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Christian Civic League of Maine, Inc. v. Federal Election Commission

May 9, 2006

THE CHRISTIAN CIVIC LEAGUE OF MAINE, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, DEFENDANT, AND JOHN MCCAIN, RUSSELL FEINGOLD, CHRISTOPHER SHAYS, MARTIN MEEHAN, AND TOM ALLEN, INTERVENOR-DEFENDANTS.



(Three-Judge Court)

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, the Christian Civic League of Maine, Inc. (the "League"), is a self-styled "nonprofit, nonstock . . . ideological" corporation that engages in some business activity. Verified Complaint ¶¶ 20, 22. It strongly supports the proposed Marriage Protection Amendment (S.J. Res. 1), now pending in the United States Senate. Anticipating that the Senate will discuss and vote on this Amendment in early June 2006, the League plans to use its general corporate funds to broadcast in Maine, between May 10 and early June 2006, the following radio advertisement:

Our country stands at the crossroads -- at the intersection of how marriage will be defined for future generations.

Marriage between a man and a woman has been challenged across this country and could be declared unconstitutional at any time by rogue judges. We must safeguard the traditional definition of marriage by putting it beyond the reach of all judges -- by writing it into the U.S. Constitution. Unfortunately, your senators voted against the Marriage Protection Amendment two years ago. Please call Sens. Snowe and Collins immediately and urge them to support the Marriage Protection Amendment when it comes to a vote in early June. Call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your senators. Again, that's 202-224-3121.

Thank you for making your voice heard.

Id., Ex. A. A single, individual donor has committed to a donation to the League to cover the cost of funding the broadcast.

However, the Federal Election Communications Act -- as amended by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Pub. L. No. 107-155, and codified at 2 U.S.C. § 431 et seq. (the "Act") -- prohibits corporations from using general corporate funds for "electioneering communication[s]," 2 U.S.C. § 441b(a), (b)(2), defined as any "broadcast, cable, or satellite" communication, issued within thirty days of a federal primary election or sixty days of a general federal election (the "blackout period"), that "clearly identifie[s]" a candidate in that election and "target[s]" the relevant electorate, 2 U.S.C. § 434(f)(3)(A)(i). Because Senator Snowe is a candidate in a primary election scheduled for June 13, 2006, the League's proposed advertisement falls within the definition of the "electioneering communications" barred by the Act.

Defendant Federal Election Commission is charged by the Act with the responsibility to enforce it. Seeking to bar the Commission from enforcing the Act with regard to its proposed advertisement, the League has filed a complaint against the Commission along with a motion for a preliminary injunction.*fn1 The League contends that, although the Act by its terms bars its proposed broadcasts of the advertisement, the First Amendment*fn2 protects the League's right to run it because it addresses an issue expected to come to a vote in the Senate during the relevant time (i.e., because it constitutes, in the League's terms, "grass roots lobbying"). Senators John McCain and Russell Feingold and Congressmen Christopher Shays, Martin Meehan, and Tom Allen have intervened as additional defendants. On April 24, 2006, we held an expedited hearing on the League's motion for a preliminary injunction. See 28 U.S.C. § 2284.

The League concedes that it could publish its proposed advertisement, during the desired time period, without running afoul of the Act (and thus without implicating the First Amendment and/or any occasion for a preliminary injunction) if it:

(1) funded the advertisement through a political action committee rather than via general corporate funds;

(2) published the advertisement in a medium other than "broadcast, cable, or satellite" (e.g., newspapers, leaflets, e-mails, telephone banks); or

(3) altered the script of the advertisement to refrain from "clearly identif[ying]" Senator Snowe.

Given this concession, inter alia, we conclude that the League has established neither a substantial likelihood of success on the merits nor that it will be irreparably injured in the absence of the "extraordinary remedy" of a preliminary injunction. See Cobell v. Norton, 391 F.3d 251, 258 (D.C. Cir. 2004); accord Wis. Right to Life, Inc. v. Fed. Election Comm'n, 542 U.S. 1305, 1306 (2004) (Rehnquist, J., in chambers). We therefore also conclude that the requested preliminary injunction would substantially injure the Commission and not serve the public interest. Accordingly, as more fully explained below, an accompanying Order denies the League's motion for a preliminary injunction.

I. BACKGROUND

In McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, 540 U.S. 93, 189-94, 203-11 (2003), the Supreme Court upheld the Act's electioneering communications provision from a facial attack on its constitutionality under the First Amendment. The Court did so in full realization that the electioneering communications provision encompasses some "issue advertis[ements]." McConnell, 540 U.S.at 126-32, 189-94, 203-05. Indeed, the Court carefully catalogued the past use of such advertisements to influence elections improperly. See id. at 126-32. The Court cited examples, including the infamous "Bob Yellowtail" advertisement. It excoriated candidate Yellowtail for "t[aking] a swing at his wife," being "a convicted felon," and "fail[ing] to make his own child support payments" yet closed as if a mere issue advertisement: "Call Bob Yellowtail. Tell him to support family values." Id. at 193 n.78. The Court observed: "Little difference exist[s] . . . between an ad that urge[s] viewers to 'vote against Jane Doe' and one that condemn[s] Jane Doe's record on a particular issue before exhorting viewers to 'call Jane Doe and tell her what you think.'" Id. at 126-27. Given these realities, the Court concluded that the Act's electioneering communications provision was tailored sufficiently narrowly to meet a compelling governmental interest and to survive constitutional scrutiny. See id. at 193, 204-06. As the Court pointedly noted: "[C]orporations and unions may finance genuine issue ads during th[e blackout] time frames by simply avoiding any specific reference to federal candidates, or in doubtful cases by paying for the ad from a segregated fund." Id. at 206.

Subsequently, a Wisconsin corporation -- on facts markedly similar to those before us here -- brought an as-applied challenge to the electioneering communications provision, seeking to run an "issue" advertisement in the run-up to a primary election. See Wis. Right to Life, Inc. v. Fed. Election Comm'n, slip op.,No. 04-1260 (D.D.C. Aug. 17, 2004); slip op., No. 04-1260 (D.D.C. May 9, 2005). Holding that the Supreme Court's decision in McConnell necessarily foreclosed as-applied challenges to the electioneering communications provision, a three-judge district court denied that corporation's motion for a preliminary injunction and subsequently dismissed the case. The Supreme Court, however, reversed and remanded, clarifying that its decision in McConnell did not pose an absolute bar to as-applied challenges to the electioneering communications provision of the Act because the Constitution might require ...


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