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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
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En Banc Panel Set for Libertarians’ Dispute

WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal judge asked the full D.C. Circuit to decide whether annual contribution limits against the bequest of a deceased Libertarian supporter violate the party's First Amendment rights.

Raymond Groves Burrington, who died April 26, 2007, left more than $217,000 to the Libertarian National Committee in his will, but the Federal Election Commission is forcing the party take annual payments from the bequest to conform with the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), which sets annual limits to how much a person can donate to political parties.

The Libertarians wanted the entire bequest immediately and filed suit in 2011, claiming that the FEC unfairly applies individual contribution limits to the estates of deceased supporters "whose ideologies they wish to advance when planning their future estate's disbursement."

After two years of litigation, the Libertarians asked the court to certify a question to an en banc Court of Appeals: "Does imposing annual contribution limits against testamentary bequests directed at, or accepted or solicited by political party committees, violate First Amendment speech and associational rights?"

U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins instead agreed Monday to certify a more narrow question that asks: "Does imposing annual contribution limits against the bequest of Raymond Groves Burrington violate the First Amendment rights of the Libertarian National Committee?"

"This court does not relish requiring our Court of Appeals to sit en banc, but at the same time it has a duty under 2 U.S.C. § 437h to certify appropriate constitutional issues," Wilkins wrote.

The party's 2011 complaint challenged the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, the 2002 law that limits the amount a person can give to political parties in a calendar year to $25,000. The amount has since been adjusted for inflation to $32,400.

The Libertarians claimed that the law can't lump a person's "testamentary estate" into the definition of the term "person," and added that the Libertarian Party "is not one of the two parties referenced in the 'Bipartisan' Act's title."

Libertarians tout themselves as the largest third party in the country, but say they have little left for campaigning because most resources go toward putting candidates on the ballots.

"Donors, voters, and prospective political candidates who might be attracted to the party's ideology are nonetheless dissuaded from supporting the party by its lack of resources," the party claimed in its complaint.

Such resources could be replenished easier if Burrington's entire bequest were made available to it immediately, it added. Instead, the Libertarians complain, the party can collect only $28,500 annually from the $217,734 bequest.

Wilkins noted "that the anti-corruption interests that would be implicated by allowing the LNC to receive the entire bequest all at once may be minimal."

As such, the issue presents a valid question as to whether FECA is unconstitutional as-applied to the Burrington bequest, according to the ruling.

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