599 F.3d 686 (D.C. Cir. 2010), 08-5223, SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Com'n
|Docket Nº:||08-5223, 09-5342.|
|Citation:||599 F.3d 686|
|Opinion Judge:||SENTELLE, Chief Judge:|
|Party Name:||SPEECHNOW.ORG, et al., Appellants v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, Appellee. David Keating, et al., Appellants v. Federal Election Commission, Appellee.|
|Attorney:||Steven M. Simpson argued the cause for appellants. With him on the brief were William H. Mellor, Robert W. Gall, Robert P. Frommer, Paul M. Sherman, and Stephen M. Hoersting. Heidi K. Abegg and Alan P. Dye were on the briefs for amici curiae Alliance for Justice, et al. in support of appellants. ...|
|Judge Panel:||Before: SENTELLE, Chief Judge, GINSBURG, HENDERSON, ROGERS, TATEL, GARLAND, BROWN, GRIFFITH, and KAVANAUGH, Circuit Judges. Opinion for the Court filed by Chief Judge SENTELLE.|
|Case Date:||March 26, 2010|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit|
Argued Jan. 27, 2010.
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:08-cv-00248-JR).
David Keating is president of an unincorporated nonprofit association, SpeechNow.org (SpeechNow), that intends to engage in express advocacy 1 supporting candidates for federal office who share his views on First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom to assemble. In January 2008, the Federal Election Committee (FEC) issued a draft advisory opinion concluding that under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), SpeechNow would be required to organize as a " political committee" as defined by 2 U.S.C. § 431(4) and would be subject to all the requirements and restrictions concomitant with that designation. Keating and four other individuals availed themselves of 2 U.S.C. § 437h, under which an individual may seek declaratory judgment to construe the constitutionality of any provision of FECA. As required by that provision, the district court certified the constitutional questions directly to this court for en banc determination. Thereafter, the Supreme Court decided Citizens United v. FEC, __ U.S. __, 130 S.Ct. 876, __ L.Ed.2d __ (2010), which resolves this appeal. In accordance with that decision, we hold that the contribution limits of 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(1)(C) and 441a(a)(3) are unconstitutional as applied to individuals' contributions to SpeechNow. However, we also hold that the reporting requirements of 2 U.S.C. § § 432, 433, and 434(a) and the organizational requirements of 2 U.S.C. § 431(4) and 431(8) can constitutionally be applied to SpeechNow. In this action the district court also denied the plaintiffs' motion to enjoin FEC enforcement of FECA's contribution limits against SpeechNow. Because we hold that those provisions cannot be constitutionally applied, we vacate the order denying that injunction and remand the matter to the district court for further proceedings consistent with our decision.
SpeechNow is an unincorporated nonprofit association registered as a " political organization" under § 527 of the Internal Revenue Code. Its purpose is to promote the First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom to assemble by expressly advocating for federal candidates whom it views as supporting those rights and against those whom it sees as insufficiently committed to those rights. It intends to acquire funds solely through donations by individuals. SpeechNow further intends to operate exclusively through " independent expenditures." FECA defines " independent expenditures" as expenditures " expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate" that are " not made in concert or cooperation with or at the request or suggestion of such candidate, the candidate's authorized political committee, or their agents, or a political party committee or its agents." 2 U.S.C. § 431(17). SpeechNow has five members, two of whom are plaintiffs in this case: David Keating, who is also SpeechNow's president and treasurer, and Edward Crane. Keating makes the operational decisions for SpeechNow, including in which election campaigns to run advertisements, which candidates to support or oppose, and all administrative decisions.
Though it has not yet begun operations, SpeechNow has made plans both for fundraising and for making independent expenditures. All five of the individual plaintiffs-Keating, Crane, Fred Young, Brad Russo, and Scott Burkhardt-are prepared to donate to SpeechNow. Keating proposes to donate $5500. Crane proposes to donate $6000. Young, who is otherwise unaffiliated with SpeechNow, proposes to donate $110,000. Russo and Burkhardt want to make donations of $100 each. In addition, as of August 2008, seventy-five other individuals had indicated on SpeechNow's website that they were interested in making donations. As for expenditures, SpeechNow planned ads for the 2008 election cycle against two incumbent candidates for federal office who, in the opinion of SpeechNow, did not sufficiently support First Amendment rights. These ads would have cost around $12,000 to produce. Keating intended to place the ads so that the target audience would view the ads at least ten times, which would have cost around $400,000. As SpeechNow never accepted any donations, it never produced or ran these ads. However, SpeechNow intends to run similar ads for the 2010 election cycle if it is not subject to the contribution limits of § 441a(a) at issue in this case.
On November 19, 2007, SpeechNow filed with the FEC a request for an advisory opinion, asking whether it must register as a political committee and if donations to SpeechNow qualify as " contributions" limited by § 441a(a)(1)(C) and 441a(a)(3). At the time, the FEC did not have enough commissioners to issue an opinion, but it did issue a draft advisory opinion stating that SpeechNow would be a political committee and contributions to it would be subject to the political committee contribution limits. Believing that subjecting SpeechNow to all the restrictions imposed on political committees would be unconstitutional, SpeechNow and the five individual plaintiffs filed a complaint in the district court requesting declaratory relief against the FEC under 2 U.S.C. § 437h. Because § 437h allows only the FEC, political parties, or individuals the right to bring such actions, this court removed SpeechNow from the § 437h proceedings. SpeechNow remains in the caption for this case because it, along with the individual plaintiffs, also sought a preliminary injunction prohibiting the FEC from enforcing the political committee contribution limits with respect to contributions to SpeechNow, and the denial of that injunction is also on appeal before this court. Because this court was already scheduled to hear the constitutional issues en banc, we consolidated the appeal with the en banc proceeding.
Section 437h provides that a " district court immediately shall certify all questions of constitutionality of this Act [FECA] to the United States court of appeals for the circuit involved, which shall hear the matter sitting en banc." The district court made findings of fact, and certified to this court five questions:
1. Whether the contribution limits contained in 2 U.S.C. §§ 441a(a)(1)(C) and 441a(a)(3) violate the First Amendment by preventing David Keating, SpeechNow.org's president and treasurer, from accepting contributions to SpeechNow.org in excess of the limits contained in §§ 441a(a)(1)(C) and 441a(a)(3).
2. Whether the contribution limit mandated by 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(1)(C) violates the First Amendment by preventing the individual plaintiffs from making contributions to SpeechNow.org in excess of $5000 per calendar year.
3. Whether the biennial aggregate contribution limit mandated by 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(3) violates the First Amendment by preventing Fred Young from
making contributions to SpeechNow.org that would exceed his individual biennial aggregate limit.
4. Whether the organizational, administrative, and continuous reporting requirements set forth in 2 U.S.C. §§ 432, 433, and 434(a) violate the First Amendment by requiring David Keating, SpeechNow.org's president and treasurer, to register SpeechNow.org as a political committee, to adopt the organizational structure of a political committee, and to comply with the continuous reporting requirements that apply to political committees.
5. Whether 2 U.S.C. §§ 431(4) and 431(8) violate the First Amendment by requiring David Keating, SpeechNow.org's president and treasurer, to register SpeechNow.org as a political committee and comply with the organizational and continuous reporting requirements for political committees before SpeechNow.org has made any expenditures or broadcast any advertisements.
SpeechNow.org v. FEC, No. 08-0248, 2009 WL 3101036 (D.D.C. Sept. 28, 2009).
Under FECA, a political committee is " any committee, club, association, or other group of persons" that receives contributions of more than $1000 in a year or makes expenditures of more than $1000 in a year. 2 U.S.C. §...
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