Debevoise Files Amicus Brief in Fight Against Super PACs

23 July 2020

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP has filed an amicus brief in the US Supreme Court supporting Representative Ted Lieu and other petitioners seeking to overturn a recent D.C. Circuit decision (Lieu v. FEC) based on a prior 2010 decision (SpeechNow). That earlier decision invalidated limits on contributions to “independent” political committees, which led to the explosive growth of Political Action Committees (Super PACs). In this brief, Debevoise argues that sensible limits on contributions will protect the health of American politics. The brief was filed on behalf of U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

The brief argues that the Supreme Court should grant Petitioners’ petition for a writ of certiorari because I) the D.C. Circuit incorrectly applied the ruling from Citizens United v. FEC in SpeechNow (a precedent it upheld last year in Lieu v. FEC) and II) the Supreme Court should reject SpeechNow’s conclusion that unlimited contributions to “independent” organizations do not corrupt or create the appearance of corruption. The Debevoise brief outlines the corrupting effects Super PACs have on American politics with five major points:

  • SpeechNow wrongly created a shadow campaign finance system in which corruption, or the appearance thereof, is endemic and inevitable
  • “Independent” contributions have a significant and unhealthy influence over the legislative process
  • The ability to make unlimited contributions gives special interests the power to threaten to make or withhold those contributions
  • Unlimited contributions to independent expenditure groups make effective regulation of political spending impossible
  • The public’s declining faith in our democracy is evidence that unlimited contributions give rise to the perception of corruption

Litigation partner David O’Neil, of counsel Gary Kubek and associates Nora Niedzielski-Eichner and Joshua Goldman filed the brief on behalf of the six Senators as Amici Curiae.