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Stop Reckless Econ. Instability Caused By Democrats v. Federal Election Commission

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

February 23, 2016

STOP RECKLESS ECONOMIC INSTABILITY CAUSED BY DEMOCRATS, (" Stop Reid" ); TEA PARTY LEADERSHIP FUND; ALEXANDRIA REPUBLICAN CITY COMMITTEE, Plaintiffs - Appellants, AMERICAN FUTURE PAC, Intervenor/Plaintiff - Appellant, and NIGER INNIS; NIGER INNIS FOR CONGRESS, Plaintiffs,
v.
FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, Defendant - Appellee

Argued December 8, 2015

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Alexandria. (1:14-cv-00397-AJT-IDD). Anthony J. Trenga, District Judge.

ARGUED:

Michael T. Morley, COOLIDGE-REAGAN FOUNDATION, Washington, D.C., for Appellants.

Kevin Paul Hancock, FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Dan Backer, DB CAPITOL STRATEGIES, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellants Stop Reckless Economic Instability Caused by Democrats, Tea Party Leadership Fund, and Alexandria Republican City Committee; Jerad Najvar, NAJVAR LAW FIRM, Houston, Texas, for Intervenor-Appellant American Future PAC.

Lisa J. Stevenson, Deputy General Counsel-Law, Kevin Deeley, Acting Associate General Counsel, Harry J. Summers, Assistant General Counsel, FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

Before TRAXLER, Chief Judge, SHEDD, Circuit Judge, and Elizabeth K. DILLON, United States District Judge for the Western District of Virginia, sitting by designation. Chief Judge Traxler wrote the opinion, in which Judge Shedd and Judge Dillon joined.

OPINION

TRAXLER, Chief Judge:

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Four political committees -- " Stop Reckless Economic Instability Caused By Democrats" (" Stop PAC" ), " Tea Party Leadership Fund" (" the Fund" ), " Alexandria Republican City Committee" (" ARCC" ), and " American Future PAC" (" American Future" ) (collectively, " Appellants" ) -- appeal a district court order granting summary judgment against them in their claims challenging the constitutionality of certain contribution limits established by the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (" FECA" ), see 52 U.S.C. § § 30101-30146. We conclude that two of the three claims became moot before the district court granted summary judgment, and we therefore vacate the merits judgment on those counts and remand to the district court with instructions to dismiss them for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Regarding the third claim, we affirm.

I.

FECA regulates many different types of donors and recipients. See 52 U.S.C. § § 30116, 30118-19, 30121 (formerly 2 U.S.C. § § 441a, 441b-441c, 441e). To understand the issues before us in this appeal, it is necessary to understand some of FECA's basic concepts and limits.

To begin, FECA defines a " political committee" as " any committee, club, association, or other group of persons" that, during a calendar year, received contributions or made expenditures in excess of $1,000. 52 U.S.C. § 30101(4)(A) (formerly 2 U.S.C. § 431(4)(A)); see The Real Truth About Abortion, Inc. v. FEC, 681 F.3d 544, 555 (4th Cir. 2012). FECA defines " expenditures" and " contributions" as encompassing spending or fundraising " for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office." 52 U.S.C. § 30101(8)(A)(i), (9)(A)(i) (formerly 2 U.S.C. § 431(8)(A)(i), (9)(A)(i)); see also Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 79, 96 S.Ct. 612, 46 L.Ed.2d 659 (1976) (limiting FECA's political-committee requirements to organizations that are controlled by a candidate or whose " major purpose" is to nominate or elect a candidate); The Real Truth About Abortion, Inc., 681 F.3d at 555. A group that has met the political-committee criteria must register with the Federal Election Commission (" FEC" ). See 52 U.S.C. § 30103(a) (formerly 2 U.S.C. § 433(a)).

There are different types of political committees. Some are associated with a particular candidate or entity. See, e.g., 52 U.S.C. § 30101(14) (providing that a " national committee" is a political committee

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responsible for the day-to-day operation of a national political party); 52 U.S.C. § 30101(15) (providing that a " State committee" is a political committee that is responsible for the day-to-day operation of a political party at the state level); 52 U.S.C. § 30102(e)(1) (providing that each candidate must designate a political committee to serve as the candidate's " principal campaign committee" ). And others are not associated with any candidate or entity (" non-connected political committees" ).

FECA sets different contribution limits for different classes of donors and recipients. A contribution made by a non-connected political committee to an individual candidate is governed by the restriction limiting contributions by " persons" generally. 52 U.S.C. § 30116(a)(1)(A). " Persons" include " individual[s], partnership[s], committee[s], association[s], corporation[s], labor organization[s], or any other organization[s] or group[s]" other than the federal government. 52 U.S.C. § 30101(11). In 2014, the inflation-adjusted limit for contributions by " persons" was $2,600 per election, with primaries and general elections counting as separate elections.[1] However, non-connected political committees, unlike other types of persons, qualified for an elevated per-election limit of $5,000 on contributions to individual candidates if and when they satisfied three criteria: They must have " been registered [with the FEC] for a period of not less than 6 months" (the " waiting period" ), " received contributions from more than 50 persons," and " made contributions to 5 or more candidates for Federal office." 52 U.S.C. § 30116(a)(4); see 52 U.S.C. § 30116(a)(2)(A). A political committee satisfying these criteria is referred to as a " multicandidate political committee" (" MPC" ). Id.

FECA also limits contributions that persons and political committees can make to political party committees. See 52 U.S.C. § 30116(a)(1)(B), (D), (a)(2)(B)-(C). With regard to contributions to these committees, the limits decrease when the non-connected political committee becomes an MPC. When this case was commenced in April 2014, persons (including non-connected political committees that did not qualify as MPCs) could contribute $32,400 per year to national party committees and $10,000 combined to state political party committees and their local affiliates, while the corresponding limits for MPCs were $15,000 and $5,000.See id.; 11 C.F.R. § 110.3(a)(1); Price Index Adjustments for Contribution and Expenditure Limitations and Lobbyist Bundling Disclosure Threshold, 78 Fed.Reg. 8,530-02, 8,532 (Feb. 6, 2013).

On December 16, 2014, Congress amended FECA to create a new category of limits. Under the amended law, national party committees can create up to three segregated accounts to fund their presidential nominating convention, building headquarters, and election-related legal expenses.See Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, Pub. L. 113-235, Div. N, § 101, 128 Stat. 2130, 2772-73 (Dec. 16, 2014) (codified as amended at 52 U.S.C. § 30116(a)(1)(B),

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(a)(2)(B), (a)(9)). The annual limits for contributions made to such segregated accounts are three times the limits on other contributions to national party committees. See id.

II.

The plaintiffs in this suit, Stop PAC, the Fund, and ARCC, filed their initial complaint against the FEC on April 14, 2014, and filed an amended complaint on July 7, 2014 (the " Amended Complaint" ). The Amended Complaint ...


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