The 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the limits set in a 2009 [Illinois] law do not violate First Amendment free-speech rights . […]
Illinois Liberty PAC argued limits on individuals’ contributions shouldn’t be lower than those for corporations or unions. It complained that political parties and “legislative caucuses” formed by lawmakers may make unlimited contributions and that all limits are off when a self-funded candidate chips in enough.
Liberty Justice Center is representing Liberty PAC. President Patrick Hughes says it plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Illinois Policy Institute’s John Tillman and Hughes are both prior chairmen of that PAC. Liberty Justice Center is a project of the Illinois Policy Institute.
* From the opinion…
Illinois Liberty PAC, Edgar Bachrach, and Kyle McCarter (collectively, “Liberty PAC”) sued Illinois officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that certain campaign contribution limits set by the Illinois Disclosure and Regulation of Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Act (“the Act”), 10 ILL. COMP. STAT. 5/9-1 et seq. (2016), violate the First Amendment. Invoking the intermediate-scrutiny framework of Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976), Liberty PAC challenges four parts of the Act that it contends are not closely drawn to prevent quid pro quo corruption or its appearance. First, the Act sets lower contribution limits for individuals than for corporations, unions, and other associations. 10 ILL. COMP. STAT. 5/9-8.5(b)–(d). Second, the Act allows political parties to make unlimited contributions to candidates during a general election. Id. Third, a waiver provision lifts the contribution limits for all candidates in a race if one candidate’s self-funding or support from independent expenditure groups exceeds $250,000 in a statewide race or $100,000 in any other election. Id. 5/9-8.5(h). And fourth, certain legislators may form “legislative caucus committees,” which, like political party committees, are permitted to make unlimited contributions to candidates during a general election. Id. 5/9-1.8(c).
The district judge dismissed the first three claims at the pleadings stage, reasoning that Supreme Court precedent foreclosed them. The judge then held a bench trial to determine if the Act’s more lenient regulation of legislative caucus committees—classifying them with political party committees—shows that the Act is not closely drawn to prevent quid pro quo corruption or its appearance. The judge ruled for the defendants, finding that legislative caucus commitees are sufficiently similar to political party committees to justify their identical treatment under the Act.
We affirm across the board. The Supreme Court’s campaign-finance cases plainly foreclose any argument that the Act’s contribution limits for individual donors are too low or that the limits for other donors are too high. To overcome this impediment, Liberty PAC argues that the Act is fatally underinclusive by favoring certain classes of donors over others. But the Court has repeatedly upheld a similar federal campaign-finance scheme setting lower contribution limits for individuals than for other categories of donors, including political parties. See, e.g., McConnell v. FEC, 540U.S. 93, 187–88 (2003), overruled on other grounds by Citizens United v. FEC, 558 U.S. 310, 319 (2010); FEC v. Colo. Republican Federal Campaign Comm., 533 U.S. 431, 455–56 (2001); Buckley, 424 U.S. at 35–36. The Court has also said that a waiver provision like the one Illinois has adopted would not be unconstitutional. See Davis v. FEC, 554 U.S. 724, 737 (2008). Finally, on the record before us, we see no basis to disturb the judge’s factual findings that legislative caucus committees are sufficiently akin to political party committees to justify Illinois’s decision to treat them alike.