The Man Who Brought Us Citizens United is Back

Written by Noah Grolnick, Common Cause intern on July 20, 2016

Jim Bopp, the Indiana attorney who led the effort to remove all restraints on independent corporate spending in campaigns in the landmark Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC (2010), is now leading another effort to weaken federal campaign finance laws.

Representing the Republican Party of Louisiana, Bopp is suing the Federal Election Commission, arguing that limits on “soft money” contributions to state and local political party organizations represent unconstitutional violations of free speech rights.

Under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (2002), state and local political parties are restricted in how much money they can accept and spend on party building activities like get-out-the-vote campaigns or voter registration promotion.  Unlike spending that expressly promotes or attacks a specific candidate, these “soft money” expenditures pose no risk of corrupting candidates and regulating them violates the free speech rights of the party and its contributors, Bopp argues.

Bopp’s argument is based on two landmark campaign finance decisions that he played a critical role in winning.  In Citizens United, the court defined corruption narrowly, saying that the government can only enact laws that prevent “quid pro quo” exchanges, or effectively direct bribery.  In McCutcheon v. FEC (2014), the court reinforced this concept of corruption, striking down limits on the total amount an individual can contribute to all candidates during a given election cycle.

Bopp’s case essentially rests on the contention that contributions that state parties spend on advertisements or activities that do not mention a particular candidate do not constitute quid pro quo exchanges and are protected from government regulation by the First Amendment.

If Bopp prevails, little will be left of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act’s “soft money” regulations.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Money in Politics

Tags: Fighting Big Money

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