Super PAC challenges ethics stance

A Super PAC supporting Sen. David Vitter’s gubernatorial bid asked a federal judge late Tuesday to declare the state’s limits on campaign contributions unconstitutional.

The argument made by The Fund for Louisiana’s Future is that the state violates the First Amendment clause in the U.S. Constitution by capping individual contributions to political action committees at $100,000 per four-year election cycle.

The filing in New Orleans’ U.S. District Court seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.

“This case is about freedom of speech and political participation. Independent political spending is a reality of our American political process and our conservative leaders are already under attack,” said Charlie Spies, the fund’s chief organizer.

“Private citizens, small businesses and their owners have a constitutionally protected right to free speech in response. We trust that right will be vindicated in federal court,” Spies said.

The Fund for Louisiana’s Future is seeking the authority to raise unlimited amounts of money.

“I’m not surprised,” said Charles Emile “Peppi” Bruneau Jr., a member of the Louisiana Board of Ethics named in the lawsuit as a defendant.

Spies had hinted that the Super PAC’s officials might go to court when the Ethics Board refused to lift the ban on political contributions.

“The issue is control of the political committee,” Bruneau said. “That’s a pretty close issue. That’s something the court should decide.”

Federal Super PACs are allowed to accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations, trade associations, unions and other groups, as long as they don’t illegally coordinate with a candidate’s campaign.

The Fund for Louisiana’s Future was set up last year to support Vitter in a 2015 governor’s race or 2016 U.S. Senate re-election bid.

The two-term Republican senator has since announced he’ll run for governor.

The fund raised more than $1.5 million in 2013 and had $1.3 million in the bank as the year ended, according the latest FEC report.

According to Federal Election Commission reports, Spies and two others connected to the Fund for Louisiana’s Future, also have worked on campaigns for Vitter.

Spies argues that since the three work not only for Vitter but for other clients as well, that makes them “common vendors” who are hired for a political job but have no input in how the money spent.

He expects accusations of coordination with the Vitter campaign because of “common vendors,” such as media consultants, pollsters and mass mailers. Fundraisers are not agents involved in how the money is spent, he 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 in the court filings that Boysie Bollinger would have made a $125,000 donation to The Fund for Louisiana’s Future but was limited by Louisiana law to $100,000.

He claimed the First Amendment rights to free speech and political expression of Bollinger, a Lockport ship builder who frequently contributes to Republican candidates and causes, is violated by the limit on contributions.

“I do not have the time or experience to directly produce and distribute effective political advocacy in Louisiana elections. Accordingly, donations to groups such as FFLF (the Fund for Louisiana’s Future) are the only practical means I have to effectively disseminate my political viewpoint,” Bollinger wrote in declaration.

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.

Spies points to an October 2013 decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees Louisiana, that found unconstitutional, a similar limitation in Texas law.