Libertarians Can Continue Contribution Limits Challenge

ATLANTA (CN) – The Libertarian party can continue its long-running challenge to political contribution limits as they relate to bequests from deceased donors.

As recounted in court documents, when Raymond Burrington died in 2008, he left the national committee of the Libertarian Party a bequest of $217,734.

Applying longstanding law as codified under the Federal Elections Campaign Act, the Federal Election Commission determined the contribution exceeded the allowable political donation limits for any given year.

In response, the Burrington estate revised the bequest, giving the Libertarians $33,900  the maximum allowable donation that year, and placing the remaining money in escrow to be donated to the organization over time.

The party sued arguing that by applying the donation limit to bequests, the FEC was violating the First Amendment speech and associational rights of both the Libertarian Party and its supporters.

The committee claims that a limited exception to the Federal Elections Campaign Act should apply to bequests since political contributions made by the dead are less likely to be tainted by corruption.

The federal district court in Washington, D.C. refused to certify the question raised in the Libertarian’s initial complain, holding the party could only challenge an alleged violation of its own First Amendment rights, not those of its supporters.

Although the court certified a narrowed version of the committee’s question which asked specifically whether imposing contribution limits on the donor’s bequest violated the First Amendment rights of the committee, the bequest was fully disbursed through an escrow account according to the FEC’s contribution limitations before the D.C. Circuit court could hear the certified question.

The certification was dismissed as moot and the district court’s order was vacated.

But the party continued to believe it was right, and soon enough, another opportunity arose for it to pursue its challenge.

In August 2014, Joseph Shaber left the party $235,575 in a living trust.

According to court documents, the party accepted an amount equal to the annual contribution limits and placed the rest of the money into an escrow account.

The committee then sued to prevent the FEC from enforcing contribution limits on Shaber’s bequest and sought to certify three questions of law to the D.C. Circuit court.

On Friday, the court certified the question: “Does imposing annual contribution limits against the bequest of Joseph Shaber violate the First Amendment rights of the Libertarian National Committee?”

The district court ruled that the committee made a “non-frivolous argument” that “only evidence of actual corruption, rather than the appearance of corruption, can justify the contribution limits’ application to Mr. Shaber’s bequest.”

The district court found that the committee offered a non-frivolous argument showing that Shaber’s bequest does not raise corruption concerns.

“First, according to the LNC, Mr. Shaber did not make his bequest known to the LNC prior to his death,” the ruling states. “Second, neither Mr. Shaber nor any of his associates and loved ones had any known relationship to the LNC or its board members, officers, or candidates apart from Mr. Shaber’s donations themselves… Moreover, Mr. Shaber gave little to the LNC during his life—only $3,315 over the course of 24 years, an average of $138.13 per year—and the LNC has given nothing tangible of value to Mr. Shaber or his associates and loved ones.”

“Thus, the LNC raises a non-frivolous argument that the government cannot meet the burden to show that Mr. Shaber’s bequest raises any concerns as to the appearance or reality of corruption to justify the contribution limits’ application,” the ruling says.

The district court also ruled that the committee’s second and third questions warrant certification.

The second question asks: “Do 52 U.S.C. § 30116(a)(1)(B), (a)(9), and 30125(a)(1), on their face, violate the First Amendment rights of the Libertarian National Committee by restricting the purposes for which the Committee may spend its contributions above § 30116(a)(1)(B)’s general purpose contribution limit to those specialized purposes enumerated in §30116(a)(9)?”

The third question asks: “Do 52 U.S.C. §30116(a)(1)(B), (a)(9), and 30125(a)(1) violate the First Amendment rights of the Libertarian National Committee by restricting the purposes for which the Committee may spend that portion of the bequest of Joseph Shaber that exceeds § 30116(a)(1)(B)’s general purpose contribution limit to those specialized purposes enumerated in § 30116(a)(9)?”

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