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General Majority Pac v. Aichele

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 13, 2014

GENERAL MAJORITY PAC, Plaintiff
v.
CAROL AICHELE, in her official capacity as Pennsylvania Secretary of State; KATHLEEN KANE, in her official capacity as Pennsylvania Attorney General; JONATHAN M. MARKS, in his official capacity as Commissioner of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation; IAN HARLOW, in his official capacity as Deputy Commissioner of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation; and TRISHA MALEHORN, in her official capacity as Chief of the Division of Campaign Finance and Lobbying Disclosure of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation; Defendants

MEMORANDUM

WILLIAM W. CALDWELL, District Judge.

I. Introduction

This case calls into question the constitutionality of a provision of Pennsylvania's Election Code that limits the fundraising activities of political committees operating within the state following the United States Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission , 558 U.S. 310 (2010). The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania concedes that the challenged provision no longer passes constitutional muster, and the only matter remaining to be decided is the scope of this court's order permanently enjoining its enforcement.

For the reasons that follow, we will enter a narrowly tailored order striking down the offending provision and permanently enjoining the Commonwealth from enforcing it. We will, however, decline the Commonwealth's invitation to go further by entering an order that substantially rewrites the Election Code and any applicable rules and regulations. That task is properly left to the Pennsylvania General Assembly and Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation.

II. Background

A. Campaign Finance Regulations and Citizens United

As the Supreme Court recently affirmed, there is no right in our democracy more basic than the right to participate in electing our political leaders. McCutcheon v. Fed. Election Comm'n , 134 S.Ct. 1434, 1440-41 (2014). Participation comes in many different forms-citizens can run for office, vote, urge others to vote for a particular candidate or candidates, or volunteer to work for a campaign. Id. at 1441. Most pertinent to today's analysis, though, is another form of participation: political giving and spending.

By making a direct monetary donation to a political campaign (giving), or by expending resources in an effort to promote particular candidates or policies (spending), individuals can influence our political landscape. The Supreme Court has concluded that by making such "contributions" or "expenditures, " as they are formally known, individuals exercise their protected First Amendment rights to free expression and association. See id. at 1448.

In essence, an individual's political giving and spending amounts to a symbolic expression of support for a candidate or issue and serves to affiliate the individual with a candidate or cause. The influx of money also increases the overall quantity of political expression by providing a means through which ideas can be disseminated to the public at large-for example, by funding the political advertisements that populate the airwaves. Thus, when an individual puts his money where his proverbial mouth is through political giving and spending, that conduct falls within the realm of protected First Amendment activities.

Over the past four decades since the landmark campaign finance decision Buckley v. Valeo , 424 U.S.1 (1976), the Supreme Court has repeatedly examined the constitutional implications of political giving and spending and legislative efforts to limit those activities. During that time, the Court has considered and rejected various justifications for limiting both direct political contributions and independent expenditures- i.e. , political spending that is not approved by or coordinated with a candidate.

Ultimately, in 2010's Citizens United , the Court concluded that the only legitimate governmental interest in limiting political spending-and thereby restricting protected First Amendment activities-is avoiding corruption or the appearance of corruption. See id., 558 U.S. at 365. From this premise, the Court found that a federal law that banned corporations from making independent expenditures violated the First Amendment. The Court reasoned that "independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption" because spending without "prearrangement and coordination" with a candidate "alleviates the danger that expenditures will be given as a quid pro quo for improper commitments from the candidate." Id. at 357 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).[1]

In the wake of this decision, suits were filed across the country challenging the constitutionality of various federal, state, and local election provisions that limited the amount of money individuals or organizations could contribute to groups that make only independent expenditures. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit became the first federal appellate court to address the issue, striking down as unconstitutional a federal law capping such contributions. See SpeechNow.org v. Fed. Election Comm'n , 599 F.3d 686 (D.C. Cir. 2010). The D.C. Circuit reasoned that "because Citizens United holds that independent expenditures do not corrupt or give the appearance of corruption as a matter of law, then the government can have no anti-corruption interest in limiting contributions to independent expenditure-only organizations." Id. at 696.

Every federal appellate court to address the issue since has reached the same conclusion, striking down various contribution limits to independent expenditure groups. See, e.g. , Republican Party v. King , 741 F.3d 1089, 1095-96 (10th Cir. 2013) (holding that "political committees that are not formally affiliated with a political party or candidate may receive unlimited contributions for independent expenditures"); N.Y. Progress & Prot. PAC v. Walsh , 733 F.3d 483, 487 (2d Cir. 2013) (holding that an aggregate limit on an individual's contributions is unconstitutional as applied to contributions to independent expenditure-only groups); Texans for Free Enter. v. Tex. Ethics Comm'n , 732 F.3d 535, 538 (5th Cir. 2013) (holding that a state law ban on corporate contributions cannot be applied to independent expenditure committees); Wis. Right to Life State PAC v. Barland , 664 F.3d 139, 143 (7th Cir. 2011) (holding that a state law restricting contributions to $10, 000 cannot be applied to independent expenditure committees); Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce v. City of Long Beach , 603 F.3d 684, 698-99 (9th Cir. 2010) (holding that a local ordinance restricting contributions cannot be applied to a political action committee seeking to use funds for independent expenditures); see also N.C. Right to Life, Inc. v. Leake , 525 F.3d 274, 293 (4th Cir. 2008) (holding-even before the issuance of Citizens United -that a state law limiting contributions to $4, 000 could not be constitutionally applied to independent expenditure committees).

This case presents an identical challenge to Pennsylvania's Election Code, which, as discussed below, prevents independent expenditure-only political committees from accepting contributions ...


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