(CN) - A three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., rejected Republicans' bid to overturn a campaign finance law barring large donations to political parties.
The Republican National Committee, the California Republican Party, the Republican Party of San Diego County and RNC Chairman Michael Steele argued that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act's ban on such "soft money" contributions violated their First Amendment rights.
They argued that they should be allowed to use soft-money contributions to fund state or local election campaigns, so long as the money wasn't used on federal candidates or campaigns.
But a panel of the U.S. District Court in Washington dismissed their lawsuit, citing the Supreme Court's ruling in McConnell v. FEC, which upheld soft-money bans.
D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh said the "whole point" of the soft-money ban -- and the decision upholding it -- was to stop political parties from using soft-money contributions to fund "issue advertising" and state and local election activities that "ultimately influenced federal elections and benefited federal candidates."
The district court said it has no authority to overrule McConnell's holding on soft-money bans.
Republicans also argued that the Supreme Court's recent decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which lifted campaign spending restrictions on corporations, overrode McConnell.
But the panel said Citizens United "expressly left this aspect of McConnell intact" when the justices wrote: "The BCRA record establishes that certain donations to political parties, called 'soft money,' were made to gain access to elected officials. This case, however, is about independent expenditures, not soft money."
Thus, Citizens United "did not disturb McConnell's holding with respect to the constitutionality of BCRA's limits on contributions to political parties," the federal court concluded.
The panel granted summary judgment to the Federal Election Commission.
Panel judges included U.S. District Judge Richard Leon and U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer.
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