The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court urging that the Court hear Ring v. United States in order to clarify that legal campaign contributions cannot be used to imply the existence of an illegal quid pro quo.
The brief argues that clear lines are essential to avoid chilling protected First Amendment activities. The brief reminds the Court that it has previously ruled that vague standards “may not only trap the innocent by not providing fair warning or foster arbitrary and discriminatory application but also operate to inhibit protected expression by inducing citizens to steer far wider of the unlawful zone than if the boundaries of the forbidden areas were clearly marked,” and that “First Amendment standards . . . must give the benefit of the doubt to protecting rather than stifling speech.”
The brief points out “the court of appeals permits the use of concededly lawful campaign contributions as evidence of a lobbyist’s corrupt intent.” Permitting a jury to draw inferences of bribery from protected conduct–particularly if the quid pro quo may be implicit and no specific official act need be identified—is dangerous. By eliminating the requirement that the quid pro quo agreements must manifest between the person giving the gift and the public official receiving it, the appeals’ court brings us perilously close to blurring the line between lawful and unlawful conduct.
The brief argues “The court of appeals’ decision amounts to a ‘meat-axe’ where a scalpel is needed…Reasonable, precisely targeted laws regulating gifts to public officials are entirely appropriate and consistent with First Amendment standards.”
Legal scholar Ronald D. Rotunda, the Doy and Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence at Chapman University School of Law, joined CCP as an amicus in the case.