WASHINGTON – The Republican National Committee on Friday sued the Federal Election Commission for the ability to raise unlimited cash from individual donors.
The central committee, chairman Reince Priebus and Louisiana Republicans filed a joint lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asking for permission to set up an independent account that could raise and spend potentially enormous sums of money to help federal candidates. Under the current rules, the RNC may only accept $32,400 each year from donors, and local-level parties are capped at $10,000.
“The patchwork of limits on political speech undermines the First Amendment and puts high transparency, full-disclosure groups like the RNC on an unequal footing with other political entities,” Priebus said in a statement. “We are asking that political parties be treated equally under the law.”
Super PACs, which operate independently of the political parties or the candidates they support, can raise unlimited money from allies, including corporations and unions. The groups technically cannot coordinate their spending and strategy with their favored candidates, but seldom have they pushed a message that runs counter to the campaigns’ wishes.
While emphasizing that they do not want to accept money from corporations or unions as super PACs do, RNC officials said they want to have the same abilities to establish independent accounts that can buy ads, send campaign mail and make phone calls.
“In an era when independent-expenditure accounts can solicit unlimited contributions and spend enormous amounts to influence political races, political parties are constitutionally entitled to compete equally with them with their own independent campaign activity,” said James Bopp Jr., the lawsuit’s lead attorney.
Campaign finance watchdogs warned of serious implications if the court sides with the GOP.
“If the RNC is successful, we will again see party committees brazenly soliciting $1 million contributions from wealthy contributors seeking to directly purchase influence over candidates and officeholders, with the party committees acting as the sales agent,” said Lawrence Noble, former general counsel to the FEC and now an adviser at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.
The RNC has helped to chip away at campaign finance rules in recent years, most recently joining a lawsuit that ended a two-year, $123,200 aggregate limit on donations. Now, donors can give the maximum amount to as many candidates as they want. The caps on how much a donor can give to each candidate remain.
Republican officials emphasized the move was to seek parity with super PACs, which can help a few deep-pocketed donors exercise incredible influence.