[JURIST] A three-judge panel of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that the Republican National Committee (RNC) [committee website] cannot raise "soft money" to use in state elections. "Soft money" refers to contributions beyond the ceilings imposed by campaign finance [JURIST news archive] laws. The case tests the limits of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [Cornell LII backgrounder], which eased restrictions [JURIST report] on political and campaign spending by corporations based on the First Amendment grounds. Specifically, the RNC tried to challenge Section 323(a) Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) [text] of 2002, which banned raising or spending "soft money," defining it as donations greater than $30,400 during a federal campaign, and limited state and local campaigns from donations greater than $10,000 from any one donor. The RNC argued that since the money would be used for state campaign purposes, it did not fall under the restrictions of the 2002 ban. The court granted summary judgment for the Federal Election Commission (FEC) [official website], saying it was bound by the Supreme Court decision in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission [Oyez backgrounder], which was partially overturned by Citizens United. However, the panel said Citizens United and campaign finance jurisprudence mean that Congress "may impose some limits on contributions to federal candidates and political parties because of the quid pro quo corruption or appearance of quid pro quo corruption that can be associated with such contributions." The case will likely be appealed could reach the Supreme Court.
US President Barack Obama has sharply criticized the Supreme Court's holding in Citizens United, most notably [JURIST reports] in this year's State of the Union speech. Obama warned of the increased potential for powerful interest groups, both foreign and domestic, to wield excessive influence over American elections and called for bipartisan support of legislation to counteract the decision. Citizen's United overturned Section 203 of the BCRA, which prohibited corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures for speech defined as an "electioneering communication" or for speech expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate. Earlier this month, the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] held a hearing [JURIST report] on the effects of the Citizens United decision.