Update on Libertarian Party Lawsuit Over Bequests as Applied to Contribution Limits to Political Parties

It has now been 18 months since the Libertarian Party National Committee sued the Federal Election Commission, over the FEC’s refusal to let the Libertarian Party have full access to a bequest made to the party. The bequest was made by Raymond Burrington, who died on April 26, 2007. He had left $217,734 to the party. The FEC has interpreted federal campaign laws to mean that the party cannot receive the bequest all in one year. Instead, the money can only be given to the party by the estate at the rate of approximately $30,000 per year, because the law limits living donors to giving that much to a national political party every calendar year.

The two sides have been arguing over which court should hear the case. Because the Libertarian Party takes the position that it should be able to use the bequest in support of its nominees for federal office, as well as for general party expenses, the original 3-judge panel appointed earlier was dissolved. The federal campaign law passed in 1974 says “substantial” legal challenges to federal contribution limits to candidates must be heard by an en banc panel of all the judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals. If the case is not “substantial”, then a single U.S. District Court Judge can dismiss the case. The two sides have been battling over whether the case presents a “substantial” issue.

The FEC argues the case should be dismissed because no important constitutional rights are at stake, and that “the deceased have no constitutional rights.” The party counters that this case is about the rights of the party to receive the money.

The FEC says if the Libertarian Party wins the case, there is a danger of corruption because wealthy individuals could try to obtain favors from elected members of Congress, and/or from the President, by promising to leave a large bequest to that politician’s political party. Of course, this argument seems to validate the party’s argument that this case is “substantial.”

5 comments

  1. If dead people have no constitutional rights, does that mean the government could confiscate 100% of the assets of anyone immediately upon their death?

  2. Kyle Kneale · · Reply

    @2 they already do. It’s called escheat properties.

  3. […] Can a modern testator leave unlimited bequests to a political party?  That’s the question central to a current dispute between the Federal Election Committee (FEC) and the Libertarian Party, who recieved a bequest from Raymond Burrington.  See here. […]

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