Under the Federal Election Campaign Act, contractors negotiating or performing federal contracts are barred from making federal campaign contributions. Jan Miller, an individual government contractor seeking to make contributions to federal candidates and political parties, brought an as applied challenge, claiming that the Act violated his First Amendment and equal protection rights.
First, the court held that the government asserted a “sufficiently important interest” in protecting against quid pro quo corruption and its appearance, and interference with merit-based public administration. The court, in finding that these justifications were furthered by the provision, recounted a lengthy history of corruption involving government contractors that continued to the present day. And the court rejected Miller’s argument that formalized competitive bidding rendered the current system largely immune from political interference. Finally, the contribution ban employed a means closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgment of associational freedoms. The court rejected Miller’s arguments that the statute was overinclusive. A total ban on federal contributions, as opposed to a limit, was permissible, as the contracting context sharpens the risk of corruption; the ban extending to political parties was permissible given the small degree of separation between party committees and public officials; and, the court noted, the Act struck at the dangers Congress most feared, while still allowing contractors the freedom to engage in other forms of political expression. The court also rejected Miller’s claim that the statute was underinclusive, finding grounds to justify FECA’s exclusion of PACs and LLCs formed by contractors, federal employees, and individuals seeking government benefits or positions.
The court rejected Miller’s equal protection challenge as well. Miller said the statute subjected individual contractors to a ban that didn’t apply to two categories of similarly situated persons: (1) entities/individuals associated with firms having government contracts and (2) individuals who are regular employees rather than contractors. But the court declined to take the unprecedented step of applying strict scrutiny to analyze a contribution restriction under equal protection. Garland cited Ruggiero v. FCC, which held that “[a]lthough equal protection analysis focuses upon the validity of the classification rather than the speech restriction, the critical questions asked are the same. We believe that the same level of scrutiny … is therefore appropriate in both contexts.” Since the government interests were legitimate, and there was no question that the classification was designed to vindicate those interests rather than disfavor a particular speaker or viewpoint, the challengers could fare no better under an equal protection argument than they could under the First Amendment itself.