March 25, 2016
Undoing ‘Soft Money’ Restrictions a Bad Idea for Louisiana and Nation’s Elections, Public Citizen Tells Court
Group Joins Democracy 21 and Campaign Legal Center to Fight Latest Attempt to Buy American Elections at Every Level
WASHINGTON D.C. – Public Citizen, together with Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, today filed a friend of the court brief opposing an effort by state and local Republican Party committees in Louisiana to gut the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) that prevent state and local political parties from accepting unregulated contributions for federal election activity. The brief explains that limits on contributions to state parties are essential safeguards against corruption of the federal candidates whom the state parties support and with whom they are closely tied.
The brief was filed in a case brought by the Republican Party of Louisiana and Republican Party committees in two Louisiana parishes in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The Louisiana Republicans contend that BCRA provisions that limit the amount of contributions they can receive for federal election activity, and that generally bar corporate contributions, are unconstitutional. The case is being heard by a three-judge panel of the district court, and the three-judge court’s decision may be appealed directly to the Supreme Court.
Before BCRA’s enactment, state parties could use unlimited contributions, referred to as “soft money,” to pay for various activities that benefited candidates for federal office. Contributors, including corporations, routed tens of millions of dollars to the state parties to buy influence over federal officeholders. BCRA banned that practice, and the Supreme Court upheld BCRA’s ban as a legitimate anti-corruption measure in its 2003 decision in McConnell v. FEC.
The Louisiana Republicans argue that the McConnell decision has been undermined by subsequent decisions including Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck down other campaign finance laws and allowed unchecked spending to flood our elections. But as the brief filed today explains, those decisions leave McConnell’s soft-money holding, and its anti-corruption rationale, untouched.
“Limits on contributions to state party organizations are as necessary today to stop contributors from buying off federal candidates and officeholders as they were when McConnell was decided,” said Public Citizen attorney Scott Nelson, the principal author of the brief. “The Louisiana Republicans’ arguments would take us back to the soft-money era and set off a free-for-all in which federal candidates could make deals with contributors in return for excessive contributions to state parties that would directly benefit their candidacies.”