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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Free Speech Money Not Bound by Spending Cap

(CN) - First Amendment advocacy group SpeechNow.org is not bound by federal spending and contribution limitations for political committees because there is no proof that independent financing in support of free speech leads to corruption, the D.C. Circuit ruled.

An en banc panel of judges weighed in on the constitutional issues surrounding SpeechNow's intention to operate "exclusively through independent expenditures."

Independent expenditures are defined by federal law as money spent to advocate the election or defeat of a candidate that is not made through any connection, request or suggestion from that candidate.

SpeechNow has not registered as a political committee, nor does it advocate for any particular political party. The Federal Election Committee advised its president, David Keating, and its four other members that upon beginning operation, it would be considered a political committee and would be subject to contribution and expenditure limitations.

All five members of SpeechNow have vowed to make contributions to support free speech.

"Believing that subjecting SpeechNow to all the restrictions imposed on political committees would be unconstitutional," the five members of SpeechNow said in a complaint against the committee seeking to protect the group from limitations.

The request was denied and the members appealed.

Chief Judge David Sentelle wrote for the appeals panel, "We must conclude that the government has no anti-corruption interest in limiting contributions to an independent expenditure group such as SpeechNow."

The panel ruled that it is not important to decide if giving money is a form of "core political speech," or if it is "merely a symbolic expression of general support." Sentelle wrote, "All that matters is that the First Amendment cannot be encroached upon for naught."

"Independent expenditures do not corrupt or create the appearance of quid pro quo corruption," the panel ruled, because "there is no corrupt 'quid' for which a candidate might in exchange offer a corrupt 'quo.'"

The panel's ruling renders two provisions of the Federal Election Committee Act unconstitutional because there is no evidence that the government has a valid anti-corruption interest in limiting independent expenditures.

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