«ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA MOTION TO DISMISS OR AFFIRM PAUL D. CLEMENT Solicitor General THOMASENIA ...»
2. In McConnell, eight Members of this Court— including three Justices who would have held BCRA § 203’s prohibition on the use of corporate treasury funds for “electioneering communications” to be unconstitutional on its face—agreed that the reporting and disclaimer requirements applicable to such communications are facially valid. See pp. 6-7, supra. In particular, the opinion for the Court stated that “Buckley amply supports application of [FECA’s] disclosure requirements to the entire range of ‘electioneering communications.’ ” 540 U.S. at 196. That holding controls this case.
Contrary to appellant’s suggestion ( J.S. 17), the government does not contend that McConnell “precludes future as-applied challenges” to BCRA’s reporting and disclaimer requirements. The Court in McConnell made clear that as-applied challenges are available, stating that the Court’s “rejection of plaintiffs’ facial challenge to the requirement to disclose individual donors does not foreclose possible future challenges to particular applications of that requirement.” 540 U.S. at 199. The Court further explained that, to succeed in such an asapplied challenge, a plaintiff must demonstrate a “reasonable probability” that the forced disclosures “would subject identified persons to ‘threats, harassment, and reprisals.’ ” Id. at 198-199 (quoting Brown, 459 U.S. at 100). See Appellee’s Br. at 25 n.7, Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. v. FEC, 546 U.S. 410 (2006) (No. 04-1581) (identifying, inter alia, this type of as-applied challenge to the BCRA disclosure requirements as one left open in McConnell). The McConnell Court observed that, alto file its current suit. Although appellant suggests ( J.S. 2-3) that it deferred filing suit until the completion of a recent FEC rulemaking (see note 2, supra), appellant did not participate in the rulemaking itself.
though some plaintiffs in that case had expressed concern that disclosure might lead to such harms, no plaintiff had made a sufficient evidentiary showing that those injuries were actually likely to occur. 540 U.S. at 199.
Similarly in the instant case, the district court did not read McConnell as foreclosing all as-applied challenges to BCRA’s reporting and disclaimer requirements. To the contrary, the district court specifically noted that “[t]he McConnell Court did suggest one circumstance in which the requirement to disclose donors might be unconstitutional as-applied—if disclosure would lead to reprisals.” J.S. App. 17a. The district court concluded, however, that appellant could not prevail in such an as-applied challenge because appellant (like the plaintiffs in McConnell) had raised the possibility of reprisals but had offered no evidence to support that concern. Ibid.4 Similarly in this Court, appellant suggests in passing ( J.S. 12) that its donors “may * * * be subject to various forms of retaliation by political opponents,” but it identifies no evidence supporting that assertion, let alone any basis for concluding that the Appellant cites Buckley, 424 U.S. at 64, for the proposition that the prospect of reprisals is “inherent in compelled disclosure.” J.S. 12. The Court in Buckley noted that “compelled disclosure, in itself, can seriously infringe on privacy of association and belief guaranteed by the First Amendment.” 424 U.S. at 64. Read as a whole, however, Buckley and subsequent decisions make clear that, while compelled disclosure inherently creates some risk of reprisal and may under some circumstances effect an unconstitutional burden on speech and associational rights, the likelihood of such a burden cannot be presumed but must be proved through particularized evidence. See McConnell, 540 U.S. at 197-199 (summarizing Court’s decisions).
district court’s assessment of the record reflected an abuse of discretion.5 In arguing that BCRA’s reporting and disclaimer provisions are unconstitutional as applied to its own advertisements, appellant makes no meaningful effort to satisfy the prerequisites for the type of as-applied challenge that the Court in McConnell specifically approved.
Rather, appellant contends that it may not constitutionally be subjected to the reporting and disclaimer requirements because its advertisements, while concededly “electioneering communication[s]” within the meaning of BCRA, are not the “functional equivalent” of express advocacy under the lead opinion in WRTL.
J.S. 20-22, 24. The McConnell Court’s statement that BCRA’s reporting requirements may constitutionally be applied “to the entire range of ‘electioneering communications,’ ” 540 U.S. at 196, combined with the Court’s express recognition that those requirements are subject Appellant has maintained a separate segregated fund (commonly referred to as a “PAC”) for more than 13 years and has disclosed the names and addresses of its donors pursuant to federal law. See Citizens United Political Victory Fund, Statement of Organization ( June 15, 1994) http://query.nictusa.com/cgi-bin/fecimg/?94039043287+0;
FEC, Citizens United Political Victory Fund (visited Feb. 12, 2008) http://query.nictusa.com/cgi-bin/fecimg/?C00295527 (disclosure database report). During that time, appellant has disclosed approximately 1000 contributions from individuals in amounts of $200 or more, including address and employer information for most of the individuals. FEC, Individuals Who Gave to this Committee: Citizens United Political Victory Fund (visited Feb. 12, 2008) http://query.
nictusa.com/cgi-bin/com_ind/C00295527/ (disclosure database report).
Appellant’s inability to produce any evidence of actual reprisals is particularly striking in light of the large volume of donor information that it has previously released. In addition, appellant was one of the plaintiffs in McConnell, yet it failed in that case as in this one to present evidence that disclosure of its donors would likely lead to retaliation.
to a different sort of as-applied challenge, id. at 199, strongly suggests that the Court did not contemplate asapplied challenges based solely on the content of the relevant communication.
