By Kayleigh Butterfield

On February 23, 2016, the Fourth Circuit issued its published opinion in the civil case Stop R.E.I.D. v. Federal Election Commission. In this case four conservative political committees (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the defendant, the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”). The Fourth Circuit affirmed in part and vacated and remanded in part with instructions to dismiss.

Limits Under the Federal Election Campaign Act

The Federal Election Campaign Act (“FECA”) is a federal statute that regulates a number of campaign donors and recipients. Plaintiffs are considered non-connected political committees under FECA, which means that they are limited to $2,600 contributions per election unless they can satisfy three criteria for classifying as a “multicandidate political committee” (“MPC”) and thus heightening the limit to $5,000. The criteria require that any relevant committee has (1) been registered for a period of no less than 6 months; (2) received contributions from more than 50 persons; and (3) made contributions to five or more candidates for federal office. FECA also limits Plaintiffs’ contributions to national political party committees—$32,400 if not qualified as a MPC and $15,000 if so qualified.

In protest of the FECA limits, Plaintiffs brought three counts against FEC, two of which challenge the constitutionality of Plaintiffs’ contribution limit being lower based solely on a waiting period that kept it from qualifying as a MPC at the time of the contributions. Conversely, the third count alleged that FECA’s annual limits on contributions made by MPCs to political party committees violate the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, because political committees that have not yet completed the waiting period, but otherwise meet MPC qualifications, have a higher contribution limit.

While the FEC argued that the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because of standing and mootness, the district court assumed jurisdiction and granted summary judgment for FEC on the merits.

A Moot Point and Summary Judgment

As to Counts I and II, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the district court erred in assuming subject-matter jurisdiction. Because Plaintiffs’ became qualified MPCs during the case, the Fourth Circuit reasoned that they would never again be bound by the limit they challenged. Thus, Counts I and II were moot because there was no longer any reasonable expectation that those same Plaintiffs would be subject to the same injury in the future.

As to Count III, the Fourth Circuit determined that this allegation was capable of coming up again in the future, and therefore concluded that the district court had jurisdiction to decide the issue on the merits. However, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision to grant summary judgment for the FEC. The Fourth Circuit reasoned that Plaintiffs could not show that they were disadvantaged under FECA as a whole, when compared to political committees that had satisfied all MPC requirements but the waiting period.

Affirmed, Vacated and Remanded

The Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded Counts I and II with instructions to dismiss for lack of subject jurisdiction. On Count III, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the FEC on the merits.