WASHINGTON (CN) – A bipartisan group of lawmakers lost a court challenge Thursday that sought to reign in super PAC spending.
Led by Representative Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, the plaintiffs highlighted 10 super PACs that knowingly took contributions in excess of limits set by the Federal Election Commission.
When the lawmakers complained administratively, however, the FEC unanimously determined the contributions were legal under SpeechNow.org v. FEC, a 2010 decision by the D.C. Circuit that voided the $5,000 contribution limit to political action committees.
Lieu argued in the 2016 lawsuit meanwhile that SpeechNow “radically transformed American politics” by birthing the super PAC and spawning a “systemic crisis.”
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan threw out the case Thursday.
“Plaintiffs have the daunting task of persuading this court to rule inconsistently with the D.C. Circuit’s en bank opinion in SpeechNow,” the 23-page ruling says. “This court cannot do so.”
Sullivan noted the FEC’s based its decision to dismiss the administrative complaint entirely on the D.C. Circuit opinion in SpeechNow, not on a discretionary judgment call.
To declare its determination unlawful “would be tantamount to a declaration that binding precedent of the D.C. Circuit was unlawful,” the opinion says. “And that is not something this court is prepared to say.”
Lieu was joined as a plaintiff by Representative Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, and Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, along with John Howe, a Republican and former member of the Minnesota Senate, and congressional candidates Zephy Teachout and Michael Wager.
The FEC declined to comment on litigation. Rep. Lieu’s office did not return an email seeking comment on the lawsuit.
Harvard University law professor Laurence Tribe, who represented the plaintiffs, likewise did not return a request for comment.