Articles Posted in Election Law

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Petitioners sought review of the SEC's order approving Rule 2030, which regulates the political contributions of those members of FINRA, prohibiting a placement agent from accepting compensation for soliciting government business from certain candidates and elected officials within two years of having contributed to such an official's electoral campaign or to the transition or inaugural expenses of a successful candidate. The DC Circuit held that NYGOP has standing, but denied its petition on the merits, holding that the SEC acted within its authority in adopting Rule 2030; doing so was not arbitrary and capricious because the SEC had sufficient evidence it was needed; and the Rule does not violate the First Amendment in view of our holding in Blount v. SEC, 61 F.3d 938 (1995), in which the court upheld a functionally identical rule against the same challenge. View "New York Republican State Committee v. SEC" on Justia Law

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The LNC filed suit alleging that the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), which imposes limits on both donors and recipients of political contributions, violates its First Amendment rights. This case stemmed from a dispute regarding how the LNC can spend the $235,000 Joseph Shaber left to it when he passed away. The LNC argued that FECA violates its First Amendment rights in two ways: first, by imposing any limits on the LNC's ability to accept Shaber's contribution, given that he is dead; and second, by permitting donors to triple the size of their contributions, but only if the recipient party spends the money on specified categories of expenses. The DC Circuit held that the current version of FECA—both its application of contribution limits to Shaber's bequest and its use of a two-tiered contribution limit—has achieved a constitutionally permissible balance. Although the court denied the Commission's motion to dismiss for lack of standing, the court rejected LNC's constitutional challenges on the merits. View "Libertarian National Committee v. FEC" on Justia Law

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In this redacted appeal, the DC Circuit affirmed the district court's decision refusing to enjoin the FEC from releasing information identifying a trust and its trustee in connection with a misreported federal campaign contribution. Plaintiffs claim that the Commission's release of documents identifying them would violate the First Amendment to the Constitution, the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The court held that FECA's provisions and the regulations thereunder did not bar the disclosure and authorized the Commission's action; Citizens United v. FEC, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), foreclosed plaintiffs' claim that the First Amendment barred the Commission from publicly identifying them; and FOIA could not be used to prevent the Commission from publicly revealing plaintiffs' identities. View "Doe 1 v. FEC" on Justia Law

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Under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, candidates for certain offices, including the Presidency, must file financial disclosures with the Federal Election Commission, 5 U.S.C. 103(e). A presidential candidate’s financial disclosure must include the “identity and category of the total liabilities owed to any creditor.” Reviewing officials determined that then-candidate Trump’s disclosures were “in apparent compliance.” Lovitky alleged that the disclosure included both personal and business liabilities, in violation of the Act, which “requires disclosure of only those liabilities for which candidates are themselves liable . . . or for which the spouse or dependent child of the candidate are liable.” Candidate Trump, Lovitky argued, “obscured his liabilities by commingling them with the liabilities of business entities.” Lovitky sought an order requiring amendment of the report. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The only possible basis of jurisdiction, the Mandamus Act, 28 U.S.C. 1361, refers to actions “to compel an officer of the United States to perform his duty.” The Ethics Act obligation is not a “duty” under the Mandamus Act, which includes only those obligations that pertain to a defendant’s public office. Detaching the duty from the office could lead to serious incongruities. For example, where an officer is sued in his official capacity, FRCP 25(d) automatically substitutes as defendant the official’s successor in office, so that, under the Ethics Act, a public official could be compelled to perform the personal financial disclosure duties of his predecessor. View "Lovitky v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, CREW and its executive director, filed suit alleging that the Commission acted "contrary to law" in 2015 when it dismissed their administrative complaint against an unincorporated association. On appeal, CREW raised the judicial review provision of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The DC Circuit affirmed, holding that the Commission's dismissal of the complaint constituted the "agency action" supporting the district court's jurisdiction. In this case, the district court held that the Commission's explanation of its failure to prosecute was a rational exercise of prosecutorial discretion. The court dismissed CREW's arguments to the contrary. The court addressed remaining issues and the dissent's position before affirming the judgment. View "Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. FEC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the Federal Election Campaign Act's (FECA), 52 U.S.C. 30116(a)(1)(A), base limits on individual contributions to candidates. The DC Circuit rejected plaintiffs' challenge to Congress's decision to fashion FECA's base contribution limits for individuals as per-election ceilings. The court explained that the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976), rejected a constitutional challenge to those ceilings, and that holding remains undisturbed. The Supreme Court reasoned that, as long as a contribution limit is not so low as to prevent candidates from mounting effective campaigns, the judiciary would generally defer to Congress's determination of the limit’s precise amount. The court concluded that the same was true of Congress's intertwined choice of the timeframe in which that amount may be contributed. View "Holmes v. FEC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, the Libertarian Party's presidential and vice presidential candidates in the 2012 elections, filed suit claiming that they were excluded pursuant to an agreement between the Obama for America and Romney for President campaigns. Plaintiffs alleged that the parties' agreement reflected in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) stipulated to three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate, and designated dates, locations, moderators, and topics. Plaintiffs challenged the MOU as an unlawful agreement to monopolize and restrain competition in violation of sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1–2. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the case. The court held that the doctrine of constitutional avoidance permitted the court to resolve this case on alternative grounds, based on antitrust standing. The court explained that the injuries plaintiffs claim were simply not those contemplated by the antitrust laws. Furthermore, plaintiffs failed to allege a clear legal claim, let alone identified a cognizable injury, in regard to their First Amendment claim. View "Johnson v. Commission on Presidential Debates" on Justia Law

