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SpeechNow.org v. FEC

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
599 F.3d 686 (2010)


Facts

Five people who wanted to pool resources to air advertising campaigns supporting the election of certain federal political candidates organized a nonprofit association called SpeechNow.org (SpeechNow) (plaintiff). The group planned that SpeechNow would accept contributions and pay for advertising but not contribute directly to any candidate’s campaign. Some members planned to contribute more than the $5,000 limit set under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) for individual contributions. General counsel for the Federal Election Commission (FEC) (defendant) advised that the contribution limits, along with FECA registration and reporting requirements, would apply to SpeechNow. SpeechNow sued, challenging the FECA requirements on First Amendment grounds. The district court refused to grant an injunction or apply strict scrutiny, reasoning that only intermediate scrutiny applied because the FECA limits and requirements do not restrict expenditures a political committee makes, only the amount and source of funding. That meant the regulation need only be “closely drawn” to a “sufficiently important” government interest to pass constitutional scrutiny. The court concluded that sufficiently important governmental interests support limiting contributions to political committees, including those that want to make only independent expenditures, which FECA defines as those made to support or oppose a political candidate’s election other than by contributing directly to a campaign or affiliated organization. Specifically, the court found the contribution limits prevent corruption, and the disclosure requirements ensure identification of wealthy donors hidden behind a committee named as a political ad sponsor. SpeechNow appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Sentelle, C.J.)

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