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Federal appeals court upholds Illinois’ campaign contribution cap system

Friday, Sep 14, 2018

* AP

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.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

11 Comments
  1. - Anonymous - Friday, Sep 14, 18 @ 12:04 pm:

    Seems like Liberty Justice Institute loses a lot of its cases.


  2. - Anonymous - Friday, Sep 14, 18 @ 12:33 pm:

    @12:04- Yes. Then they appeal the decisions, and lose again. A twofer!


  3. - Rich Miller - Friday, Sep 14, 18 @ 12:36 pm:

    ===Liberty Justice Institute loses a lot===

    You mean like Janus?


  4. - City Zen - Friday, Sep 14, 18 @ 12:42 pm:

    Maybe they can call the Personal PAC for some advice.


  5. - cdog - Friday, Sep 14, 18 @ 12:49 pm:

    Liberty Justice Institute obviously needs to just go jurisdiction shopping and get one of those “nationwide injunctions” issued from some obscure judge that wants to run the country from his/her bench. /s

    Otherwise, it sounds like a good case for SCOTUS, to me. Seems weird, if I get the nuances, that you just have to incorporate to bypass caps.


  6. - California Guy - Friday, Sep 14, 18 @ 1:09 pm:

    Will be thrown out by SCOTUS. State level caps are on borrowed time.


  7. - Duopoly - Friday, Sep 14, 18 @ 1:47 pm:

    ==Will be thrown out by SCOTUS. State level caps are on borrowed time==

    Agreed. this SCOTUS is all-in on money equals-speech and money “trumps” everything. Wait ’til you see more of corporations and churches are the “people” to which “a free people” are subordinate.


  8. - hisgirlfriday - Friday, Sep 14, 18 @ 1:50 pm:

    They’ll prevail on this at SCOTUS once Kavanaugh is seated. The Federalist Society crowd doesn’t want any campaign finance restrictions or disclosure requirements. They’ll use whatever tortured legal logic they need to put forth to get that political result eventually. My only question is just what particular campaign finance policy decision the wannabe philosopher kings in robes will come out with based on this case - if they’ll simply say that IL’s campaign contribution limits are to be struck down as unconstitutionally unfair to individual donors compared to how other donors are treated or they’ll act more broadly and say any limit on any individual campaign donor in any circumstance is automatically unconstitutional as a restriction on free speech.

    Maybe people think I’m being a bit over the top here but I warned what was coming in the Janus case in posts immediately after the Nov. 2016 election when that was not on the radar for most people.

    That said, I wish democratic republicans who support campaign finance restrictions (to reduce real and apparent corruption and get more democratically responsive policy outcomes) were as legally imaginative as the autocrats in the Federalist Society who want us to live in a plutocracy with govt. by and for the money instead of the people.

    Why should any non-human speaker be viewed as having a 1st amendment right to donate at all?

    Any PAC, corporation, or labor union is a govt-created entity. A PAC or a corp is created by the govt. only after they pay their fees and fill out paperwork to a govt. agency (and historically corps were chartered by state legislatures). A labor union only exists because a govt. entity recognized it after they did their work of jumping through govt. hoops and turning in paperwork to the govt.

    How can a govt.-created entity have a 1st amendment right to be free of govt. restrictions on speech?

    That’s why despite being someone who wants campaign finance limits in place I would agree with the plaintiffs here that we really do have things backward in this state when it comes to human citizens being restricted while govt.-created entities can bust caps.


  9. - Anonymice - Friday, Sep 14, 18 @ 2:18 pm:

    @rich miller the Janus decision was the result of Alito and the rest of the Robert’s 5 bootstrapping. The majority asked for the case, and LJC obliged. All they had to do was find a plaintiff and restructure the argument originally offered in Friedrichs a few years earlier - which would’ve ended badly for labor but for Scalia’s death. So, LJC May have “won,” but to say that LJC won based on their own work product is not exactly accurate.


  10. - Anonymous - Friday, Sep 14, 18 @ 2:28 pm:

    When Liberty handled Janua in the Seventh, they lost. Other counsel handled it in SCOTUS. And since SCOTUS had earlier telegraphed what the outcome would be, quality of the representation was irrelevant in any event. And one case does not make for a lot of wins. How have they fared in other cases?


  11. - Anonymous - Friday, Sep 14, 18 @ 4:30 pm:

    ==How can a govt.-created entity have a 1st amendment right to be free of govt. restrictions on speech?==

    This is why SCOTUS is viewed as joke as far as fair logical results.


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