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DOMA Invalidation Will Likely Impact Federal Contribution Limits

The Supreme Court’s decision today invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act will impact campaign finance laws as well, probably nowhere more clearly than in casting doubt on the FEC’s February decision advising a candidate for the special U.S. Senate Primary Election in Massachusetts that he could not treat contributions from a same-sex couple married under … Continue Reading

Tenth Circuit Upholds FEC’s Broader Definition of “Express Advocacy”

In a rare move for a federal appellate court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit yesterday released a two-paragraph precedential opinion upholding various federal campaign finance laws and policies by simply adopting the district court’s decision.  The case is captioned Free Speech v. FEC. The most notable part of the district court … Continue Reading

Courts Struggle to Draw Constitutional Lines for Disclosure

When the Supreme Court issued Citizens United v. FEC, there was little question that the landscape of campaign finance law shifted.  Much of the aftermath continues to focus on independent spending, contribution limits, and outright contribution bans on corporations and government contractors—restrictions that may have been upended by the notion that Citizens United narrowed the … Continue Reading

Wisconsin Aggregate Contribution Limit Challenged

A Wisconsin resident has brought a federal lawsuit challenging the state law that restricts individual political contributions to candidates and committees to $10,000 in a calendar year.  As alleged in the complaint in the case, captioned Young v. Vocke, the aggregate limit is so low that if an individual were to make a maximum contribution … Continue Reading

D.C. Circuit Vacates Federal Contractor Ban Decision on Way to En Banc Review

Earlier today a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued its opinion in Wagner v. FEC, sending the legal challenge brought by three federal contractors back to the start. The contractors had sued the Federal Election Commission back in October 2011, arguing that federal law unconstitutionally prohibits federal contractors … Continue Reading

New Jersey to Allow Unrestricted Super PAC Contributions

With the New Jersey gubernatorial primary election fast approaching, we have been tracking a legal challenge to the State’s treatment of contributions to Super PACs.  Back in March, the Election Law Enforcement Commission issued an advisory opinion to the Fund for Jobs and Growth, explaining that the group would need to adhere to contribution limits … Continue Reading

Group Sues Treasury and IRS to Amend 501(c)(4) Regulations

All eyes are on the IRS and its regulation of 501(c)(4) organizations these days, with the agency’s mishandling of exemption applications, the release of the Treasury Inspector General’s report, and the lengthy hearings held by the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee examining the … Continue Reading

Challenge to Federal Contractor Contribution Ban Awaits D.C. Circuit Decision

On Thursday,  the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit wrapped up its 2012–2013 Term by hearing argument in Wagner v. FEC, a case that challenges the Federal Election Campaign Act provision prohibiting federal contractors from making political contributions in connection with federal elections.  The court typically issues opinions argued during a term by … Continue Reading

Update: Lobbyists Appeal Decision Upholding Ban on Advisory Board Service

In September 2012, we reported that Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed a complaint filed by several registered lobbyists that challenged the Obama Administration’s policy barring lobbyists from federal advisory boards and commissions.  Although Judge Jackson acknowledged potential implications for rights guaranteed by the First Amendment … Continue Reading

Super PAC Files Challenge to New Jersey Contribution Limits

A few weeks ago the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission issued an advisory opinion indicating that it would enforce the state’s contribution limits against groups that (i) have a major purpose of influencing New Jersey elections and (ii) do so exclusively by making independent expenditures.  Although the Commission recognized that its position might be … Continue Reading

The Dangers of Sua Sponte

Yesterday’s guilty pleas in the Danielczyk criminal trial leaves open an important question that campaign finance practitioners must consider closely going forward: when does the government consider a sua sponte submission itself to constitute a criminal violation, and seek to compel counsel to become a witness against their client?  As BNA first reported, the Justice … Continue Reading

Supreme Court Declines Review in Corporate Contributions Case

This morning the Supreme Court denied review in Danielczyk v. United States, a criminal case in which the defendants challenged the century-old federal ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates.  The district court had granted a motion to dismiss Count Four of the indictment, alleging that the defendants had directed corporate money to a 2008 … Continue Reading

