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FEC Record: Litigation

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Libertarian National Committee v. FEC

On March 26, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed as moot the Libertarian National Committee’s (LNC) challenge to the Federal Election Campaign Act’s (the Act) limits on contributions to national political party committees, as applied to a bequest the LNC received from the estate of Raymond Groves Burrington.

In April 2007, Mr. Burrington died and bequeathed $217,734 to the LNC in his will. Under the Act and Commission regulations, contributions made by bequest from a deceased person’s estate are subject to contribution limits. See 2 U.S.C. §441a(a)(1), AOs 2004-02 (National Committee for an Effective Congress) and 1999-14 (Council for a Livable World). As a result, the LNC could not accept the entire bequest at once, but rather accepted annual contributions from the Burrington Estate of $28,500 in 2007 and 2008, the maximum contribution permissible at the time. The remaining balance of $160,734 was placed into an escrow account, the terms of which allowed for the LNC to withdraw the maximum annual amount permitted by the Act.

On March 17, 2011, the LNC filed suit against the Commission seeking to permanently enjoin the application of the Act’s contribution limits to bequests made to national party committees. The LNC argued that the Act’s limit on contributions to national party committees (2 U.S.C. §441a(a)(1)(B)) and the Act’s ban on national party committees soliciting or receiving any funds not subject to the limitations, prohibitions and reporting requirements of the Act (2 U.S.C. §441i) could not be constitutionally applied to decedents’ bequests. As part of its challenge, the LNC asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to certify the legal question presented by its suit to the en banc Court of Appeals pursuant to 2 U.S.C. §437h.

On March 18, 2013, the District Court denied the LNC’s request for en banc review in part and granted it in part. To the extent the LNC challenged the contribution limits as applied to potential future bequests to the LNC and to other political parties, the court denied the LNC’s section 437h motion and granted the FEC partial summary judgment. The court concluded that this part of the LNC’s claim was not substantial enough to be heard by the Court of Appeals because, in general, limits on bequests to political parties do not violate the First Amendment since bequests could cause corruption or appear corrupt. The District Court also found that the LNC’s proposed question was improperly “laden with hypotheticals about the constitutionality of contribution limits under FECA.” On March 26, 2013, the LNC appealed that portion of the District Court’s ruling to the Court of Appeals in a separate matter (no. 13-5094). The D.C. Circuit summarily affirmed the District Court’s ruling on February 7, 2014.

Despite declining to certify the LNC’s proposed question, the District Court decided to certify a narrower version of that question to the Court of Appeals: Does imposing annual contribution limits on Mr. Burrington’s bequest violate the LNC’s First Amendment rights?  Before the D.C. Circuit in that matter (no. 13-5088), the FEC filed a Suggestion of Mootness on February 3, 2014. The FEC informed the court that it no longer had jurisdiction to decide the issue because, as of January 1, 2014, the LNC had either already received or could immediately accept the remainder of Burrington’s bequest. On March 26, 2014, the Court of Appeals issued a per curiam order dismissing the case as moot and vacating the portions of the district court’s judgment certifying a question to the en banc court.

(Posted 4/8/2014; By: Zainab Smith)

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