On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in the high-profile case U.S. v. Windsor, overturning the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). While the long-term ramifications of this decision are still being sifted through, and will not likely become apparent until people start claiming benefits and other things they are now entitled to, one surprising effect has surfaced. The repeal of DOMA will have an effect on campaign finance.
Earlier this year, members of one firm, Caplin & Drysdale’s Political Law Group, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the DOMA case for a bipartisan group of former Federal Election Commission officials. Trevor Potter, who leads the firm’s Political Law Group and signed the Amicus Brief as a former FEC Chair, remarked:
“This is a landmark moment for the rights of all Americans, and we congratulate Edith Windsor and marriage-equality advocates on their Supreme Court victory. Presumably, the Federal Election Commission will now interpret the word ‘spouse’ to include all legally married couples where it appears in federal campaign finance law. This would end DOMA’s discriminatory impact in this area.”
As the Amicus Brief filed by Caplin & Drysdale noted, DOMA legally barred married gays and lesbians from political expression and association opportunities afforded to other married citizens. Specifically, while still in effect, DOMA had two main effects on the rights of gay couples regarding campaign finance. One was that married gay and lesbian candidates who ran for federal office could not fund their campaigns using personal resources that were available to other married candidates. This was important to same-sex political candidates, since over 40% of the 3,061 congressional candidates during the 2012 election cycle relied on personal resources to fund their campaigns.
But also, individuals in same-sex marriages could not attend certain political meetings or interact with certain political groups that were open to other married citizens, simply because they were not recognized legally as “married”.
The repeal of DOMA changed that. We will see how that trickles down into an actual election cycle, and whether it has any noticeable effect, as the upcoming races draw nearer