A political action committee supporting Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter lost an attempt Friday to get the Louisiana Board of Ethics to allow unlimited individual contributions, rather than the $100,000 limit imposed by state law.
After the decision, Charlie Spies, the PAC’s Washington, D.C. lawyer, told reporters “somebody” would soon file a federal lawsuit challenging the restriction, which he said unconstitutionally limits “political speech” protected by the First Amendment. “Unfortunately, it may end up costing the taxpayers of Louisiana hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees,” he said. He would not identify the potential lawsuit filer.
The Ethics Board cited lack of legal authority to refuse to enforce the $100,000 limit, which was the request from the Fund for Louisiana’s Future, or FLF. The group intends to support Vitter whether he runs for governor in 2015 or re-election in 2016. Spies organized the third-party Super PAC earlier this year.
Spies said there are those who want to give more than $100,000 in Vitter’s support.
The Ethics Board said state law prohibits any person from making a contribution in excess of $100,000 to a political committee during a four-year calendar period and the board cannot rule on the law’s constitutionality.
“That is the law they (legislators) told us as the Board of Ethics to enforce. Nobody has told me that law is unconstitutional,” said Ethics Board chairman Blake Monrose.
Monrose asked Spies why he and the committee needed an advisory opinion if he was so confident of the law’s unconstitutionality.
“Because, as a lawyer, I’m not going to advise my client to do anything currently prohibited under Louisiana law,” Spies replied.
“Thank you very much. That is my exact point,” responded Monrose. “You want this board to sit here and do the same thing you are not willing to tell your client to do.”
Board member Peppi Bruneau, a former state legislator, suggested Spies take the issue to the Legislature and try to get a law change.
That would take too long and in the meantime the Fund for Louisiana’s Future’s political speech is “being burdened and chilled,” Spies argued.
Spies said the state’s $100,000 limit on campaign contributions is an unconstitutional infringement on First Amendment rights. He cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision and subsequent court rulings that struck down similar contribution limits on independent expenditure committees, such as the Vitter-supporting committee. The groups cannot coordinate expenditures with candidates’ campaigns or consult with them.
Spies argued that the Ethics Board should abide by a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission, which found that independent expenditures in campaigns “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” that would provide a constitutional reason to restrict political speech.
The Federal Elections Commission subsequently changed its rules, Spies said, and many state regulators followed suit. He said as recently as last fall a Texas federal appeals court struck down a law limiting contributions to independent expenditure groups.
FLF will spend money independently advocating for the election or defeat of candidates. “If there’s no coordination, there cannot be corruption or the appearance of corruption,” Spies said.
Spies heads Fund for Louisiana’s Future, and his law firm is doing work for Vitter.