Amicus Brief: Supreme Court Should Hear Alaska Contribution Limits Case

Appellate court confusion puts First Amendment rights at risk

August 27, 2019   •  By IFS Staff   •  
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Alexandria, VA – The largest state in the country has the nation’s lowest limits on donations to statewide candidates. In an amicus brief filed yesterday, the Institute for Free Speech asked the Supreme Court to hear a case challenging those limits as unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The brief says the Court should overturn its 2006 ruling in Randall v. Sorrell and implement a clearer standard for evaluating campaign finance laws.

“The right to support candidates is protected by the First Amendment. Yet the Court’s principal case, Randall v. Sorrell, is a one-off decision that provides little useful guidance. The Court now has a chance to bring clarity to the law while addressing the fundamental question of whether any limit on campaign contributions is simply too low,” said Institute for Free Speech Legal Director Allen Dickerson.

The case, Thompson v. Hebdon, challenges Alaska’s $500 per election cycle limit on contributions from individuals to legislative and gubernatorial candidates. It also challenges the state’s $500 per cycle limit on giving to groups other than political parties.

The plaintiffs, a group of Alaska voters, assert that these low limits are not necessary to prevent corruption and violate their First Amendment right to support the candidates of their choice. They are represented by former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement and attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom.

In Randall v. Sorrell, the Supreme Court struck down Vermont’s contribution limits for being too low. That decision, however, relied on a complex two-step, five-factor analysis that lower courts struggle to apply consistently.

A panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Alaska’s limits in November, saying previous rulings in that circuit compelled its decision. However, Supreme Court rulings suggest limits should be held to a higher level of scrutiny. Other appellate courts have also applied more rigorous scrutiny to campaign finance laws.

“The standard of review applied to laws such as Alaska’s should be consistent nationwide. Certiorari ought to be granted to resolve this confusion and bind the lower courts to a single judicial standard,” reads the Institute’s brief.

To read the Institute’s brief, click here. To read the Ninth Circuit’s decision, click here.

About the Institute for Free Speech

The Institute for Free Speech is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that promotes and defends the First Amendment rights to freely speak, assemble, publish, and petition the government. Originally known as the Center for Competitive Politics, it was founded in 2005 by Bradley A. Smith, a former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. The Institute is the nation’s largest organization dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political rights.

IFS Staff

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