Republicans Sue to End Limits on Cash to Aid Candidates

The Republican National Committee, in a continuing bid to scale back U.S. campaign finance limits, sued for the right to raise unlimited funds for so-called independent expenditures used to advocate in an election.

The RNC, in a suit filed yesterday against the Federal Election Commission in federal court in Washington, seeks to eliminate an annual $32,400 per person cap on contributions to the party, which would allow it to raise funds in much the same way a so-called super-PAC, or political action committee, does. The RNC didn’t challenge limits on funds that go directly to campaigns.

The RNC complaint is “a frontal attack” on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which clamped down on fundraising for independent expenditures by both political parties, known as “soft money,” Larry Noble, a former general counsel of the FEC, said. It seeks to bolster the power of political parties by giving them “the same right to use soft money as Super Pacs,” said Noble, now affiliated with the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit in Washington advocating tighter controls on political spending.

It would also allow a party to coordinate fundraising for a candidate while simultaneously raising and spending what would become unlimited sums to influence the same election from a separate checkbook labeled “independent expenditures.” Under the law, the group or individuals making independent expenditures can’t consult with a campaign on how to spend the money.

‘A Sham’

“It think the public understands that it’s a sham,” Noble said. “It’s a legal fiction that the courts have created.”

Reince Priebus, the RNC’s chairman, said in a statement that the suit is a matter of fairness for parties, which are subject to a “patchwork of limits on political speech” that “undermines the First Amendment and puts high transparency, full-disclosure groups like the RNC on an unequal footing with other political entities.”

Priebus also is a plaintiff in the suit, as are the Republican Party of Louisiana, its chairman, Roger Villere Jr., and the state’s Jefferson and Orleans parish Republican executive committees.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, sided with the RNC in striking down the total amount an individual donor can give to federal candidates and parties. The court wiped out a cap of $123,200 per two-year election cycle.

Michael Czin, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, declined to comment on the RNC suit.

Panel Hearing

The RNC seeks a hearing before a three-judge panel in U.S. district court, a venue in which cases normally are heard by a single judge. James Bopp, an attorney for the RNC, said an adverse ruling by a panel would enable the RNC to appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bopp said Republicans want the restrictions on independent spending lifted in time for the 2014 general election.

The RNC suit is at least the second challenge within three days to fundraising limits on political parties. The Libertarian Party of Indiana and the Libertarian National Congressional Committee Inc. challenged the same restrictions on collecting money for independent expenditures in a suit filed in the same court on May 21.

Yesterday’s case is Republican National Committee v. Federal Election Commission, 14-cv-853, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

The May 21 case is Rufer v. FEC, 14-cv-837, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.