3. In all events, appellant’s as-applied challenge plainly lacks merit. The principal thrust of appellant’s argument is that, because WRTL precludes the application of BCRA § 203’s treasury-financing ban to appellant’s advertisements, application of BCRA’s reporting and disclaimer provisions is necessarily barred as well.
J.S. 24. That argument rests on the premise that the authority of Congress and state legislatures to require disclosure of financing sources is no greater than its authority to bar the use of corporate treasury funds to pay for particular communications. This Court has repeatedly rejected that proposition.6 In FEC v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Inc., 479 U.S. 238 (1986) (MCFL), for example, this Court held that the defendant corporation was constitutionally entitled to use its general treasury funds to engage in express advocacy of federal electoral outcomes, notwithstanding the ban imposed by 2 U.S.C. 441b on use of corporate treasury funds for that purpose. 479 U.S. at The plaintiff in WRTL did not link BCRA’s treasury-financing and disclosure requirements in the manner that appellant now advocates, but instead affirmatively disavowed any challenge to BCRA’s reporting
and disclaimer provisions. WRTL’s brief in this Court explained:
“Because WRTL does not challenge the disclaimer and disclosure requirements, there will be no ads done under misleading names. There will continue to be full disclosure of all electioneering communications, both as to disclaimers and public reports. The whole system will be transparent. With all this information, it will then be up to the people to decide how to respond to the call for grassroots lobbying on a particular governmental issue.” Appellee’s Br. at 49, WRTL, supra (Nos.
06-969 & 06-970).
263-264. The Court explained that, given the particular characteristics of the corporation involved, the corporation’s campaign-related spending would not pose the danger at which Section 441b was directed. See ibid.
The Court made clear, however, that the corporation remained subject to the applicable FECA disclosure requirements (but not, of course, to the additional requirements applicable to separate segregated funds).
See id. at 262 (explaining that “MCFL will be required to identify all contributors who annually provide in the aggregate $200 in funds intended to influence elections, will have to specify all recipients of independent spending amounting to more than $200, and will be bound to identify all persons making contributions over $200 who request that the money be used for independent expenditures”).
The Court has taken a similar approach to corporate spending in the context of ballot initiatives. In First National Bank v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765 (1978), this Court struck down a Massachusetts law that prohibited banks and business corporations from making certain expenditures for the purpose of influencing the outcome of public referenda. Id. at 767-768, 786-795. In holding that the plaintiff corporation had a First Amendment right to engage in such advocacy, the Court specifically contrasted public referenda from “the quite different context of participation in a political campaign for election to public office.” Id. at 788 n.26. The Court observed, however, that even in the context of corporate expenditures on referenda, which could not constitutionally be prohibited, “[i]dentification of the source of advertising may be required as a means of disclosure, so that the people will be able to evaluate the arguments to which they are being subjected.” Id. at 792 n.32. The Court’s subsequent decisions have continued to recognize that, while advocacy of particular referendum outcomes is entitled to full constitutional protection, persons who engage in such advocacy may be required to identify the sources of their funding. See Buckley v.
American Constitutional Law Found., Inc., 525 U.S.
182, 202-203, 205 (1999); Citizens Against Rent Control v. City of Berkeley, 454 U.S. 290, 294 n.4, 298-299 (1981).
This Court has also held that “those who for hire attempt to influence legislation” may be required to disclose the sources and amounts of the funds they receive to undertake lobbying activities. United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 625-626 (1954). The Court explained that, if Congress could not mandate the provision of that information, “the voice of the people may all too easily be drowned out by the voice of special interest groups seeking favored treatment while masquerading as proponents of the public weal.” Id. at 625. In Bellotti, this Court indicated that “the First Amendment protects the right of corporations to petition legislative and administrative bodies,” 435 U.S. at 792 n.31, but cited Harriss with approval as support for the proposition that compelled disclosure of financing information is permissible, id. at 792 n.32. The Court has thus repeatedly recognized that legislatures may require the disclosure of information concerning the source of funds used to influence public policy, even when that influence itself cannot be constitutionally prohibited, and indeed even when it occurs outside the election context.
Appellant relies on the Buckley Court’s determination that a prior FECA disclosure provision was limited to “spending that is unambiguously related to the campaign of a particular federal candidate.” 424 U.S. at 80;
see J.S. 1-2, 18-22. That reliance is misplaced. The Court in Buckley announced the express advocacy test (for which the reference to “unambiguously campaign related” spending, 424 U.S. at 81, was shorthand) as a construction of the statutory phrase “for the purpose of... influencing [federal elections].” Id. at 78-81; see pp. 3-4, supra. This Court has since recognized that Buckley’s “express advocacy limitation, in both the expenditure and the disclosure contexts, was the product of statutory interpretation rather than a constitutional command.” McConnell, 540 U.S. at 191-192; see WRTL, 127 S. Ct. at 2670 n.7 (opinion of Roberts, C.J.). With respect to disclosure requirements in particular, this Court’s precedents squarely refute appellant’s contention that Congress’s power is limited to communications that are “unambiguously related” to an identified federal candidate’s campaign. The decisions discussed above make clear that compelled disclosure of financing information may be permissible even when the disbursements in question have nothing to do with any candidate election.7