Thursday, February 16, 2017

Soft Money Case a Test for Trump's Supreme Court

A filing due next month in a key Supreme Court Case could provide the first indication of whether the Trump Administration will seek to uphold or challenge longstanding Campaign Finance Laws that restrict unlimited “Soft Money” contributions to Political Parties (Republican Party of Louisiana v. Federal Election Commission, U.S., No. 16-865, Jurisdictional statement filed 1/6/17).

What is "Soft Money"?

In 1974, the Federal Election Campaign (FEC) Act was signed into law. Among other things, the Act limited the amounts of money individuals, Political Action Committees (PACs), and Political Parties could give to Candidates in Federal, i.e. House, Senate, and Presidential, Elections. Under the FEC Act, money given directly to Candidates for Federal Elective office is known as "Hard Money" and is strictly regulated. Money given directly to Political Parties for the purpose of supporting Candidates for Federal office is also regulated "Hard Money."

"Soft Money" Contributions are sometimes called "Non-Federal" Contributions because they are given to Political Parties for purposes other than supporting Candidates for Federal office. Unlike Hard Money Contributions, there are No Limits on the amounts of Soft Money that can be given by individuals to Political Parties. Moreover, while Labor Unions and Corporations are prohibited from giving money to Candidates for Federal office, they can give Soft Money to Parties.

While Soft Money cannot be used by Political Parties to support Federal Candidates, it can be used for "Party Building" activities. These efforts have become controversial because they are almost indistinguishable from Party support for Federal Candidates. For example, a Political Party would have to use Hard Money Contributions, which are limited and regulated, to pay for a television advertisement that explicitly encouraged Voters to vote for a specific Candidate. If the ad, however, simply showed a particular Candidate and then encouraged Voters to support that Candidate's Party, soft money could be used to pay for it.

The amounts of Soft Money raised and spent by both Parties is another reason Soft Money is increasingly the subject of Campaign Finance Reform efforts.

Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act Soft Money Limits:

- $25,000 per year per Party Committee, within the aggregate limit for National Parties.

- Donors may give $10,000 to each State, District, and Local Party Committee per year.

- $20,000-$57,500 per cycle to all National Party Committees (depending on how much is given to PACs etc.).

The Supreme Court has set a deadline of March 13th for the Justice Department to file a response to a Jurisdictional statement seeking review of a Lower Court decision upholding current Federal Election Commission (FEC) limits on Party Soft Money.

The response is expected to be filed on behalf of the FEC by the Office of U.S. Solicitor General, now headed by Acting Solicitor General Noel Francisco.

President Trump hasn’t yet named a permanent Solicitor General, the top Department of Justice (DOJ) official in charge of representing the Government before the Supreme Court.

Whoever is nominated would have to be confirmed by the Senate, making it unlikely that the new Solicitor General will be in place by the time the Government’s response to the Soft-Money challenge is due.

Francisco, who’s currently holding the job came from the Law firm Jones Day, where he represented former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) before the Supreme Court in a Major Corruption Case decided last year.

The High Court sided with McDonnell in that Case and overturned his Conviction related to accepting gifts from a Virginia businessman.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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