Courts Begin To Grapple With Challenges To Super PAC “Independence”

When is an independent expenditure-only committee, or Super PAC, truly independent of the candidate the Super PAC supports?  Surprisingly few courts in the post-Citizens United world have decided this question.  A recent Vermont Superior Court decision, however, provides a rare example of a court grappling with this issue. The case involved allegations of coordination between … Continue Reading

Supreme Court to Take Up Biennial Contribution Limits

The top story in today’s campaign finance press is the Supreme Court’s decision to hear McCutcheon v. FEC, a challenge to the Federal Election Campaign Act’s biennial limits on individual contributions to candidate and non-candidate committees.  Here are a few key take-aways. Timing.  The Court’s argument calendar is full for the remainder of the Term, … Continue Reading

2012 FEC Year in Review

The FEC is often caricatured as either a “sleeping watch dog” or the “speech police.”  We decided to take a more balanced look at the agency’s work in 2012, to see if we could identify broader trends or decisions that were overlooked at the time, but which seem likely to have long-term significance.  The results … Continue Reading

Federal Court Upholds Ban On Federal Political Contributions By Government Contractors

Last Friday, a district court upheld a long-standing ban on federal political contributions made by federal contractors.  In practice, the universe of those directly affected by this ban, and the opinion upholding it, is relatively small.  Corporations are already prohibited from contributing to candidates and parties.  The prohibition therefore generally applies only when the federal … Continue Reading

Nonprofit to Disclose Donors in California

According to press reports, the legal fight between the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) and Americans for Responsible Leadership (ARL), an Arizona-based 501(c)(4), appears to have drawn to a close.  ARL apparently has dropped its bid to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  And instead of producing documents to the FPPC for an audit, … Continue Reading

California Supreme Court Orders Arizona Nonprofit to Undergo Audit

At the close of last week, we were tracking the California Fair Political Practices Commission’s (FPPC) efforts to conduct an audit of Americans for Responsible Leadership (ARL) to determine whether the Arizona-based 501(c)(4) needed to disclose its donors under California law.  A state trial court had ordered ARL to submit documents and ARL had taken an … Continue Reading

California Targets Nonprofit Donor Disclosure

In California, the Fair Political Practice Commission (“FPPC”) is facing off against an Arizona nonprofit, Americans for Responsible Leadership (“ARL”), in a dispute that is quickly making its way through the state court system.  The case may ultimately have important implications for donors who give to certain nonprofits that in turn fund political activities.  Since … Continue Reading

Recent Appeals Court Decision Could Send Campaign Finance Reformers Back To Drawing Board

A federal appeals court last week dealt a blow to legislative efforts to limit the effects of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision.  Following Citizens United, campaign finance reformers attempted to restrain independent corporate political speech by pushing for laws which prohibited corporations from funding independent political advertisements unless shareholders first vote to approve … Continue Reading

Federal Court Upholds Super PAC Contribution Limit in New York Races for Now

Since the federal court decisions in Citizens United and SpeechNow, courts, state campaign finance regulators, and state attorneys general have consistently found that Super PACs—entities that make only independent expenditures—are not bound by contribution limits.  Yesterday, a federal court in New York bucked this trend—at least preliminarily. For years the New York State Board of … Continue Reading

Montana Contribution Limits Survive for Upcoming Election

With respect to the upcoming presidential election, it appears that the dust has settled on the Montana contribution limits litigation.  As a refresher, the district court invalidated the State’s contribution limits and the State appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit and requested an emergency stay pending appeal.  Yesterday the Ninth Circuit granted the stay … Continue Reading

Update on Montana Contribution Limits Litigation

As we noted last week, the Montana contribution limits case was headed to the Ninth Circuit.  Without ruling on the merits of the suit, the Ninth Circuit today “temporarily stayed” the district court’s order, which had invalidated Montana’s campaign contribution limits.  The Ninth Circuit stated that its review was “severely constrained” by the lack of findings of … Continue Reading
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