No Futzing With Query on Dead Libertarian

     WASHINTON (CN) – Election regulators cannot alter the question put to the D.C. Circuit about whether annual contribution limits against the bequest of a deceased Libertarian supporter violates the party’s rights, a federal judge ruled.
     U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins denied the Federal Election Commission’s motion to alter the question he himself framed earlier this year for the en banc Court of Appeals.
     The question asks: “Does imposing annual contribution limits against the bequest of Raymond Groves Burrington violate the First Amendment rights of the Libertarian National Committee?”
     Burrington, who died April 26, 2007, left more than $217,000 to the Libertarian National Committee in his will, but the FEC is forcing the party to 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 FEC moved to alter or amend the certified question, Wilkins said, noting that courts “disfavor[]” such moves judgment, a motion “disfavored” by courts.
     The commission wanted to emphasize that applying contribution limits to Burrington’s bequest does not violate the First Amendment, that the court applied a test akin to strict scrutiny instead of “closely drawn” scrutiny, and that the ruling could lead to a proliferation of litigation under federal law.
     Striking down the FEC’s arguments one by one, Wilkins said Tuesday that “this court did not commit clear error when it ordered a question certified to the en banc United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.”
     The Libertarian Party’s 2011 complaint challenged the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, a 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 cannot 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 party can collect only $28,500 annually from the $217,734 bequest, the Libertarians complained.
     Wilkins noted in his earlier decision to reframe the party’s question “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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