Pro-Vitter super PAC wins round
BATON ROUGE (AP) — A super PAC supporting Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter can raise unlimited amounts of money to help advocate for the candidate, who is running for governor, a federal judge ruled Friday.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman said the Fund for Louisiana’s Future won’t have to comply with a state law capping contributions at $100,000 for each four-year election cycle.
The fund had argued in its lawsuit against the Louisiana Board of Ethics that the state’s donation restriction unconstitutionally limits political action committees’ free speech, and Feldman agreed.
“FFLF has demonstrated significant and irreparable injury to its free speech rights, whereas the defendants have failed to point to any credible harm they would suffer as a result of the issuance of an injunction,” the judge wrote in his decision.
The Board of Ethics will decide at its next meeting later this month whether to appeal the judge’s ruling, said Kathleen Allen, ethics administrator for the board.
Feldman said the state’s contribution limit was unconstitutional for a group that doesn’t coordinate with candidates and “engages only in independent expenditures,” a ruling that could have widespread implications across Louisiana elections.
In the short term, the decision boosts Vitter’s campaign for governor in 2015 by allowing his supporters to donate within limits to his campaign account and then pour even larger amounts of cash to an outside group pushing his candidacy.
The Fund for Louisiana’s Future was created last year to raise money to independently advocate for Vitter, for either the governor’s race or a 2016 Senate re-election bid. It reported raising $1.5 million through the end of last year.
Charlie Spies, treasurer for the pro-Vitter PAC, said he was gratified by the ruling.
“The fund is pleased that the court recognized our First Amendment right to political participation. We intend to be active over the coming year,” Spies said.
Louisiana’s ethics board, which oversees state campaign finance laws, refused in January to jettison the state cap, saying it lacked jurisdiction to declare a state law unenforceable or unconstitutional. Board members advised Spies either to ask the Legislature to change the law or to go to court, so Spies filed a lawsuit.
Spies said a long list of federal court rulings supported his argument, including the 2010 Citizens United decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that stripped away restrictions on contributions and how outside groups can spend their money. He noted a decision last week in New York where a judge struck down that state’s $150,000-a-year cap.
In the lawsuit, Spies said Donald “Boysie” Bollinger, a prominent GOP campaign contributor and shipbuilder, wanted to donate at least $125,000 to the PAC, but could not because of the state restriction and the threat of fines that run up to $1,000 per violation.