Members of the Republican National Committee gathering in Memphis, Tennessee, for their spring meeting are set to join a lawsuit seeking to strike down campaign finance limits and free the GOP to spend unlimited money on get-out-the-vote efforts.
Republicans have long argued that “soft money” spending limits imposed on political parties by the Federal Election Commission in the aftermath of the 2002 McCain-Feingold law have punished the RNC and state political parties while letting pro-Democrat unions spend unlimited money to organize voters.
The lawsuit specifically will ask the courts to allow national and state parties to form super PACs that can raise and spend unlimited amounts on election efforts, something the FEC has prohibited.
“We think this will put the final nail in the coffin of the McCain-Feingold law,” Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere said in an interview.
“If we win this suit against the federal government, it will allow our national committee and our state parties to have some freedom not to be constrained by campaign finance rules that hold back us but not the Democrats,” he said.
Republicans have long complained that Democrats have been getting unrestricted election help from allies such as teachers and public employees unions.
The lawsuit is the brainchild of former Indiana RNC member Jim Bopp, a constitutional lawyer who devised the legal strategy that dealt a body blow to McCain-Feingold in the Supreme Court with the 2010 Citizens United decision.
Citizens United declared unconstitutional McCain-Feingold’s ban on unlimited corporate and union spending that expressly advocated the election or defeat of candidates for federal office. Other parts of the law subsequently came under assault.
Mr. Villere and the chairman of another state Republican Party won’t be in Memphis for the vote. The reason for their absence is the ownership of flower shops.
Current rules for soft money require that state and local parties use only severely limited, federally regulated “hard dollar” donations to fund federal electioneering activities. This includes voter registration drives within 120 days of an election, voter ID and get-out-the-vote programs and any communications that mention federal candidates — with some exceptions.
“This means that few local political parties do these activities because of the hard-money requirement,” Mr. Bopp told Mr. Villere in an email suggesting that the Louisiana chairman become the plaintiff in the proposed lawsuit. “State political parties that are able to set up hard money accounts find it hard to raise this money because of the annual $10,000 contribution limit for hard money.”
The law allows super PACs to raise money without limit and from any source, but the FEC prohibits political parties from having their own super PACs.
Mr. Bopp said these restrictions are unconstitutional because the Supreme Court has long held that political parties can make independent expenditures. Recent court cases, including several that Mr. Bopp handled, have held that independent political activity cannot be limited by contribution limits.
“Thus, since political parties can constitutionally do independent political activity, it follows that these activities can be funded by unlimited contributions,” Mr. Bopp said.