Gavel Grab

Editorial Hits Campaign Donation Ban Ruling

A trial court ruling that corporations may contribute directly to candidates for federal office promises to worsen big-money political campaigning “and the corruption that comes with it,” a New York Times editorial warned.

Entitled “A Further Overreach on Political Money,” the editorial said the decision by U.S. District Judge James Cacheris ignored a Supreme Court ruling from 2003 in Federal Election Commission v. Beaumont. The 2003 decision said the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates stood.

Judge Cacheris’ ruling deserves to be overturned, the editorial asserted, adding:

“Campaign money bundlers will keep pushing the limits wherever and however they can — and the integrity of our electoral system will pay the price. The courts need to do a far better job of pushing back.”

Tara Malloy of the Campaign Legal Center, a group that backs stronger campaign finance laws, said Judge Cacheris’ ruling was “way outside of its bounds.” Bloomberg quoted her as saying, “Not only it is a bad decision, but it’s a fairly shocking decision as well.” The Center is a Justice at Stake partner on issues of campaign reform.

But Sean Parnell, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, had a different view. “This would appear to be consistent with the Citizens United decision,” he said. “You would simply have the opportunity for legitimate, ongoing business corporations and unions to be able to contribute to candidates that they support. We think this is a great development.”

Under the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, corporations and individuals have the same rights to give money to campaigns,  Judge Cacheris concluded (see Gavel Grab). He dismissed a section of an indictment accusing two men of illegal reimbursements to donors to the Senate and presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton.

According to a New York Times article, some election lawyers suggested that if his ruling was upheld, it  “could lead to the collapse of all legal limits on campaign donations, whether from corporations or individuals.”

A panel of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a Minnesota law banning direct contributions by corporations to candidates, a Washington Post article noted. That appeals court (see Gavel Grab) said the 2010 Citizens United ruling did not address the earlier the Supreme Court decision in FEC v. Beaumont.

The Justice at Stake campaign said in 2010 that Citizens United decision hadraised the threat facing elected courts to an unprecedented level.”

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