RNC files lawsuit seeking to raise unlimited sums

May 23

Updated at 4:30 p.m.

The Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission on Friday seeking the ability to raise unlimited donations from individuals, the latest attempt by the GOP to reverse a seminal 2002 campaign finance overhaul.

In its suit, the party committee argues that it has a First Amendment right to raise the kind of massive contributions that now fuel super PACs and other independent groups. Currently, individuals can only give $32,400 a year to party committees. Overturning that limit would knock out a major plank of the McCain-Feingold Act, which banned parties from accepting soft money.

"I believe it is my job as the leader of the Republican Party to do everything in my power to help our candidates and get out our message of economic growth and opportunity,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. “The patchwork of limits on political speech undermines the First Amendment and puts high transparency, full-disclosure groups like the RNC on an unequal footing with other political entities. We are asking that political parties be treated equally under the law."

Joining the suit, which was filed in federal district court in Washington, were the Republican Party of Louisiana, the Jefferson and Orleans Parish Republican Executive Committees, and Roger Villere, chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party.

The case comes on the heels of the RNC’s recent victory at the Supreme Court, which threw out a limit on how many candidates and political committees a donor can support in each election.

Richard L. Hasen, an election law professor at the UC Irvine School of Law, argued at the time that the decision, McCutcheon v. FEC, opened the door to a challenge to the soft-money ban by narrowing the definition of corruption.

In its latest suit, the RNC said it is not seeking to do away with the soft money ban or form its own super PAC, arguing that it only wants to raise unlimited sums from individuals, not corporations.

But supporters of restrictions on campaign donations said the GOP is attempting an end-run around law.

"The political parties would just become the conduits for unlimited amounts of campaign cash," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). "The RNC is a proxy for the Republican president candidate, so while people would be limited in the amount that they could contribute to the presidential candidate, that same individual could turn around and give tens of millions to the political committee working to elect him or her."

Van Hollen said he will seek to intervene in the case, as he did during a separate RNC challenge to the soft-money ban in 2010, which failed. He will be represented by attorneys from groups such as Democracy 21, a group that seeks to reduce the impact of money on politics.

“This is an effort to have the national parties create super PACs and claim the super PACs are independent from the parties,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. “That’s just a shell game.”

Wertheimer noted that the courts have denied previous GOP challenges to the soft-money ban.

“I see no reason why they won't lose again in this case,” he said.

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