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Fourth Circuit Dismisses Equal Protection Suit Against FEC

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on March 03, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Conservative political action committees (PACs) took a hit on the chin with the Fourth Circuit's determination that the 1971 FECA rules did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment as to MPCs. In fact, if anything, the Act actually favors political committees.

Summary Judgment against the PACs was affirmed by the circuit court and remanded back to the district.

Mooted Out

Counts I and Counts II in the appellate document were dismissed as moot by the district court on the grounds that it then lacked subject matter jurisdiction. Those counts had become moot to at least some plaintiffs which had apparently guaranteed that they would not be subject to some aspects of FECA's cap because they had, in the interim, become MCP's. By becoming a different class, they had climbed out of any limit challenge they could bring. Hence, no case or controversy still existed as to those challenges.

The Only Count that Counted

Now to the only count still left alive.

Several conservative PACs rather obviously named "Stop Reckless Economic Instability Caused by Democrats" ... aka, "Stop REID" and "American Future PAC" appealed from a lower district order that had granted summary judgment to the FEC in their attempted challenge against 1971's FECA or Federal Election Campaign Act. The groups wanted to challenge the constitutionality of the $5,000 contribution caps from "multicandidate political committees" (MPCs) to state political party committees; and also the $15,000 limit of MPCs to national committees.

Here, however, the Fourth Circuit found that the lower court had erred in its mootness analysis. Unlike Counts I and II, Count III applied to MPCs bringing challenges to caps that could apply again in the future. In other words, even though a campaign fundraising season might be over, the FECA rules could be raised again to apply to MPCs in the future with reasonable certainty. Thus, although no case or controversy existed as to the appellants now, the issue was "repeatable, yet evading review."

No Equal Protection Violations

In analysis, the Circuit cout found that MPCs actually enjoyed more favorable cap treatment under FECA than other groups. Barring any analysis of suspect classifications, the Court found that they were required to compare the relative treatment of contributing groups under the ambit of FECA and found that there was no evidence of any kind that the FEC was engaged in a program to intentionally discriminate against MPCs and that the burden of even basic proof had not been met.

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