The Louisiana Republican Party has challenged the constitutionality of a provision of federal law that limits individual campaign contributions to state political parties.
The party, and its committees in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., alleging the law illegally restricts state and local parties’ ability to raise funds for such activities as get-out-the-vote efforts and voter registration drives.
The lawsuit against the Federal Elections Commission targets independent expenditure regulations, those not related to a candidate election.
“There is no justification for restricting funds that political parties receive for independent campaign activity,” said James Bopp Jr., the Indiana attorney leading the state GOP court fight. He said it is particularly true when super PACs can solicit unlimited contributions “and spend enormous amounts to influence political races. … Political parties are constitutionally entitled to compete equally with them with their own independent campaign activity.”
The lawsuit alleges that the law is unnecessarily rigid and violates the First Amendment.
Under a 2002 law, state and local parties are subject to a $10,000-a-year federal individual contribution limit when dollars are going to be used for independent expenditures. State and local entities must set up federal accounts, too.
Previously, anyone could give as much money to a political party as they wanted, whether the money was going for independent expenditures or were coordinated with a campaign.
Bopp said the problem with the law is that there are many more state and local elections on the ballot than federal elections at any given time.
“It was wrong for congress to, in effect, say that all elections — state and local — are federal activity,” Bopp said.
“In Louisiana, if a local political party wanted to do a get-out-the-vote effort, they would have to set up a federal account and put money into the account subject to federal regulations,” Bopp said. “The net effect — by making local parties use federally regulated money for these activities — there’s no activity at all.”
“You cannot expect a local party to have a lawyer familiar with federal law. They are not going to do it. What local party has a lawyer in their community who has ever dealt with the federal election law?” he said.
“It’s absolutely driven them out of doing that at all,” Bopp said.
The lawsuit states that the Orleans and Jefferson Parish Republican executive committees don’t currently participate because of the “complexity and burden of compliance, including creating a federal account to fund such activity.”
State party Executive Director Jason Doré said the party spends $30,000 a year on federal elections compliance. The expense is prohibitive for parish party entities, Doré said, adding, “It really boxes them out of being active.”
Doré said the state party won’t be spending money to get votes for any particular candidate in next year’s March 5 presidential preference primary.
But the party would like to do some voter education in advance of the election just to let people know they have to be Republican to vote in the GOP primary, Doré said. The FEC regulation requires it to be paid for out of the federal account that has the $10,000 per contribution limit.
The Republican National Committee, along with the state party, sued the FEC last year over the same issue. But the RNC decided to drop the lawsuit.
“The Louisiana party still wanted to pursue it, so that’s why we have refiled,” Bopp said.