Post-Citizens United D.C. Circuit Case Finds Individual Contribution Limits Unconstitutional

March 26th, 2010

In SPEECHNOW.ORG, ET AL., v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, the D.C. Circuit 9-0 found certain individual contribution limits unconstitutional, but upheld disclosure requirements. This case is significant because it is one of the first prominent post-Citizens United cases to come down. (H/T Adam U.)

From Chief Judge Sentelle’s opinion:

Thereafter, the Supreme Court decided Citizens United v. FEC, 130 S. Ct. 876 (2010), which resolves this appeal. In accordance with that decision, we hold that the contribution limits of 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(1)(C) and 441a(a)(3) are unconstitutional as applied to individuals’ contributions to SpeechNow. However, we also hold that the reporting requirements of 2 U.S.C. §§ 432, 433, and 434(a) and the organizational requirements of 2 U.S.C. § 431(4) and 431(8) can constitutionally be applied to SpeechNow. In this action the district court also denied the plaintiffs’ motion to enjoin FEC enforcement of FECA’s contribution limits against SpeechNow.
Because we hold that those provisions cannot be constitutionally applied, we vacate the order denying that injunction and remand the matter to the district court for further proceedings consistent with our
The Court expressly relied on Citizens United:
Given this precedent, the only interest we may evaluate to determine whether the government can justify contribution limits as applied to SpeechNow is the government’s anticorruption interest. Because of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Citizens United v. FEC, the analysis is straightforward. There, the Court held that the government has no anti-corruption interest in limiting independent expenditures.
In light of the Court’s holding as a matter of law that independent expenditures do not corrupt or create the appearance of quid pro quo corruption, contributions to groups that make only independent expenditures also cannot corrupt or create the appearance of corruption. The Court has effectively held that there is no corrupting “quid” for which a candidate might in exchange offer a corrupt “quo.”
Given this analysis from Citizens United, we must conclude that the government has no anti-corruption interest in limiting contributions to an independent expenditure group such as SpeechNow. This simplifies the task of weighing the First Amendment interests implicated by contributions to SpeechNow against the government’s interest in limiting such contributions.
We therefore answer in the affirmative each of the first three questions certified to this Court. The contribution limits of 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(1)(C) and 441a(a)(3) violate the First Amendment by preventing plaintiffs from donating to SpeechNow in excess of the limits and by prohibiting SpeechNow from accepting donations in excess of the limits. We should be clear, however, that we only decide these questions as applied to contributions to SpeechNow, an independent expenditure–only group. Our holding does not affect, for example, § 441a(a)(3)’s limits on direct contributions to candidates.
Stay tuned. There should be a lot of fall out from this opinion.