Libertarian Lawsuit to Strike Restriction on Campaign Donations Moves Forward
Estate Contribution Limits Case Certified to D.C. Circuit
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Setting the stage for a groundbreaking First Amendment test of campaign finance law, federal judge Robert L. Wilkins certified to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, sitting en banc, the question of whether the government violates the right of free speech by limiting a decedent’s bequest to a political party.
The case, Libertarian National Committee (LNC) v. FEC, is brought by the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) and the law firm of Gura & Possessky, PLLC.
In 2007, Tennessee resident Raymond Burrington passed away, leaving in his will $217,734 to the Libertarian Party. But because that amount exceeded the annual limit on contributions to national party committees, the LNC was forced to place funds in escrow, withdrawing each year only the amount permitted by the FEC. The LNC seeks the full amount of the bequest, as well as the ability to implement a planned giving program that would solicit bequests exceeding the annual contribution limit.
Judge Wilkins certified the following question to the Appeals Court: “Does imposing annual contribution limits against the bequest of Raymond Groves Burrington violate the First Amendment rights of the Libertarian National Committee?” Wilkins noted that LNC counsel made a “persuasive argument that the Burrington bequest does not implicate any valid anti-corruption concerns” that are necessary in order for a law to constitutionally limit a political contribution.
“For all the claims that donation limits are needed to get ‘bad money’ out of politics, Special Interests who profit from Big Government are permitted to roll those profits back into the campaign coffers of politicians – making a mockery of campaign regulations,” said Geoffrey Neale, Chair of the Libertarian National Committee. “We must restore the First Amendment rights of ordinary citizens who have no influence over politicians. That most certainly includes the deceased.”
Although the court certified only the specific question of Burrington’s estate, a victory before the appellate court could substantially broaden opportunities for political expression. “Americans are free to remember in their wills their favorite friends, relatives, educational and charitable institutions, and other causes. The First Amendment likewise guarantees people the right to remember their favorite political parties,” said attorney Alan Gura of Gura & Possessky, who brought the case in 2011.
CCP Legal Director Allen Dickerson argued the motion last month in a three-hour hearing before Judge Wilkins. Noted Dickerson, “where there is no reasonable possibility of any quid-pro-quo agreement between candidates and deceased contributors, there is no corruption interest justifying FEC regulation.”
The opinion can be found here.