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Media Alerts - Stop "Reid," et al. v. F.E.C. -- Fourth Circuit
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May 3, 2016
  Stop "Reid," et al. v. F.E.C. -- Fourth Circuit
Fourth Circuit Puts a Stop to Stop Reid

Areas of Law: Election law, Fifth Amendment

Issue Presented: Whether it violates the Fifth Amendment to impose different donation limits on non-connected political committees that have satisfied all criteria, except the waiting period, to become multi-candidate political committees.

Brief Summary: The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that the district court should have dismissed Stop Reid's first two claims for a lack of subject matter jurisdiction (rather than dismissing them on the merits in a motion for summary judgment), because the claims were moot after the plaintiff became a multi-candidate political committee. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the Tea Party Leadership Fund's claim that limits placed on multi-candidate political committee donations violated the Equal Protection clause of the Fifth Amendment because political committees that have satisfied all of the criteria except the waiting period were not subject to such limits.

Extended Summary: The Federal Election Campaign Act regulates the donation amount that groups can contribute to political campaigns. A political committee is a group of people that receive or spend at least $1,000 in a calendar year to influence the outcome of an election. A political committee may donate up to $2,600 per candidate, $34,400 to national party committees, and $10,000 combined to state party committees. The primaries and the general elections are considered separate elections for the purposes of calculating donation limits.

If a political committee meets certain criteria, it is eligible to become a multi-candidate political committee (MPC), with different donation limits. In order to be eligible for this classification, the political committee must: 1) have been registered with the Federal Election Committee for at least six months, 2) received donations from more than 50 people, and 3) made donations to at least five candidates for federal office. If these criteria are met, a political committee can become an MPC. The donation limits for a MPC are $5,000 to individual candidates, $15,000 to national party committees, and $5,000 to state party committees.

This case springs from the 2014 elections, during which a group named Stop Economic Instability Caused by Democrats (the opinion alternately refers to plaintiff as "Stop Reid" and "Stop Pac;" this alert will use "Stop Pac" for the sake of consistency), donated $2,600 to three political candidates and wished to donate additional funds totaling $5,000. Stop Pac met all the criteria in order to be classified as a MPC but had not fulfilled the necessary waiting period.

The Tea Party Leadership Fund ("the Fund"), which was already classified as an MPC, donated $5,000 to the Alexandria Republican City Committee ("ARCC"). The Fund wished to donate additional funds to the ARCC, totaling $10,000.

In the district court, the Plaintiffs brought three claims. First, Stop Pac alleged the donation limits set forth in the Federal Election Campaign Act violated the Equal Protection clause of the Fifth Amendment because MPCs are given a higher donation limit than those political committees who have satisfied all criteria except the waiting period. Second, Stop Pac argued the waiting period violated the First Amendment right to free speech and free association. Lastly, the Fund alleged the donation limits placed on MPCs violated the Equal Protection clause of the Fifth Amendment because political committees who have satisfied all criteria to become MPCs except the waiting period are similarly situated and have higher donation limits. The district court granted summary judgment to the Federal Election Committee on all counts.

The Fourth Circuit quickly disposed of the first two claims. Stop Pac became an MPC prior to the district court's ruling. The Fourth Circuit held that "capable of repetition yet evading review" in election law meant that a group might be subject to that same law in the future. The court held that since Stop Pac would not be held to the same donation limits in the future its claims were now moot and the district court had no authority to rule on the merits. The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the first two counts with instructions to the district court to dismiss them for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The Fourth Circuit further held the District Court had jurisdiction to hear the Fund's claim as the Fund would be subject to the same donation limitations in future. The court, however, ruled there was no discrimination regarding the donation limits. While MPCs have lower donation limits for national and state party committees, they have higher donation limits for individual candidates. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling.

To read the full opinion, click here.

Panel: Chief Judge Traxler, Judges Shedd and Dillon

Argument Date: 12/08/2015

Date of Issued Opinion: 02/23/2016

Docket Number: No. 15-1455

Decided: Affirmed in part; vacated and remanded in part with instructions by published opinion.

Case Alert Author:
Kathleen DeNobile, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Counsel: Michael T. Morley, COOLIDGE-REAGAN FOUNDATION, Washington, D.C., for Appellants. Kevin Paul Hancock, FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, Washington, D.C., for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Dan Backer, DB CAPITOL STRATEGIES, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellants Stop Reckless Economic Instability Caused by
Democrats, Tea Party Leadership Fund, and Alexandria Republican City Committee; Jerad Najvar, NAJVAR LAW FIRM, Houston, Texas, for Intervenor-Appellant American Future PAC. Lisa J. Stevenson, Deputy General Counsel-Law, Kevin Deeley, Acting Associate General Counsel, Harry J. Summers, Assistant General
Counsel, FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Chief Judge Traxler

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 05/03/2016 01:06 PM     4th Circuit  

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