RNC sues FEC to overturn soft money ban

A picture of RNC chair Reince Preibus speaking at CPAC
Reince Preibus argues that parties should have a super PAC-like “non contribution account”; Photo credit: Flickr user Gage Skidmore

Friday afternoon, Reince Preibus and the Republican National Committee sued the Federal Election Commission to overturn the ban on parties raising unlimited funds to be used on independent expenditures. While the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision made a safe harbor for party committees to spend unlimited amounts on federal campaign activity — provided they did not coordinate with candidates — parties are subject to limits on individual contributions.

The regulation of ‘soft money‘ — funds  used on “party building” and issue advocacy not subject to contribution limits — was a key element of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which was enacted in 2002 to reign in corrupt campaign practices. The complaint from the RNC would allow national parties to set up “non-contribution accounts” to raise and spend money for independent spending like super PACs.

Citing the Supreme Court’s narrow definition of corruption in its ruling on Citizens United v. FEC, the complaint alleges that “[d]espite having no cognizable anti-corruption interest in restricting independent activities, the government restricts certain independent activities Plaintiffs wish to do—in challenged BCRA provisions.”

The most recent challenge to shrinking campaign finance regulations comes on the heels of a major win for anti-regulators. On April 2, the Supreme Court’s ruling on McCutcheon v. FEC, effectively dissolved aggregate donation limits. The newest challenge to campaign regulations has a familiar figure at the helm. Attorney James Bopp of Terre Haute, Ind. represented Citizens United in the landmark 2010 case.

Bopp told the Associated Press that political parties are “constitutionally entitled” to  compete with independent groups that “solicit unlimited contributions and spend enormous amounts to influence political races.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., brought a similar complaint against the commission just months after BCRA’s passage, alleging the bill violated the First Amendment right to free speech. The Supreme Court upheld the ban on soft money.