WASHINGTON -- Just one month after the Supreme Court struck down aggregate campaign contribution limits, Republican Party officials are set to join what may be the next big court challenge in the ongoing push to unravel campaign finance laws.
The case has not yet been filed, but it already has a winning pedigree: The lawsuit was conceived by James Bopp, the Indiana-based lawyer who was behind Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and involved in McCutcheon v. FEC -- the last two major Supreme Court victories for those attacking campaign finance limits.
The target of this new challenge is the ban on political parties soliciting and receiving unlimited contributions, known as "soft money," that was enacted in the 2002 McCain-Feingold law. The lawsuit aims to overturn that ban and more.
It will ask the courts to allow political parties, at both the national and state levels, to create affiliated super PACs that can raise and spend unlimited sums on any electoral effort. This would include express electoral activity -- that is, efforts aimed at supporting or defeating specific candidates. Before the McCain-Feingold ban, parties' spending of soft money was basically limited to issue advocacy and get-out-the-vote initiatives.
According to The Washington Times, members of the Republican National Committee will vote to join the court case at their spring meeting in Memphis, Tennessee, this week.
“We think this will put the final nail in the coffin of the McCain-Feingold law,” Roger Villere, chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, told the Times.
The challenge appears to pick up on recent hints given by the Supreme Court in its McCutcheon decision and by FEC Commissioner Lee Goodman.
In last month's McCutcheon decision, the Supreme Court strictly limited the justification for restrictions on campaign fundraising and spending: Such restrictions can be implemented only to prevent direct quid pro quo corruption, otherwise known as bribery.
"Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder's official duties, does not give rise to such quid pro quo corruption," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. "Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner 'influence over or access to' elected officials or political parties."
This assertion strongly suggests that the court may be ready to strike down current limits on how much individuals can contribute to a political party -- or possibly an affiliated super PAC.
Similarly, in a recent statement on an FEC enforcement case, Goodman concluded that the current ban on state and local parties and campaigns spending money on federal elections that was raised outside the federal limits is likely unconstitutional in light of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision.
The Supreme Court had written in an earlier case that the justification for this restriction on state and local spending was to prevent those whose efforts at corrupting lawmakers had been stymied by the limits on contributing to federal candidates' campaigns and national parties from working their attempted bribery through state and local parties. Goodman argued that the connections were too distant and that in the context of federal elections, state and local parties and campaigns should be judged more like independent expenditure groups, which can raise all the money they want and spend it as they wish.
Republicans, who opposed McCain-Feingold at the time of its passage, have since complained that it hampers political parties and empowers outside interests, like pro-Democratic Party labor unions and the tea party-linked elements the GOP establishment has fought in recent years.
Josh Orton, a spokesman for Progressives United, a group started by former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), questioned Republican opposition to the law.
"The McCain-Feingold law shut the door on a dangerous, real form of corruption, and the Supreme Court found it Constitutional because they saw real evidence of that corruption," Orton wrote in an email. "That threat of corruption is as real today as it was then. So it takes a certain type of chutzpah for the RNC to assert that a law passed to prevent corruption especially handicaps them."