Holmes v. FEC

Holmes v. FEC

Can a campaign contribution restriction be based solely on the time of year it was given under the guise of fighting corruption, or do such extra layers of regulation on political participation and association violate the First Amendment? That question is at the core of Holmes v. Federal Election Commission.

In 2014, a Florida couple—Laura Holmes and Paul Jost—wished to oppose incumbent members of Congress whom they viewed as particularly ineffective. To that end, Ms. Holmes and Mr. Jost donated to their party’s candidates, who had succeeded in passing from the primary into the general election, but they were only allowed to donate $2,600. The overall federal contribution limit at the time was $5,200 per candidate, but this was limited to a $2,600 contribution for the primary election and a $2,600 contribution for the general election. A donor, however, may have contributed before the primary the $5,200 in contributions for both the primary and general elections—and the candidate could use that entire amount for the general election—without a risk of corruption. But the law pretends that the same $5,200 in contributions would violate the government’s anti-corruption interest when donated after the primary election.

As Mr. Jost described it, “There is just one election that counts, in November. Why does the law say that a $5,200 check in June is okay, but that same check in July is illegal? That’s ridiculous.”

The Center for Competitive Politics filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Holmes and Mr. Jost in 2014, saying that the law violates the First Amendment. CCP legal director Allen Dickerson wrote: “Ms. Holmes and Mr. Jost … do not wish to split their contributions between the primary and general elections in order to fully exercise their associational rights.” Rather, they “wish to give to the candidates of their choice, at the time when the contribution matters most.” Congress and the Supreme Court have recognized that up to $5,200 in contributions to a candidate are non-corrupting. Ms. Holmes and Mr. Jost want to freely give this total contribution to their party nominee after she has won a primary, and not just piecemeal or before.

A copy of the complaint is available here. A backgrounder on the litigation can be found here.

Case Documents

DC Circuit Court of Appeals

DC District Court

Commentary