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Ban on corporate political contributions ruled unconstitutional

An Alexandria federal judge ruled yesterday that the ban on direct political contributions by corporations to federal candidates is unconstitutional.

Senior Judge James C. Cacheris said the logic in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Citizens United v. FEC compelled that holding. His ruling came in the context of criminal charges filed against two men for allegedly recruiting employees to make political contributions and then reimbursing them with corporate funds.

The defendants contended that a count based on a direct contribution of corporate funds is unconstitutional after Citizens United. Cacheris agreed.

He acknowledged the Citizens United case involved independent contributions rather than direct contributions. In that case, a non-profit corporation produced a film critical of Hillary Clinton during her 2008 presidential candidacy.

The Supreme Court ruled that the ban on corporate expenditures for “electioneering communications” was unconstitutional because independent expenditures do not trigger the government’s interest in preventing corruption.

Corporations have the same first amendment rights to political speech as individuals, the high court held.

If that’s the case, Cacheris said, then corporations must also be able to contribute directly within the limits of federal election law.

He said only one other court appears to have ruled on the constitutionality of bans on corporate contributions since Citizens United was decided. A federal court in Minnesota upheld a state-law prohibition on corporate contributions to candidates and political parties.

Cacheris “respectfully disagree[d]” with that decision. “[F]or better or worse, Citizens United held that there is no distinction between an individual and a corporation with respect to political speech. Thus, if an individual can make direct contributions within [the limits of federal election law], a corporation cannot be banned from doing the same thing.”

He emphasized those limits in a footnote by pointing out that his decision does not permit unlimited contributions by contributions.

Cacheris’ analysis of the constitutionality of corporate campaign contributions begins on page 42 of a 52-page opinion that rejects most of the arguments raised by the defendants in seeking dismissal of the charges against them.

They still face trial in July on counts alleging conspiracy and illegally making contributions in the name of another.

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