Election-Donor Limits Survive Court’s 2nd Look

     (CN) – A federal judge again denied a Miami couple’s challenge of per-election campaign donation limits, finding their claims “involve issues of settled law” that don’t warrant certification for appellate review.
     Laura Holmes and Paul Jost made election contributions to Congressional candidates in San Diego and Iowa, respectively. But their donations came after the primary elections, and they did not give to the candidates during the primary season.
     Holmes and Jost believed that they should be allowed to donate another $2,600 – the current federal per-candidate, per-election limit – to their two candidates since they missed doing so for the primary elections. They claimed the Federal Election Commission’s contribution limit is unconstitutional, since it violates their free speech rights by creating an artificial distinction between primary and general elections with no real purpose.
     This past October, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer dismissed the couple’s challenge, finding that the Supreme Court has long upheld campaign finance restrictions – and their seeming infringements on the right of association – since they prevent corrupt elections.
     Collyer also found that the couple was not being treated differently than other donors who made contributions in both the primary and general elections, since no one is ever allowed to donate above the $2,600 threshold in a single election.
     Despite this, Collyer sent the case to the D.C. Circuit for an en banc review – eventually certifying two campaign-contribution questions for the appeals court to consider.
     The D.C. Circuit remanded the case back to Collyer at the Federal Election Commission’s request to determine whether the constitutional questions were even appropriate for review.
     On Monday, Collyer determined that they were not.
     “As an initial matter, plaintiffs’ repeated description of FECA’s per-election structure as ‘bifurcated’ is factually incorrect,” Collyer wrote. “FECA does not dictate a maximum contribution limit of $5,200 that may be split between the primary and general elections. Rather, it sets a per-election base limit of $2,600: an individual may contribute $2,600 to one candidate for each ‘election,’ as defined, in which he participates. Donating $2,600 to a candidate for his primary-election campaign and $2,600 to that same candidate for his general election campaign is not the same as donating $5,200 solely to his general election campaign. Congress simply does not allow any contributor to give $5,200 for a general election.”
     Just because the Supreme Court did not address the per-election contribution limit in its seminal Buckley v. Valeo does not mean the couple’s First Amendment challenge raises an issue of unsettled law, Collyer said.
     “By seeking to combine the permissible contribution amounts for both primary and general election in order to have flexibility to donate that aggregate amount to a general election campaign, plaintiffs are effectively challenging Congress’s decision to set a base dollar limit for individual per-election contributions to federal candidates-a decision that is contemplated and approved by Buckley,” she wrote.
     The judge acknowledged the couple’s frustration over being able to give $2,600 the day before an election and $2,600 the day after an election – but not $5,200 in a single donation.
     “Neither Congress nor the Supreme Court has ever authorized individual contributors to give $5,200 to one candidate solely for use in a general election,” Collyer wrote. “To the contrary, the Supreme Court has held that FECA’s individual limits on base contributions are permissible and Congress set such a limit-at $2,600. Thus, because plaintiffs’ claim rests on settled law, certification is not warranted.”
     Similarly, the judge found that the couple’s equal-protection claims are also based on settled law despite their arguments otherwise.
     “This court finds no evidence of invidious discrimination against these plaintiffs or any purported class of individual contributors. FECA treats all individual contributors equally by imposing uniform per-candidate, per-election contribution limits. Although plaintiffs ‘may be prevented from contributing $5,200 to their chosen candidates after their primary elections, plaintiffs are only restricted to the exact same extent as any other individuals wishing to contribute more than $2,600 per election,'” Collyer wrote.
     “Plaintiffs cannot pursue an equal protection violation by arguing disparate impact when they have made no showing of purposeful discrimination,” she added.

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