Court Upholds Limits on Party Coordinated Expenditures

Posted September 10, 2010 at 5:27pm

Campaign finance reform advocates got a rare win Friday as a federal court upheld government limits on the coordinated expenditures that national political parties can make on the behalf of candidates.

After a recent string of court decisions to roll back limits on electioneering spending, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Republican National Committee in the case of Cao v. Federal Election Commission.

The decision limits the amount that party committees can spend for House candidates to $43,500 to $87,000. In Senate races, parties can spend $87,000 to nearly $2.4 million based on the state’s population of potential voters. The RNC and Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-La.) had challenged the constitutionality of those spending limits.

The court’s ruling is probably the last word on the subject before November’s election, but the case is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court in the months to come.

“We are pleased that the court turned away this overreaching attack on established campaign finance law and Supreme Court precedent,” Campaign Legal Center counsel Tara Malloy said about the 11-5 decision. “Plaintiffs’ broad-side challenge would have gutted the coordinated spending limits and would have enabled large-scale circumvention of the individual contribution limits.”

The Campaign Legal Center, which along with Democracy 21, joined the Federal Election Commission in defending the constitutionality of the party coordinated spending limits.

RNC lawyer James Bopp Jr. said he expects that his client will appeal the case to the Supreme Court and is optimistic about his outcome.

“I think we have an objectively meritorious case,” said Bopp, who has been instrumental in challenging other campaign finance laws in recent major cases, including Citizens United, a Supreme Court ruling that removed limits on independent expenditures by corporations and unions.

He said the case will pivot on whether parties can spend unlimited amounts on a race as part of their First Amendment rights and has nothing to do with a party directly funding a candidate.

“I felt that they ducked the most important issue,” he said.