D.C.-based PAC sues, saying Pa. can't ban campaign contributions

Injunction sought

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HARRISBURG -- A lawsuit filed this week by a Washington, D.C.-based, Democratic "super PAC" is challenging a state election law regarding campaign contributions.

In the suit, the group says a state law forbidding political groups from receiving corporate and labor contributions prohibits free speech rights and violates the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which loosened restrictions on such contributions.

"After Citizens United, it is clear that bans on independent expenditures by corporations or other groups of people, including labor unions and unincorporated associations, are unconstitutional," the group states in its initial court filing.

The case is pending in federal court, but the group has asked for a preliminary injunction -- asking for the state law to be set aside so that the PAC, or political action committee, can begin operating.

The General Majority PAC bills itself as "the first nationwide super PAC focused on electing Democratic state legislators and other political leaders to build middle-class economic security," according to a statement on its website. The group says it wants to elect candidates "who will fight to raise the minimum wage, stand up for affordable health care, and oppose Republican efforts to put special interests ahead of middle-class families."

The lawsuit states General Majority "intends to solicit and accept contributions from individuals, corporations, labor unions, and unincorporated associations ... and spend those funds to advocate the election of Democratic legislative candidates in Pennsylvania."

The organization says it wants to be able to operate in Pennsylvania as soon as possible.

The suit states: "The primary election is just four months -- and the general election just ten months -- from the date of this Complaint, and GMP must have the opportunity to solicit and accept contributions in any amount from individuals, corporations, and unions in order to plan and prepare for its independent expenditures in the weeks and months before these elections."

As a super PAC, the group could receive unlimited contributions and make independent expenditures -- those that are not coordinated with campaigns. Donors would still have to be disclosed according to state disclosure laws.

General Majority will not make contributions to or coordinated expenditures on behalf of a candidate or political party committee, the group's court filing states.

"[S]oon after the March 2014 candidate filing deadlines, GMP intends to make independent expenditures that expressly advocate the election and defeat of specific candidates," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit states that the PAC -- which was previously known as the Fund for Jobs, Growth and Security -- prevailed in a similar challenge to New Jersey's contribution limits last year. It also says numerous federal circuit courts have struck down similar laws in the wake of the Citizens United case.

Named as defendants in the case are Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele, Attorney General Kathleen Kane and several other state elections officials.

A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania attorney general would only say the case is in its early stages and declined to comment further.

A spokesman for the PAC could not be reached for comment Friday.

Kate Giammarise: 1-717-787-4254 or kgiammarise@post-gazette.com or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.

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