue with this. He sued Citizen Outreach to compel disclosure of all of their donors nationwide even though none of the donors had any knowledge of the fliers. CCP stepped in to defend the First Amendment rights of Citizen Outreach.
Colorado resident Diana Hsieh, a doctor of philosophy, organized the non-profit Coalition for Secular Government with her friend Ari Armstrong in order to promote a secular understanding of individual rights, including freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state. Because of unconstitutionally vague state laws, confusion as to what constitutes political speech and what is covered under a press exemption, and a refusal by the state to abide by a federal court order, Hsieh and CSG have found it nearly impossible to carry out the activities of a small non-profit group without fear of running afoul of complex Colorado campaign finance laws. With CCP’s Help, the Coalition for Secular Government was victorious in court. The Colorado law was ruled unconstitutional in this case.
Supreme Court rulings over the past four decades have limited the scope of federal committee status to groups that are “under the control of a candidate or the major purpose of which is the nomination or election of a candidate.” Ohio purports to incorporate the major purpose test required by the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling. But the OEC’s interpretation, upheld by the state courts, interpreted the statute to require an organization to register as a PAC even where political advocacy does not comprise a majority—or even a substantial portion—of its activity or expenditures.
Should the state have the power to regulate groups that publish nonpartisan voter guides in the same way that it regulates candidate committees, political parties and PACs? That’s the issue at stake in Delaware Strong Families v. Attorney General of the State of Delaware, a case challenging a new Delaware law that violates the First Amendment by placing unconstitutional burdens on groups publishing nonpartisan voter guides.
The Center for Competitive Politics filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota, challenging a state ban on “electioneering on election day.” The complaint states that the ban, which prohibits all election-day attempts to “induce or persuade” any North Dakota resident to vote a particular way, is a prior restraint on speech and unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
Can Congress impede political participation and association by forcing an individual to split her political donations between primary and general elections? Federal law forces individuals to split their campaign contributions on a per-election basis. Thus, in 2014, a donor was forced to split her donation into $2,600 for the primary election and $2,600 for the general. This rule impedes the political participation of a donor who only wants to support her party nominee—and avoid wasting her donation on the intra-party squabbles of a primary election. IFS filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Florida couple who are challenging this law, saying that the per-election requirement mandated by Congress force them to either potentially waste $2,600 on a candidate for the party nomination or give up exercising their constitutional rights to the full extent allowed by law.
Can a think tank run ads advocating for public policy without first registering with the federal government and disclosing its donors? That is the question at the core of Independence Institute v. FEC. The Independence Institute, a Colorado think tank, wants to run genuine issue ads that happen to mention a name of a political candidate. Campaign finance law currently requires that the Independence Institute register with the government and report certain donors to the FEC in order to be able to run the issue ads. While speech related directly to campaigns may require disclosure, genuine issue speech does not fall under this category. In this case, CCP is defending the right to speak on public policy issues without first reporting its activities in a government database and disclosing donors who give to causes they believe in.
Can a think tank run ads advocating for public policy without first registering with the federal government and disclosing its donors? That is the question at the core of Independence Institute v. Williams. The Independence Institute, a Colorado think tank, wants to run genuine issue ads that happen to mention a name of a political candidate. Campaign finance law currently requires that the Independence Institute register with the government and report certain donors in order to be able to run the issue ads. While speech related directly to campaigns may require disclosure, genuine issue speech does not fall under this category. In this case, CCP is defending the right to speak on public policy issues without first reporting its activities in a government database and disclosing donors who give to causes they believe in.
The case stems from the efforts of Virginia James, a private citizen, who seeks to give contributions directly to candidates up to the biennial aggregate limit of $117,000. However, federal law allows only $46,200 of that amount, in aggregate, to be given directly to candidates; the rest must be contributed to PACs and party committees. James is not challenging the overall limit, but rather wishes to give the entirety of her contributions to candidates directly, instead of being forced to act through PACs and other political organizations.
This case challenges the definition of a political committee under Texas state law. There are two key issues. First, the law itself is unconstitutionally vague because it defines a campaign expenditure as speech made “in connection with a campaign for an elective office or on a measure.” Second, the Texas Ethics Commission has defined principal purpose, a term used to determine if a group is a political committee, as expenditures on electoral advocacy constituting 25% or more of a group’s calendar year spending. The Lake Travis Citizens Council wishes to run a series of Facebook ads on issues facing the community, but because of Texas’s overbroad definitions regarding the regulation of campaign ads, the Council reasonably fears that the Texas Ethics Commission will attempt to regulate the organization and its communications as political speech.
The case was filed in 2011 and concerned the estate of Raymond Groves Burrington of Knox County, Tennessee, who left the Libertarian Party $217,734 in his will. Because that amount exceeded the annual limit on contributions to national party committees, the LNC was forced to place funds in escrow, withdrawing only the amount permitted by the FEC. The LNC seeks the full amount of the bequest, as well as the ability to implement a planned giving program that would solicit bequests exceeding the annual contribution limit.
Can a group of veterans be prohibited from advocating for public policy, because they wish to use robocalls? That is the question at the heart of Patriotic Veterans v. Indiana.
Patriotic Veterans, a small advocacy organization, is challenging an Indiana law that bans automated phone calls containing a political message. Political groups with limited resources use automated phone calls to inexpensively spread their message and gain support, but Indiana regulations have effectively targeted political calls. This infringes on Patriotic Veterans First Amendment rights, limiting their ability to advocate for causes they believe in. Groups with more resources can afford live operator calls and other communication methods that are unaffected by the ban. By imposing more costs on smaller politically active groups like Patriotic Veterans, while exempting other kinds of speakers, Indiana has unconstitutionally limited their ability to speak out about issues and campaigns.
David Rubin is a resident of the Town of Manlius, New York. He wishes to exercise his First Amendment right to engage in political speech by posting yard signs in support of his favorite political candidates on his private property. The Town of Manlius, however, prohibited individuals from displaying political yard signs except during the thirty days before and seven days after an election. Even when citizens are allowed to display such signs, they were first required to obtain a permit. The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) legal team, representing Dr. Rubin, filed a lawsuit challenging the town’s unconstitutional restrictions on political yard signs. In early September, the Town of Manlius repealed the code and agreed to not enact further unconstitutional restrictions on yard signs. The case was voluntarily dismissed.
When a state decides to regulate the speech of citizen groups, it must specify in an understandable way what speech triggers regulation and detailed reporting to the government. Even if a state does this correctly, does it have the power to force groups that spend only a small portion of their funding advocating for or against ballot initiatives to file reports in the same manner as it regulates candidate committees, political parties, and PACs? On behalf of the Utah Taxpayers Association, Utah Taxpayers Legal Foundation, and Libertas Institute, the Center challenged this dangerous and expansive new donor disclosure law. On July 14, 2016, Utah conceded that the law in question did indeed violate the First Amendment, and the state signed a consent decree acknowledging that it would not enforce the unconstitutional statute.