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Holmes v. Federal Election Commission

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

October 20, 2014

LAURA HOLMES, et al., Plaintiffs,

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For LAURA HOLMES, PAUL JOST, Plaintiffs: Allen Joseph Dickerson, CENTER FOR COMPETITIVE POLITICS, Alexandria, VA.

For FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, Defendant: Erin R Chlopak, LEAD ATTORNEY, FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, Office of General Counsel, Washington, DC; Steve Nicholas Hajjar, LEAD ATTORNEY, Benjamin A. Streeter, III, Kevin Deeley, FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, Washington, DC.

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ROSEMARY M. COLLYER, United States District Judge.

The Federal Election Campaign Act limits donor contributions to $2,600 per candidate, per election (primary, run-off (if any), and general elections). Plaintiffs want to combine their primary and general election contributions so as to increase their contributions

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to $5,200 for the candidate in the general election, without " wasting" money on the primary. Plaintiffs do not seek to make unlimited financial contributions. Instead, they allege that the FECA per-election limit on their contributions violates their constitutional rights under the First and Fifth Amendments; they seek a preliminary injunction to prevent enforcement of the law by the Federal Election Commission. Plaintiffs challenge the analysis and conclusion of the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo and its progeny. This Court does not have that luxury. Plaintiffs thus fail to demonstrate likelihood of success on the merits or irreparable harm and the public interest in the integrity of the election process outweighs their private interest in giving money in a more focused way. Accordingly, their motion for a preliminary injunction will be denied.


A. Background

Defendant Federal Election Commission (FEC) is a federal government agency charged with administering, interpreting, and enforcing the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), 2 U.S.C. § § 431-57.[1] Under FECA and its subsequent amendments, donors may contribute $2,600 per election to individual federal candidates, per election. See 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a); FEC, Price Index Adjustments for Contribution and Expenditure Limitations and Lobbyist Bundling Disclosure Threshold, 78 Fed.Reg. 8530, 8532 (Feb. 6, 2013) (limit on contributions made to federal candidates during the 2013-2014 election cycle is $2,600 per candidate, per election). An " election" is defined as " a general, special, primary, or runoff election." 2 U.S.C. § 431(1)(A). The total amount that one may contribute to a particular candidate during a full election cycle depends on the number of elections in which that candidate runs. For example, if the candidate runs in both a primary and a general election, an individual may contribute a total of $5,200--$2,600 for the primary and $2,600 for the general election. If the candidate must also participate in a runoff election, an individual may contribute an additional $2,600 for that election, for a total of $7,800.

FEC has implemented various regulations on how contributions are to be allocated among these elections. Contributors " are encouraged to designate their contributions in writing for particular elections." 11 C.F.R. § 110.1(b)(2)(i). If a contribution is not designated, it is presumed to be for " the next election for that Federal office after the contribution is made." Id. § 110.1(b)(2)(ii). If a contribution is designated for an election that has already occurred, it can only be used to satisfy outstanding net debts from that election; to the extent a contribution exceeds net debts, it must be refunded, redesignated to another election, or reattributed as from another contributor. Id. at § 110.1(b)(3)(i). If a candidate fails to qualify for the general election, contributions for that election must also be refunded, redesignated, or reattributed. Id. " Redesignation" means that a candidate running in a general election " may spend unused primary contributions for general election expenses; " however, those contributions " continue to apply toward the contributors' limits for the primary" and do not prevent the same contributor from giving more money for the general election. FEC Campaign Guide, Congressional Candidates and Committees June 2014, at 21, available at (citing

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11 C.F.R. § 110.3(c)(3)) (last visited Oct. 20, 2014). As a result, if a party candidate has no opposition in the primary election, one may contribute $2,600 to the primary and $2,600 to the general election and the candidate can use both amounts ($5,200) in the general election alone.

Plaintiffs Laura Holmes and Paul Jost are a married couple, residing in Miami, Florida. Compl. ¶ 8. Ms. Holmes supports Carl DeMaio, a general election candidate for California's 52nd Congressional District. Id. ¶ 19. Mr. DeMaio finished second in the primary election behind incumbent Scott Peters, who was the only member of the Democratic Party on the ballot to represent CA-52.[2] Id. ¶ 20. Ms. Holmes did not make any contributions to Mr. DeMaio before the primary, but contributed $2,600 after the primary. Id. ¶ 21. Mr. Jost supports Marionette Miller-Meeks, a general election candidate for Iowa's Second Congressional District. Id. ¶ 22. He contributed $2,600 to Dr. Miller-Meeks after she won her primary, but made no contributions before the primary. Id. ¶ 24. During the general election Dr. Miller-Meeks will face incumbent David Loebsack, who was the only candidate on the ballot in the Democratic Party primary. Id. ¶ 23. Both Plaintiffs wish to contribute an additional $2,600 to their preferred candidates but cannot because of the limits on contributions for a general election.

B. Plaintiffs' Complaint and Motion for Declaratory Relief

Plaintiffs allege that FECA's contribution limit of $2,600 per election is unconstitutional as applied, where Plaintiffs want to contribute an additional $2,600 to general election candidates who (1) won contested primaries and (2) face opponents in the general election who did not have significant opposition in their primaries. Plaintiffs first argue that the per-election contribution rule impermissibly burdens their First Amendment right to associate by creating an artificial distinction between primary and general elections without furthering any anticorruption interest. Because they cannot contribute the entire $5,200 after the primary, Plaintiffs assert, they are foreclosed from fully supporting the successful party candidate. Plaintiffs further argue a violation of equal protection, contending that they are treated differently than contributors to candidates who ran in uncontested primaries. Specifically, they assert that while contributors to candidates facing no significant primary opposition can effectively give $5,200 for the general election (because those candidates can use the $2,600 contributed before the primary towards the general election, as well as the $2,600 contributed after the primary), In contrast, Plaintiffs, who wish only to support candidates in the general election, are limited to a single contribution of $2,600. On these grounds, Plaintiffs have moved for a preliminary injunction to enjoin enforcement of the rule.[3]

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