Political

Jan 17, 2014 1:13 PM by AP

Ethics board won't jettison limit on PAC donors

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Louisiana Board of Ethics refused Friday to scrap the state's donor limits to political action committees, rejecting a request by a super PAC that is supporting Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter.

The state currently caps contributions to PACs at $100,000 for each election cycle. Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited funds to help candidates at the federal level.

Charlie Spies is the lawyer and treasurer for the pro-Vitter PAC called the Fund for Louisiana's Future. He said the Louisiana limit doesn't comply with federal court rulings, 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.

Spies told the board that it shouldn't be enforcing the state cap, calling it unconstitutional.

"We can disagree on the policy issue, but in terms of the law, it is utterly clear," Spies said.

The ethics board said it didn't have the jurisdiction to declare a state law unenforceable or unconstitutional, arguing that decision rests with a judge and the court system. Board members said they weren't weighing in on whether they believed there should be donor limits on PACs.

"I don't have a Louisiana Supreme Court decision. Go and get me one, and we'll talk about it," said Julie Blewer, vice chair of the board.

The board's refused Spies' request without objection.

Blake Monrose, board chairman, said he was aggravated by Spies' suggestion that the board was "punting" on the issue.

Monrose quipped, "If someone's going to tell me I have the right to start declaring Louisiana statutes unconstitutional, I'm going to have a field day."

Board member Emile "Peppi" Bruneau, a Republican former state lawmaker, suggested Spies should ask the Louisiana Legislature to do away with the contribution cap.

Spies said he expects someone to challenge the state donor limit in federal court, though he wouldn't say if he'd file the lawsuit.

"If the board declines to take action today, I respectfully request you should plan on spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of attorneys' fees that will be charged to the taxpayers of Louisiana and that could be avoided," Spies said.

Ethics board members bristled at Spies' approach.

"Threatening us with a federal lawsuit is really not going to help your cause," Blewer said.

The Fund for Louisiana's Future, created last year, is raising money to independently advocate for Vitter in either the 2015 governor's race or the 2016 Senate race. Vitter said he'll decide this month whether he'll run for governor. Gov. Bobby Jindal is term-limited.

Spies said the PAC will report having raised $1.5 million when it files its campaign report with federal election officials this month. He said donors want to contribute more, but he's held them to Louisiana's $100,000 limit even though he believes it's unconstitutional.

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