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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), intended “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education,” 20 U.S.C. 1400(d)(1)(A), permits parents and legal guardians to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs if they prevail in certain statutorily prescribed proceedings. In calculating a fee award, courts consider the “number of hours reasonably expended in litigation” and the “reasonable hourly rate,” determined in part by reference to the prevailing market rate for attorneys’ services. The plaintiffs, having prevailed in IDEA proceedings, sought attorneys’ fees and costs related to those proceedings and an award of “fees-on-fees” for work done in connection with their pursuit of fees for the IDEA proceedings. The district court granted both requests, but did not award the full amounts requested. The D.C. Circuit reversed in part, agreeing that the district court erred in excluding certain hours spent at “settlement conferences.” The court upheld determinations that the IDEA matters were not “complex federal litigation” to which the Laffey Matrix should apply and to apply the same rate to the initial fee and fees-on-fees awards. Plaintiffs forfeited claims raised for the first time on appeal: that their affidavits independently demonstrated a prevailing IDEA market rate that aligns with the Laffey Matrix and that the rates awarded were insufficient to attract competent counsel. View "Reed v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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PAG sought a preliminary injunction against FEC's rule prohibiting unauthorized political committees, like PAG, from using candidates’ names in the titles of their websites and social media pages. The district court denied PAG's motion. The court concluded that PAG is entitled to a preliminary injunction because there is a substantial likelihood that, as applied to PAG, the FEC’s naming restrictions in 11 C.F.R. 102.14(a) violate the First Amendment. In this case, the restriction, as applied to PAG, is a content-based ban on speech that likely violates the First Amendment. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court’s denial of PAG’s motion for a preliminary injunction and remanded for the district court to enter a preliminary injunction enjoining the application of section 102.14(a) against PAG’s websites and social media pages. View "Pursuing America's Greatness v. FEC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and her husband, eligible voters residing in Florida, filed suit against the FEC, alleging that a provision of the Federal Election Campaign Act, 52 U.S.C. 30110, violated the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution. The district court declined to certify any questions and granted the Commission's motion for summary judgment. The court did not think that a district court may decline to certify a constitutional question simply because the plaintiff is arguing against Supreme Court precedent so long as the plaintiff mounts a non-frivolous argument in favor of overturning that precedent. Given the court's statement in Wagner v. Fed. Election Comm’n, see note 5 supra, and the uncertain meaning of the footnote in Cal. Med., the court cannot fault the district court for invoking “settled law” in declining to certify plaintiffs’ First Amendment question under section 30110. Although the district court declined to certify the Fifth Amendment issue on the ground that plaintiffs’ supporting arguments contradicted settled law, the court reached the same result for a different reason – namely, that the issue plaintiffs raise about the Fifth Amendment is a result of regulations, not the Act. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's judgment declining to certify plaintiffs' Fifth Amendment question; the court reversed the district court's decision not to certify plaintiffs’ First Amendment question and to grant summary judgment to the Commission; and the court remanded for the district court to certify that question to the court of appeals en banc. View "Holmes v. FEC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law